Len Senater has a plan, or more accurately, a scheme. Over a lunch of reheated homemade Indian food in his kitchen (“It’s leftovers,” he offers with a shrug, “it’s what you have for lunch”), the 40-year-old designer paints a picture of a food-focused community space outside the boundaries of the traditional restaurant. Next month, in an old convenience store at the corner of College St. and Rusholme Park Cres., Senator will open The Depanneur, a low-key coffee shop that during the day will serve coffee (no espresso), tea and toast.
Coffee shops are nothing radical, but his plans for The Depanneur at night make Senater a bit of a maverick. He’ll close to the public, push together the tables and host the Rusholme Park Supper Club, a sort of permanent pop-up restaurant with a rotation of chefs, menus, concepts and diners.
“The idea of locking myself in the back of a restaurant, slaving away to cook the same thing for people I never meet, does not seem to be a fun way to spend my days,” says Senater. “I asked myself, ‘How could I get closer to food in a fun way while avoiding the traditional pitfalls that plague the restaurant model?’”
It’s a question that many in the city are asking these days, especially since the disastrous A la Cart food-cart program was mercy-killed by City Council last month. That doomed experiment — inspired by food lovers and chefs to bring more diverse choices to Toronto’s streets — was micromanaged and strangled by bureaucracy, bankrupting owners and disappointing eaters.
But it did not die in vain.