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Q&A with Lore Mahe

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Aug 05/02) - The Kamotiq Inn is like your favourite pair of sneakers: they treat you right and you can always count on them when you need comfort.

It's that folksy kind of service that has kept the red dome at the four corners in Iqaluit alive for the last 22 years. News/North caught up with owner Lore Mahe last week during her summer stint in the capital city.

NNSL Photo

Lore Mahe holds up a plate of deep-fried muktaaq, a specialty at the Kamotiq Inn in Iqaluit. - Kerry McCluskey/NNSL photo

News/North: What's your background?

Lore Mahe: My last name is a French name. It's from France. That's my husband's last name.

N/N: Are you from France?

LM: No, I was born in Italy, but I was raised in Quebec.

N/N: How did you meet your husband?

LM: I was going to college when we met. I was going to become a teacher and he was in the army. After that, he decided to go to university and he became a teacher also.

N/N: How did two teachers wind up in the North?

LM: We went to Yellowknife first, teaching French. I started the French program there. Then, we wanted to be transferred east. I guess it was closer to Quebec. We were teaching on a little island right across from Resolution Island. We taught there for two years. It was very tough, but very different. That's where I got to know the real Inuit culture. We asked for a transfer to Frobisher Bay, as it was called then.

N/N: What year did you come to Iqaluit?

LM: We came here in 1975. We went to Apex. My husband became the school principal and I was a teacher. It was a four-room school.

We used to go occasionally for dinner to the Frobisher Inn. They had a sign saying, 'No Jeans.' You had to dress up. In those days, who owned this extravagant clothing? Who could go there? It was prejudiced because local people couldn't go there. Where could they go and shop? We said we should open a restaurant where everybody could go.

N/N: What year did you open the Kamotiq Inn?

LM: In 1980. I had never been a waitress in my whole life. We had never owned a restaurant. We had never done anything like this. But, it goes to show you that if you can read and write and think, you can do anything.

N/N: What was your first year of business like?

LM: We had to learn a lot. We learned a lot fast from the staff we were hiring. I had a couple of good waitresses and from them, I learned how to waitress, how to make different drinks, how to do the bar.

N/N: Is this the original location?

LM: Yes, this is the original building. This was supposed to be our house. We had bought our house in Apex. We were passing through Montreal and a guy said why don't you buy a dome for a house. We said we already have a house, but then we thought it would be exciting to put a restaurant here.

N/N: Has it been good these last 22 years in the business?

LM: I think we had to work extra harder than other people who had businesses because they had hotel rooms and a bar. No matter which way you look at it, they're going to make money. With the Kamotiq Inn, we had to be the best to survive. We had to. We've served a lot of important people here, but the people who really made us function really well were definitely not the government people -- definitely not in the early 1980s. A lot of the teachers were too scared to come here because we had been blacklisted by the Department of Education. They had to get rid of us.

N/N: Why did they have to get rid of you?

LM: Because they had pressure. Originally the Department of Education agreed for us to be teachers and sell alcohol. They said it was OK because we had a manager. But then they got their pressure. Who gave them their pressure? I don't really know. They never really told us. Some of the other government people were also afraid to come here, but the local people were not.

You put Inuit in high positions and they still couldn't give a hoot. That's one good thing about Inuit compared to Qallunaat. If they like something, they don't care what you think, they'll do it. You can't tell them don't go there, don't do that. They're not afraid of the consequences. They live for their time. That's something you have to admire. They might be politicians, but they'll still go to the places they like. Maybe the top dog in the government doesn't like it, but too bad. That's how the Kamotiq survived -- because of local people.

N/N: When did you stop being here full-time?

LM: In 1992. I came a lot in 1993 but slowly I started being down South. And I still had a lot of bitterness and anger because I had to quit teaching. That was my profession and I thought it was wrong (that I had to quit). Some people came back and said I was the best teacher they ever had. I said where were you, why didn't you say that in 1980? But, like I said, things always happen for the best. I did decide to quit one morning in February. I said the hell with it, they can find another teacher today.

N/N: Who has been your best employee over the years?

LM: Louis (Decouto) is one of the best. I think he originally came to the kitchen door of the Kamotiq in 1981. I know he was just a young guy who came to the back door. He said he was looking for a cooking job.

N/N: He's the manager now?

LM: Yes. He worked so hard that year. I have never, ever met somebody who worked so hard.

He worked every day, all day long. Think of the stamina, to work from morning to night. That took a lot. He did that for eight months and then he went on holidays. I didn't see him again until 1988.

N/N: How did he become the manager?

LM: When we left in 1992, he was seeing my daughter. They got married in 1992. Louis is that type of caring person -- for the customers and the plates, the whole thing. He wanted to please the customers and he loved the Kamotiq.

N/N: Where did you go in 1992?

LM: We have a place in Aylmer, Que.

N/N: How often do you return to Iqaluit? A few months every year?

LM: Pretty well. Whenever Louis needs a break, I come up. We keep tabs on the business. We do all the paperwork down South so we communicate every day with Louis.

N/N: Do you ever think about selling this place one day?

LM: I had thought about us doing something with this whole property, but it's really hard to know. Anybody would sell if the price was right and we did have somebody interested before. We were offered a big amount.

N/N: Why didn't you accept it?

LM: I still like the Kamotiq.

N/N: It would be strange for it not to be on this corner.

LM: It would be foolish for anybody, if it was sold, not to leave at least the restaurant. All these things about ripping it down, like a health inspector suggested to me in 1998, are crazy. Why would you rip something like this down when they're building on top of houses older than this and doing renovations to renovations.

N/N: The inspectors were back again this year. What happened?

LM: We had to do some renovations electrical-wise. Everything is fine. Everything was done. We knew we'd have to do some of that work. We're going to be doing more renovations, but finding people to work is a hassle. We're going to be fixing the roof, repaint and redo some things in here. The food is still fantastic. You come to the Kamotiq for good food.

N/N: Have you ever thought of changing the menu?

LM: Many times, but every time we do, somebody is angry because it was their favourite. Tastes have changed here. I find other restaurants don't have imagination. They wait to see what the Kamotiq is going to put out. This has happened since 1980.

We had to change our menu then because they copied our menu. They wait to see what we have that's making it exciting. The tundra platter -- my husband invented that. Now, everybody copies it.

N/N: Where did the deep-fried muktaaq come from?

LM: That's from my husband.

N/N: How do you make it?

LM: I can't tell you because people will copy it. I'll tell you in private.