Years ago there was a culinary tradition if you were in or around Perth in the 80s. You and your family stopped in at a place called ‘Mrs Gee’s Homemade Egg Rolls’. There was no doubt that they made the best darn egg rolls in the world, and were once a landmark in Perth. The egg rolls were always fried to perfection in a tidy neat wagon that was once located in the parking lot of Mac’s Milk on Wilson Street West.
The stand that was there years ago is gone, and as I am typing this I am trying to remember the taste and smell. The egg rolls were huge, slightly spicy, and filled with veggies. They came in two sizes: either regular or jumbo size. In fact Mary Gee once said that two jumbos were perfect for a truck drivers lunch. You couldn’t leave without one of their homemade almond cookies and a cup of fresh brewed tea too.
Mrs Gee’s Egg Rolls was in such demand they decided to expand to Carleton Place in 1980 where it was was located on the Woolgrowers property. But 100 yards away troubled brewed when Sal’s Place complained about the new competition according to the newspaper archives.
The complaints made their way to the Carleton Place Town Hall that Mrs. Gee’s was located on industrial property and getting a free ride for a mere 75 bucks for a canteen license. Owner Sal Marinaz of Sal’s insisted to council that the mobile needed to move to another location.
Meanwhile bylaws were changing in Perth about whether or not the Gee’s egg roll emporium was either situated in a mobile or stationary wagon. Suddenly the health inspectors got involved and scratched their heads over the situation- as rules were different for either category. Herbert Gee was baffled by everything that was happening, and his final statement was: “that over 100,000 egg rolls had been served and no one had died”.
It was said after Mrs. Gee’s Egg Rolls closed, people would peek in the door of Jameson’s Restaurant on Wilson Street West with trepidation. Some would inch their way by the “Largest Buffet in the County” and quietly ask about Mrs Gee’s egg rolls. But, the waitress knew what we were talking about, and they still made them with the original recipe, though only if people asked for them.
But now Jameson’s with the over 30 feet of hot and cold Daily Buffet is closed. The memories of Mrs. Gee’s Egg Rolls are now just one other thing from the past. Now, Mrs. Gee’s Egg Rolls is just a memory of good friends, good food and good times.
Mrs. Gee’s had difficulties in Carleton Place
Is there such a thing as too much success? Herb Gee may be starting to think so. He had 22 suits and made big money in the brokerage business. But, it turned him into a workaholic and Gee and his wife Mary decided they had to get out of the retrace.
They obtained a Canadian Tire store in Gananoque then took on the store in Perth. But once again Herb Gee said he found himself working 18 hours a day six or seven days a week dealing with the headaches imposed by a large business So the Gees turned to egg rolls using Herb’s mother’s recipe a converted chip wagon and a kitchen fryer.
But success has struck again and in order to seize back enough time for a family life Gee finds he must take on extra management. And, to pay for the extra management what started out as the perfect little family business will have to expand If the right management talent is available (Gee has his eye on someone in Perth) there could soon eventually be a sprinkling of pagoda-shaped Mrs Gee’s Eggrolls stands from Kingston to Ottawa.
Starting from scratch in the food business a year and a half ago the Gees tinkered with Herb’s mother’s recipe until things were going reasonably well. “Of course what I didn’t know was that over the winter and spring we would receive a number of reviews (including a mention in Where to Eat in Canada) “This increased business substantially to die point where I was back in the retrace again”
He won’t say how many egg rolls they have sold (that’s a “trade secret”) but last week they went through 200 pounds of lean ground pork. Still too much of a businessman to hang out a “sold out” sign when the days supply runs out Gee wants to meet the demand but knows the demand will disappear if they overextend themselves and the quality suffers.
“Even when you’re small it’s difficult enough keeping a handle on the quality of the product When you grow and get bigger your service to ‘ V ‘ the public or the quality of the product diminish and quite often the price goes up too because of inefficiencies within your own system.”
So, he decided to set up a second location on Highway 7 near the Big Cheese tourist information centre not far from the first on Wilson St. However his hopes were dimmed yesterday when the town council refused him permission to erect a stand there because it is a road right-of-way. Gee’s lawyer told him Thursday that he had met all the requirements town council set when Gee’s application was discussed last week. The town had accepted his rental payment. It’s not the only spot in town but Gee is ready to fight for his rights.
“I grew up in the slums of Montreal and I’ve been in fights before” he said. It was in Montreal that Gee realized his mother’s eggrolls might be the basis of a business but he got sidetracked by university. “The big treat for all my buddies as a teenager was to come over to our place. We could down a dozen egg rolls with no sweat. They used to say ’Mrs Gee you should sell these egg rolls for a living.’
Of course Mom and Dad (who were in the laundry business) would just laugh about it and never gave it a second thought.” Although a native of Yunnan in China, Herb’s wife Mary ate her first eggroll in Montreal where she met Herb while attending university. Gee says the eggroll probably comes from San Francisco, not China, although the Chinese do have something similar called a spring roll.
Mrs. Gee’s secret is the seasoning– the proportions of vegetable ingredients and the fact that things are fresh. The Gees say they have gone considerable distances to get the ingredients they are after. Mary Gee spends eight hours a day supervising as many as seven students making egg rolls. “It doesn’t look like much, but I think anybody would be amazed at all the little problems there are to tend to. You’d have to have your own business to appreciate them.”
If expansion does come, it will be a little at a time and more or less at the pace set by the new management partner. “We would have to make sure that whatever new outlet we opened was being really well run before we attempt the next one” But, it works in Perth and there’s no reason to think it can’t work well any place especially where there is a bigger market.”
Gee says there is much to be learned from the franchise operations like McDonald’s. He has rejected the “40 Billion Sold” sign but the pagoda shaped stand will proclaim a Mrs Gee’s the same as the golden arches convey McDonald’s message. A big difference is that Mrs Gee’s outlets will be easily moved. “With the energy crisis one of the questions circulating in the brokerage industry is how well the McDonalds and Burger Kings arid Wendy’s are’ going to do because they’re volume businesses and they depend on a lot of traffic.
Sure it’s a tough time to be expanding a business Gee says but you have to presume unemployment and inflation are not going to destroy western society.
1979 Ottawa Citizen
Food markets too have pleaded for a piece of the action but as far as Herb Gee is concerned the answer is no. His contribution to the booming fast-food market ‘ is so successful that to put it quite bluntly: “I will not – resell our product” The quality might suffer.” The eggroll has come of age –Gee has done with the eggroll what others have done with the hamburger and the hot dog.
Food reviews — it’a even mentioned in the current edition of Anne Hardy’s “Where To Eat In Canada” — have described Mrs Gee’s Homemade Eggrolls in such words as “a delightful snack” or “a meal in itself”. Gee’s has seen in the space of three years – his single-product fast- food chain spread from ‘ Perth to Carleton Place ’ to Smiths Falla to Pembroke and now to Kingston with further openings planned in the next year in Cornwall and Sarnia.
He owns the Perth Carleton Place and Smiths Falls outlets himself while the remainder and those planned for the future are franchises. It all started in the spring of 1978, Herb Gee a former stockbroker from Montreal and successful operator of Canadian Tire franchises in Perth and Gananoque was looking for something “less complex” to run.
“The trouble with most businesses today” he told The Whig-Standard in a recent interview “is that they’re toohighly specialized with complex inventories. “I wanted to find a business that wasn’t -labor-intensive in terms of skills — one that didn’t require high salaries complexity of product accounts receivable or having to deal with shrinkage problems and credit. The answer was in the eggroll.
They started selling from a converted chip wagon placed on a Perth parking lot. Herb’s wife Mary took a recipe of his mother’s and kept refining it .“She’s still refining it,” Herb jokes “she’s our chief seasoning producer.” That summer they sold ‘ eggrolls’ by the thousand? (even now that’s all they sell except for beverages)
Over that winter and next spring they received several favorable reviews from food editors and this of course boosted sales further. The next year Herb opened an outlet in Carleton Place and was getting the idea that as long as he could keep rein on the quality of the product he might eventually have ‘ pagoda-shaped Mrs Gee’s Eggrolls stands’ througout Southern Ontario.
By August of last year he had established in Smiths Falls, and in June of this year he sold his first franchise. It went to a lawyer in Pembroke who as Gee – puts it “gave up a 14-year-old law practice to get into the business.” Gee says its “corporate policy” that all Mrs. Gee eggrolls must be made on the premises from which they are sold. This he says guarantees freshness and quality and is the reason that he won’t allow other firms to market his product. “I would lose control over the quality” he says. His second franchised operation has just opened in a converted former Shell service station at the corner of Princess and Clergy streets.
The first Franchisee is Kingston businessman Ed Kane. The story of how Kane got involved in Mrs Gee’s Eggrolls illustrated the ease with which the chain has grown. Kane who grew up in Brooklyn, NY and later lived in Pennsylvania before moving to Kingston two years ago admits: “I’m an eggroll freak In Brooklyn I grew up on ‘Chinese food.”
Driving through Carleton Place in early June this year on the way to two resorts he runs in the Calabogie area Kane spotted Mrs Gee’s. Later he returned to ask the cook if it were possible to get eggrolls to serve as hors d’oeuvres at the lodges. Of course the answer was no, but Kane was further intrigued when a few days later he saw the Perth outlet. He contacted Gee and discussed franchising. A week later Gee came to Kingston to look at 4 or 5 locations. By July 18, the Princess Street site had been secured. Kane could hardly wait to get started.
He beams when he talks about the relatively low cost of setting up an outlet. Payback for the franchis is an incredibly short time — five months. And Gee notes that the Pembroke operation — (“though 1 know it’s hard to believe’):— turned a profit after only one month. Gee estimates that the ideal size for a shop is about 600 square feet that is without sit-down facilities. Kane estimates that payroll alone for his outlet — which will operate from 11 am to midnight seven days a week and employ between 30 and 50 people — will be around $150,000 annually. He hopes to open at another location in the Kingston area once the first outlet is operating smoothly.
Kane and Gee estimate that each outlet can do well on a population base of 10,000. “I guess you could say that I’ve found an alternative in the fastfood market ” Gee says. And that alternative is ‘ tasty and nutritious. Mrs Gee’s eggroll — built around secret seasoning ingredients the recipe of which is a secret Herb Gee says — contains ground pork cabbage bean-sprouts shallots celery and onions.
CLIPPED FROMThe Kingston Whig-StandardKingston, Ontario, Canada26 Aug 1981, Wed • Page 31
I wish I knew what happened. Mr.Kane in 1981 posted two months later after he opened the franchisee that they were no longer at that spot. Maybe, whomever was working for them in Kingston got the recipe and tried to do things on their own. I don’t know, but that ad in the WHIG was pretty tell tale. Something happened.. I kept searching and searching and found a posting on Live Journal in 2000 called Mrs Gee’s and Murphy’s Point with a reference:
Still, though, we had a nice time, and after asking a couple of the locals about Mrs Gee’s, it seemed that her world-class eggrolls had been consigned to the dustbin of my adolescent memories. And so it was, until we were heading out of town, along Wilson street, we looked up and on the side of ‘Jameson’s Chinese Buffet’ (yeah, I know .. ) we spotted a little sign
“Mrs Gee’s Homemade Eggrolls. In Parking Lot —->”
We turned back, and headed into the parking lot and found, towards the main entrance to Jameson’s buffet. We peeked in the door with trepidation, made our way to the bar, and asked about Mrs Gee’s eggrolls.
The waitress knew what we were talking about, and said they still made them with the original recipe, though only if people asked for them.
We ordered a dozen, and about 10 minutes later, a massive paper bag filled with 12 huge eggrolls and a carton of homemade plumb sauce was ours. S pulled one out on the drive home, and as we shared it, I was pleased to see that it was exactly as I remembered the Mrs Gee’s eggrolls from 20 years ago.
Alas, Jameson’s Restaurant is closed.
These are the last two ads I found…If anyone knows the rest if the story I would love to know..