Toronto barber starts delivery-only restaurant after not being able to work during lockdowns
The long salon lockdown has pushed 35-year-old barber Lina Khoun into a brand new position: full-time cook cheffing up Cambodian-inspired dinners for delivery and takeout.
After two decades in the business, Khoun had been most recently working out of Blood & Bandages Barbershop on College St.
Since the onset of the pandemic, hair salons and barbershops have remained largely closed under stay-at-home orders.
People working in the industry who've opted not to illegally participate in Toronto's black market hair salon scene have been left without work for months.
"With the second lockdown, I couldn't just sit around and rearrange my apartment three or four times over again," says Khoun.
Cooking has always been a passion of hers, says Khoun. Before lockdown, she used to organize dinners for friends.
"It kind of just tumbled into a holiday thing every year and that turned into catering gigs here and there," she says.
Raised in Collingwood, Khoun moved to Toronto nearly 18 years ago, and it's safe to say she's always been good at pivoting jobs.
She never went to hairdressing school, but managed to learn the trade under professionals working in Yorkville salons. She's also worked as a bartender, with past jobs at bars like Monarch Tavern and the now-closed Track & Field.
Khoun says it's the connections she made through the bar scene that have allowed her to launch her own menu under her Instagram handle, Mamabombina, which she debuted this November.
Since then, Khoun has been running weekly menus of prix-fixe meals, usually $45 per person, orderable by Instagram DM.
It's all made in Khoun's home kitchen and delivered on Fridays by DJ friends who've lost gigs thanks to COVID-19. You can also arrange a pick-up from her house in Little Italy.
So far, the orders have been smaller, with a maximum of 35 per week. If the number grows, Mamabombina (and nickname given to Khoun by friends) may potentially expand to renting out the kitchen of an existing business.
Khoun draws inspiration from her memories of massive Cambodian meals eaten with families, feasts that included fresh-cut veggies, fresh herbs, sauces and lemongrass.
"I've been craving a lot of that because I've haven't seen my mom in a long time," she says. "I'm craving a piece of home."
The latest menu, called Picnic Edition #1, offers collard green wraps with homemade patties, mushroom empanadas and butternut squash salad with curry yogurt dressing. For dessert, there's a red-bean-and-coconut take on a Bounty bar.
There are add-ons like khroeung marinade, a classic Khmer paste. As with all Cambodian food, there's always a "spicy factor" here, says Khoun, but she's lowered heat levels to keep all levels of tolerance satisfied.
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