REA MCNAMARA | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13, 2012 | yongestreetmedia.ca
The model positions local chefs in the middle of an open-source social enterprise that balances for-profit activities with a mission to support good-food movement-minded entrepreneurs.
If you’re just looking at its former hole-in-the-wall bones, then yes, The Depanneur seems like any other cosy corner café of reclaimed architectural pedigree. Exposed brick, vintage hardware, antique windows and menu chalkboards are indeed the norm décor accents for now-fashionable Brockton Village storefronts. The painted cue card signage for homemade jams, organic local produce in wooden crates and ideal coffee grinds is Honest Ed’s-esque, while the tables that line its sunny windows are clearly repurposed chewing gum display racks. It’s all very much in keeping with the café’s franglais Québécois homage to Montreal’s ubiquitous convenience stores, and the building’s previous various retail iterations.
Yet The Dep‘s mix of clientele and its unorthodox business model, which embraces guest chefs who take over the kitchen, are its most intriguing features. Pop in during a late Sunday morning, and you’ll see, seated at the two wooden communal tables that dominate the open-concept space, hipster ladies who brunch sharing pecan pie buttermilk pancakes right next to a stroller-to-boomer family gathering having different variations of the Mix ‘n’ Match B’fast. And if you ever stop by during one of their weekly drop-in dinners, or pay up for a one-night-only membership to one of their weekend BYOB dinner events, the experience of literally dining right next to one of The Dep’s rotating cast of guest chefs—there is no separation between kitchen and dining area—gets you closer to what it’s really about.
“The whole point is I’m not trying to be a restaurant,” declares owner Len Senater. Critical of fine dining’s high-risk model, Senater has a particular aversion for its expensive “bite-sized food” and overall “pretentiousness.”
“Right now, it seems you can go out for fast food that’s not wholesome, or go to a nice restaurant,” he explains of the current Toronto dining scene. “But in between there isn’t a lot of middle ground.”