Toronto cafe cooks up cheap meals to build community
As soon as 1 p.m. hits in The Theatre Centre Cafe, a line forms in front of the coffee bar with people eagerly waiting to see what will be served up at this month's community meal event.
What first started out as a lunch for colleagues about a year ago has now turned into a monthly community meal event. Remington North, Director of Facilities and Production at The Theatre Centre, is using his personal passion for cooking as a way to build up the West Queen West community.
With the help of a few colleagues, North serves up wholesome meals for only $5. This month, he made a curry vegetable quinoa stew, garnished with cilantro and even available for the same price with added BBQ pulled chicken - and yes, the portions are generous and the food is quite good.
"It's nice to have people in the community filling up the cafe to share a meal," said North. "Because of the layout, you're almost forced to sit with strangers and meet new people."
He explains that this event all started out on a whim. When his homemade lunches started gaining more and more attention from customers, he figured what better way to unite the community than over a fresh, home cooked meal?
Sponsored by Metcalf Foundation, North receives a budget of $250 every month for the ingredients. He shops for everything locally, with all the meat coming from Vince Gasparro's Meat Market, and (if possible) all organic veggies, mainly from Loblaws.
"We actually don't make any money from the meals, but it's all about the experience," he explains. "We enjoy inviting people into our space to enjoy a meal."
The cafe can seat about 30, and it fills up quickly. The past few months they've run out of the meal within 20 to 30 minutes due to the limited amount North can make in the cafe's kitchen and the growing popularity of the meal.
Every meal features a vegetarian option - even when he served homemade ribs last month, he still whipped up some crusty, roasted eggplant on the side to have a little something for everyone.
North said that it's nice to bring in artists involved in the theatre, but also to see fresh faces from the community that may not otherwise visit the theatre. The best victory thus far? When an elderly couple came in because they heard good feedback through the community and not via Facebook. This was North's hint that his community-building exercise is truly working.
Photos by Hector Vasquez.
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