Sarang Kitchen at Dovercourt and Bloor is Toronto's newest restaurant that's also a social enterprise all wrapped up in one.
The labour of love takes over the spot where Hunny (by The Hogtown Vegan) used to be and provides a sensory-friendly experience for diners while paying their staff a living wage.
Specializing in delicious Korean fried chicken, this restaurant provides a safe space for everyone, supplying calming music, reduced lighting, sensory boxes, and a multi-sensory room to ensure everyone can have the opportunity to enjoy a meal in a restaurant.
It all started with Jennifer Low, who spent 10 years teaching and working with neurodivergent students in New Zealand, who saw how many restaurants did not offer a safe space for all diners.
She recalls speaking with some of her student's parents who had not eaten as a family outside their homes for years, citing too loud music or complaints from staff about their child’s behaviour.
Teaming up with her soon-to-be husband and trained chef, Deon Kim, the couple moved to Toronto and meshed their experience for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
"We use strategies to make the dining experience more inclusive so parents don't have to be scared to take their kids out to eat," Low tells blogTO.
Walking into Sarang, you'll be met with dimming lights, a very low volume of music, bean bag and wobble chairs and sensory boxes filled with fidget toys, weighted blankets and noise-cancelling headphones - all tools Low used with her students.
An entirely separate sensory room has blankets, pillows, and adjustable lights that allow customers to take some time to themselves if they are feeling anxious or overstimulated.
It's Low and Kim's way of embracing all types of people and allowing them to experience the joy of a restaurant meal at their level of comfort.
In addition to this incredibly important value, the food at Sarang is absolutely delicious.
Get ready for a plentiful serving of juicy fried chicken, calamari, bulgogi chorrillana, thunder potatoes, cheese sausage, plus gigantic platters.
We tasted the delicious Sarang Platter ($65) that comes with a bone-in or boneless half-chicken and a choice of sauces (we got sweet and spicy and garlic mayo), an entire crispy squid, tornado-cut chips with a side of cabbage coleslaw and pickled radishes.
The chicken is juicy yet tender, thanks to Sarang's wet and dry battered chicken that's marinated for at least 12 hours.
The dipping sauces of honey mustard, Sarang mayo, sweet chilli and soy garlic give each bite a new experience.
Low tells blogTO the idea to serve fried chicken came to her because all her New Zealand students love it, having taught them how to make the tasty meal.
The restaurant is almost an homage to her beloved pupils, with their smiling portraits hanging on their walls.
One of her students even drew the restaurant's chicken logo - a quirky little bird. Speaking about them, Low immediately gets emotional with tears welling up in her eyes.
"If the model works, the dream is to bring this back to New Zealand and hire them," she said.
We also ordered the Bulgogi Chorrillana ($19.99) a twist on the traditional Chilean dish consisting of French fries and beef, but this time topped with plentiful bulgogi and fried eggs.
The house-made aioli sauce adds a punch of flavour to the succulent beef and creamy egg mixture.
Fair warning, these plates are massive, so come with an appetite and be prepared to leave with leftovers.
Another must-try is Sarang's tasty drinks, including their soju cocktails, which come in gigantic pitches and are easily crushable.
The Sunshine Soju ($28.99) comes to the table with a beautiful orange colour and truly tastes like summer in a glass - it pairs perfectly with the savoury chicken.
Another aspect of the restaurant's mission is providing their staff with a living wage - and not having them rely on tips.
"It's pay equity; you know what you’re getting even before you get there," she said, with each of Sarang's employees starting at $23.15/hour after a three month probation - the current Ontario living wage.
"I strongly believe in paying employees fairly and having a good work-life balance," says Low.
Since opening just a couple weeks ago, Low happily shares that the reception has been incredible, with many families coming in to check out their sensory-friendly options. Sarang makes it a priority to hire neurodivergent workers as well.
"We just want to push the awareness of inclusion and neurodivergent and celebrate minds of all kinds. We would love if society could start changing their mindset about differences and for employers to know it's a strength," Low said.
Check out Sarang Kitchen at 1056 Bloor Street West.