Every Town Deserves a Café Tropical, the Sweet, Chaotic Restaurant on 'Schitt's Creek'
The beloved comedy Schitt’s Creek comes to an end on Tuesday night, and we're not sure how to process it. For the uninitiated, the fish-out-of-water television series follows the Roses, an affluent family that loses their video store fortune and outlandishly lavish lifestyle. When the government seizes their assets, they’re left with no choice but to move to Schitt’s Creek—a small town that the family’s patriarch, Johnny (Eugene Levy), bought as a joke and not even the government wanted to seize. There will be so much to miss about the Canadian series: the affected way Moira (Catherine O’Hara) says “bébé;” Johnny’s harebrained business ventures; the sweet relationship between David (Daniel Levy) and Patrick (Noah Reid); the flailing gestures of Alexis (Annie Murphy). But an often-overlooked gem of the show is Café Tropical, the local restaurant that serves as a backdrop for many of the series’ most pivotal moments.
Café Tropical’s welcoming energy is perhaps best epitomized by its menu, which folds out several times. The restaurant serves brisket, lasagna, omelettes, mozzarella sticks, alcoholic drinks, and juices. Though “café” is in the name, the establishment most resembles a diner, but even by diner standards, the menu is very long. There’s something for everyone, and that’s exactly how the restaurant feels: open to everyone and anyone. There’s no air of pretense, only acceptance in exchange for acceptance, much like the town of Schitt’s Creek. Every town deserves a Café Tropical.
"Ugh, we have to eat in here?” David asks in the first episode, verbalizing the entire family’s contempt for both the restaurant and town in which it operates. The Roses’ condescension fades with time, as they acclimate to the small-town charms of Schitt’s Creek and find common ground with its residents. In fact, throughout the show, all the Roses’ character arcs can be traced from their initial reaction to Café Tropical to their ultimate acceptance of, and deep fondness for, the restaurant. No longer is eating at this particular restaurant in this particular town something to sulk about, but rather the bright spot of every day.
While all the Roses dine at the restaurant—often together, and with great difficulty opening the enormous menus when all four are seated—Alexis seemed to frequent it the most. The other family members populate different Schitt’s Creek locations: Johnny at the Rosebud Motel, David at Rose Apothecary, and Moria at the town hall practicing with the Jazzagals, an all-female a cappella group. Alexis stops at Café Tropical for juice during her runs, and it serves as the location of many of her relationship milestones, including meet-cutes, dates, and breakups. If someone were to only watch Alexis scenes taking place within the walls of Café Tropical, they’d still be able to trace her journey from someone who acts selfishly in relationships to someone who considerately, lovingly chooses independence.
Through Alexis’s frequent visits, she becomes close to Twyla (Sarah Levy), the only Café Tropical employee the audience gets to know. (Though Johnny did work a shift for her when she broke her leg, so he surely scored some Twyla points for that.) In many ways, Alexis and Twyla are two sides of the same coin. While Alexis might recount her ill-fated relationship with Harry Styles due to England being “like, too rainy,” Twyla’s anecdotes are a bit more earnest and sentimental. One can imagine how a different upbringing might have produced a version of Alexis who, like Twyla, works at a restaurant, teaches yoga, and plans murder mystery parties. The show consistently reaffirms the idea that when financial differences are leveled, people are more similar than they are different. And to say goodbye to Café Tropical, in the capable and quirky hands of Twyla, just feels right.
Parting with fictional television restaurants has never been easy. When Gilmore Girls ended, audiences mourned the loss of Luke’s Diner, a plain, no-frills eatery that highlighted Lorelai’s eccentricities and the warmth of a small town like Stars Hollow. Likewise, the diner on Sex and the City played its part too, further highlighting the trendy flashiness of the restaurants and bars the women otherwise frequented. Restaurants on television shows are often employed to maximize conflict or reveal something essential. Café Tropical does both; in the beginning, it showcases the discomfort these cosmopolitan characters felt in a small town, and at the end, it embodies the atmosphere of intimacy and love that so characterized the show.
To lose such a beloved fictional restaurant right now, when the restaurant industry and those working in it are in such a precarious situation, feels especially tragic. But unlike the many real-life restaurants that will likely shutter in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, at least audiences were afforded a real goodbye to Café Tropical—a restaurant that served everything, including joy.