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iMaid Cafe:T.O.'s First Cosplay Fetish Gateway Closes

Posted by Jenny / November 24, 2007

112407_imaid.jpgAs part of a Pacific Mall excursion last weekend, I wanted to check out iMaid Cafe, Canada's first anime-themed restaurant in Scarborough.

Passing by the big red storefront at McNicoll and Kennedy, I got excited - there's something kind of creepy and cute about little Chinese waitresses dressed as maids - but before I could oust a high-pitched "Yatta!", it appeared the windows had been boarded up after only a year in business.

Does this mean T.O. isn't ready for cosplay - a Japanese subculture centered on dressing up as characters from manga, video games or pop bands - in all its kitschy and kinky forms over a bowl of noodle soup?

In Tokyo's Akihabara district, (otherwise known as the city's "nerd central," for gamers, comic buffs and Hentai), maid cafes are popping up every week. Asian girls dressed in revealing, frilly maid outfits, who will greet customers with a "Welcome home, master," bowing deeply, hands clasped. In one cafe, maids get down on their knees to stir the cream and sugar into the customer's coffee.

At Royal Milk Cafe and Aromacare in the area, diners can follow up a meal with a range of grooming services, including ear cleanings. Diners can also receive fully-clothes massages and for $75 US, customers can chat with a maid one-on-one in a private room. Maids at other attentive shops even offer to spoon-feed customers at their table.

If this sounds sexist to you, earlier this year, the Swallowtail Cafe, also in Tokyo, turned the tables on the boys. The women-exclusive country house has its all-male staff dressed as butlers provide subservient service to the 20- to 30-somethings (cougs in training) who make up the majority of the female customers. The modern Geisha, indeed.

So how does Toronto mirroring Japan's cosplay culture make sense?

Speaking with Aaron Wang when his shop first opened, the 24-year-old Beijing-raised entrepreneur explained that "Rich people, they have maids - I want people to feel comfortable in my restaurant."

In the old days dressing up was reserved for Halloween and naughty role-playing sessions. Today, thousands of cosplay aficionados parade through conventions dressed as anime, comic book and movie characters using their costumes the same way frat boys use roofies.

So why didn't this phenomenon stay alive in Toronto?

"There are tons of fetishes in North American culture but they are very tied to our culture and the sexuality that we learn from early pubescence on (and the norms that are dictated)," explains Sarah Forbes-Roberts, owner of Come As You Are. "Japanese culture, while different, also has different fetishes (for the most part) that North American culture may not understand having not the same cultural and sexual norms. While the concept of maid cafes may seem clever - they just might not have had enough clientele to draw from."

I suspect that this Anime News Network contributor, Zac Bertschy, is right when he says "Sometimes you get these female characters that to us (or at least, those of us with progressive attitudes toward gender roles and representations) seem almost neolithic in their leering sexism." So maybe the kitschy appeal wore off fast here.

But perhaps a Y chromosome version of such a coffee shop? would make a bigger hit here? Something along the lines of "HimAid Cafe?"

Wang protests, "But, female maids look cuter than males," which is why he has an all-girl wait staff despite claims that his clientele is 50-50 of both sexes. He noted that all customers are greeted with a "Shang-di," which translates as "God" in Mandarin.

Well, either T.O. likes to keep its frilly dusters in the closet or at conventions or maybe cosplay isn't mainstream enough to keep places like iMaid afloat. Also, you might want to consider the $1.99 charge to sit down as well. Canadians are used to that, either.

As for what's happening with the cheery maid waitresses of iMaid - I'm sure you can still spot them around the arcade at the Pacific Mall if you're looking for a pic with them giving the peace sign.

Discussion

19 Comments

quanta / November 24, 2007 at 10:30 pm
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What I heard: the cafe closed because the food wasn't very good - not because it had French maids!
Chii / November 25, 2007 at 01:14 am
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I went there last year when it opened, the food was better but the "maids" had terrible training. They would give me the food but no utensils. o_0;

I heard the food's quality got worse so that's why people stopped going.
Rick / November 25, 2007 at 01:31 am
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I used to live right near there.

Everything that has ever been in that location has shut down rather quickly. The iMaid cafe actually lasted the longest, I believe.

It's something about that location...
Elle Driver / November 25, 2007 at 03:58 pm
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Anybody remember the old milk-maid costumes they used to make the waitresses wear in Swiss Chalet? Middle-aged women wearing bright red and white peasant blouses and corsets, with their chests spilling out? God, I remember feeling humiliated for them, even as a child. At least the food was good.
Gloria / November 26, 2007 at 04:40 pm
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The food was ever good at Swiss Chalet?
Danielle / November 27, 2007 at 12:57 pm
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A few friends of mine have gone to 'cosplay' cafes in Japan and always came back raving about the service. The food was never EXCELLENT, but never bad, but the girls made it what you came back for.
Apparently, the iMaid in P-Mall was nowhere nearly the same. Considering Toronto has TONS of cosplay groups, anime conventions, DANCE PARTIES and get-togethers, I doubt this is a reflection on anything except a bad business.
Jason Scott / December 8, 2007 at 10:23 pm
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I wrote a weblog entry about visiting the cafe:

http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/000280.html

The iMaid cafe had two dooming aspects. First of all, it wasn't in the middle of a city like the Maid Cafes of Japan are (it was basically out in the suburbs as far as anyone would be concerned) and second of all, they went in a direction with the maids but didn't really train them. I ate there with my buddy and was rebuffed by our waitress for asking to take a photo with her! Even waitresses at the IHOP will pose with a group having a good time, it means bigger tips.

So A for effort, C for followthrough. Try again!
Aaron Wang / January 7, 2008 at 02:56 am
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Hi ! I am the owner of i maid cafe ~ (I sold the cafe before it closed.)
Brent / January 16, 2008 at 12:30 pm
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Po / September 20, 2008 at 05:57 pm
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the food was more than horrible, it was garbage.

So the owner might have wanted us to be comfortable, but he didn't think about satisfying our appetite properly..
SilentNinja / October 5, 2008 at 11:44 pm
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if you want to rave about cosplay restaurant, this maybe a bit off topic but a few months ago I head down to NewYork and came across this Ninja restaurant, expensive but REALLY AWESOME good service, food was decent (served with style). Our waiter was really funny. I had a good time, so just wanna share some of this experience with everyone=)

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZeQNelpUmg";>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZeQNelpUmg<;/a>
Maya replying to a comment from Aaron Wang / December 17, 2008 at 01:53 pm
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I'm looking for any new cosplay/maid cafes that may be opening in Toronto, or Canada. And I'd like to contact Aaron Wang, owner of the now closed Imaid Cafe in Toronto, if anyone has an email address for him? I'm making a documentary about waitresses and am interested in this angle. I know about Royal T in LA, and of course, the ones in Tokyo.
thanks
Maya
Aaron Wang / April 27, 2009 at 11:38 am
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I am going to open a new one soon
Emily Wong replying to a comment from Aaron Wang / May 1, 2010 at 06:14 pm
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Have you opened one yet?
Where is it or where do you plan to open it?
I'd like to see how it is :)
Tori / July 21, 2010 at 11:03 pm
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AARON WANG,
I am very interested in your Imaid Cafe. You said you were going to open another one, where would that be? I would like to go to your cafe sometime.
I have lots of questions to ask you, I am an anime fan and I would like to open anime store of my own. I was wondering if you knew what places would be best to order whole sale anime(figurines, manga accessories, anime, games ect.) from or it there are any tips that you could give me about running a store. If you could email me, that would be great! :)


soul_fire22@hotmail.com
jones / October 13, 2010 at 11:35 am
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yeah the food was bad after the chef left or was fired.
Carol / July 22, 2011 at 05:00 am
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It wasn't in Pmall it was a block down from it so I don't think people knew about it, and its mostly retirement homes around there. I went there once, didn't get food just a mint coffee. I didn't know what to expect, but the coffee was completely green not a mix of green and coffee brown, and it didn't taste like coffee or mint. And I couldn't stop looking at the yellow apron straps on the bleach white maid outfit
Mengya / June 20, 2012 at 10:33 am
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I think a lot of people have different expectations of these kinds of cafes in Canada and in Japan. I grew up in Canada but work in Japan now. The maid cafes here usually have a few basic rules that customers know and are used to which in Canada might irk some people.

One was a lot of maid cafes have a base fee, so even if you go in without ordering there's a charge.

Then there's a time limit. Usually it depends on how many orders you make, I find 1 order = 1 hour is the usual.

And photos are usually a big no-no. A special area will be cornered off for photos at a price, if customers want one with their maid. Even if we want to take photos of food or anything in the cafe we usually have to ask the maids if it's ok. A lot of people don't want their faces plastered all over the internet, and for cafes that thrive on novelty having photos of the place littering cyberspace could be problematic.

Some rules are unstated and people just generally abide by them, like talking softly so as not to disturb others, not hogging one particular maid's time, etc.

It is also true, however, that I noticed the cafes here (or just service in general) is nicer and more polite. They're trained as such from childhood, bowing, smiling, clasped hands, so it comes much more easily to them than to others. They'll open the door for us as we're leaving, wait at the door until we're gone, just little things that kind of make up the whole experience.
Dee / August 28, 2013 at 12:01 am
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Aaron Wang,

I have a few questions regarding your iMaid cafe, if you could get back to me at damini.gangapersaud@gmail.com I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you!

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