A slice of life on the Canadian prairie

Esso Restaurant owner Timothy Trinh stands at his counter after boxing a freshly-made pizza on Monday, Sept 30, 2019. Raymore’s website calls it “the best pizza you’ll find anywhere.” Photo by Jasper Watrich

Raymore’s website bills it as “the best pizza you’ll find anywhere.”

It’s one thing to have the best pizza anywhere, but another thing entirely to serve it out of an Esso.

“Our pizza is our bread and butter,” said Timothy Trinh, who runs the Esso Restaurant in Raymore with his mother, Lily Nguyen.

But the best pizza anywhere? Trinh doesn’t like to admit to that too easily. He recalled that CKRM, a Regina radio station, had once named the restaurant’s pizza the second-best in Saskatchewan.

“I don’t know how those numbers arose,” he said, laughing hesitantly. “I won’t agree and I will not disagree.”

Roughly an hour’s drive from Regina, north through the scenic Qu’Appelle Valley and the small town of Southey, Raymore is a quiet village situated at the crossroads of Highways 6 and 15. The small town of about 650 is home to a couple hotels, a museum and four restaurants. Though Trinh’s only been a part of running the business for the past five years, his family has been serving pizzas in Raymore for 19.

Trinh’s family started the pizza business when they arrived in Rose Valley, where they called it the Rose Valley Restaurant. When they moved to Raymore, they called their downtown restaurant the Raymore Café. Now, out on the highway as the Esso Restaurant, he laughed and acknowledged that they’ve never made the name too complicated.

Trinh estimated the tradition of making pizza began 30 years ago, with the pizza sauce being a concoction devised by Trinh’s father, Tom. The experimentation with pizzas extends to Timothy, too: while there’s a menu that people usually order from, Trinh likes to test out new ideas that aren’t on the menu – like Philly Cheese Steak, for example.

From making the sauce and base to shredding meats and cheese, the pizzas are made entirely in-house before being thrown into the oven in a deep dish pan. But while they are available throughout the day and into the evening, the restaurant itself (where the menu is more than just pizza) is only open from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Trinh said he’s not concerned if he loses evening business to one of the other businesses in town. Instead, he and his mother prefer to focus on their prized menu item throughout the rest of the day.

“Having two people concentrate on that will make it better instead of dispersing one person there, one person here,” he said.

And it pays off. For Rita Shevela, who works in the gas station side of the Esso, it’s almost a staple in her diet. “I’ve been working here 19 years and I’ve never gotten sick of the pizza,” said Shevela.

The Esso Restaurant is a favourite for many in Raymore, but Larry Gray, a former ostrich farmer who lives just outside the town, said it’s not only the town’s residents who enjoy it, but people from the wider area around Raymore as well.

“There’s people that come from miles around,” Gray said. “They drive past a 24/7 restaurant at Dafoe to come to Raymore to get pizza.

“I’ve never had anything better. They’re that good.”

Trinh agreed that people come from all over, and listed off nearby small towns and reserves where he’s had customers come from. He also noted the restaurant had some fans from more unexpected places.

“We do get feedback from people, especially when they’re guys that don’t really pass through this area, and it’s nice hearing where they’re from,” Trinh said. “We get hunters from the States, Louisiana, from Texas, a lot of that. They always come, because they’ve been coming here for 15-20 years and they know us by name, and they love coming back here and they support us.

“It’s nice hearing feedback from them when they enjoy our pizza.”

Ultimately, the part of the job Trinh enjoys most is a close relationship with his customers – and it doesn’t go unnoticed.

“Yeah, they’re good people, really good people,” Gray said of Trinh and his mother. “If they like you, you’re a friend forever.”

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