Diary of a Restaurant – Ch. 2: Brunch, She SaidJul 15, 2020
A Story By Kevin Gallagher
“I think we should open for Sunday brunch.” said Donna. “No one else is doing it here, except the hotels. It would be a hit and it would be fun!”
Whether from a genuine concern about the viability of project or a natural reluctance to give up my peaceful Sunday mornings, I played the devil’s advocate. “Sundays are quiet in Toronto, people go to church. Half of the city is still in shock that Eaton’s doesn’t pull the drapes over their windows anymore. Besides, there’s no one in this neighbourhood on Sunday that we would to want to have in the restaurant. “
Mildred Pierce was at 99 Sudbury Street, just south of Queen Street West and Dovercourt Road in a rear unit of a rambling warehouse building, a less auspicious neighbourhood then than it is now. We had taken the space, not to open a restaurant but because it was a great fit for our catering business, Avant-Goût, but as the empty factories around us were converted to small office spaces and we saw that there were few places to eat lunch or entertain clients for the businesses that moved in, we decided to open a restaurant serving late breakfast and lunch, Monday to Friday.
The area was zoned industrial (It was almost twenty years before we discovered that restaurants weren’t allowed in the area) and so there was no activity on the weekends other than the hookers and junkies who used the parking lot for business and the occasional wandering outpatient from CAMH. I had little hope that we’d make opening worthwhile.
It turned out that Donna and Anne Yarymowich, our restaurant chef had already been planning a brunch opening, and so my approval was moot. Developing and testing, they created new versions of classic recipes – Donna tweaked and embellished my mother’s biscuit recipe; Anne reworked French toast topping it with ‘CPR strawberries’ – prunes poached with cinnamon in maple syrup and Eggs Benedict done instead with smoked salmon on a croissant. Anne wanted to offer chicken and waffles, like the fictional Mildred but we had no waffle iron and no money in the budget for one. Presto – Rick, our line cook, borrowed one from his friend Lisa’s home kitchen (“She’s a girl friend,” said Rick, “not a girlfriend), for future considerations.
Sitting at our dining room table with a bottle of Anne’s delightful rose petal vodka, Anne and Donna laid out the menu, laughing as they choose many of the names from the Mildred Pierce story – Veda’s Choice (the poached eggs and salmon on a croissant), Ida’s French toast (bananas subbed for the prunes), Little Kay’s grilled cheese, Mrs. Biederhof’s blueberry buttermilk pancakes -and of course, there was an omelet too. Anne got her beautiful chicken and waffles with Dijon cream sauce. Was $11 too much to charge for it? We blushed at our rapaciousness and went for it.
And one frosty morning towards the end of February, we opened for our first Sunday brunch.
And nobody came.