Just 18 months after opening the much-heralded Fauna restaurant in Centretown, Jon Svazas is getting ready to launch a second eatery in Hintonburg. The location is the former Back Lane Café, which closed last fall after running into financial troubles. Svazas says he wasn’t looking to expand so soon, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. “I’m not getting any younger,” he says with a smile.
Set to open in late April or early May, the yet unnamed eatery (Svazas says he has narrowed it down to two possibilities) will make the most of Back Lane’s two wood-fired ovens, offering a menu heavily influenced by Spain and its Mediterranean neighbours. City Bites Insider caught up with the busy restaurateur to quiz him for details as renovations get underway. (Photo above: Marc Fowler)
Why open a new restaurant so soon after launching Fauna?
Fauna’s doing great, so when the Back Lane space came up, I jumped on it. I wasn’t really looking to expand, but I’m not getting any younger!
What’s the plan?
Back Lane had two wood-fired ovens, so they’re going to be the basis for the food. We’re also going to have three Japanese grills that operate on petrified charcoal. Cooking with wood will be the focal point — we’ll do everything except pizza.
And the type of cuisine?
It’s going to be heavily influenced by Spain. There will also be other Mediterranean influences and maybe a bit of Middle Eastern. My wife and I plan to go back to Spain for one more visit before we open — we’ll do lots of eating for inspiration. Sommelier Alex McMahon will be creating the wine list — he’s into natural wines and there will be a lot of choices by the glass.
Regular plates, tapas, small plates?
The plan is to do small bites — tapas that you can enjoy with a glass of wine. Also large sharing plates, like a whole roasted chicken or fish or a charred rib-eye. These are big, family-style sharing plates. We’re not going to do the small sharing plates here.
How are you going to split your time?
Billy Khoo is a great chef de cuisine, so the plan is for him to stay at Fauna while I open the new spot in Hintonburg. Once everything is up and running, I’ll split my time between the two. From my house, it’s a 12-minute walk to one and 17 minutes to the other!
Who’s doing the decor and what’s the look?
I love lighting and design so I’m doing most of it. Because we’re cooking with wood, I wanted to make wood a major element in the dining room — there’s one wall that’s covered with charred cedar. It’s a really warm space — lots of black; lots of brass. Michael Shaikin from The Modern Shop has given me lots of ideas and help. The lighting gives off a really warm glow and there will be a couple of banquettes made by Furniture Affairs. I like to support local.
Is there a bar?
Yes, there will be about 14 seats at the bar as well as a couple of standing areas and a standing “station” that’s central. It’s a more social way to eat. In Spain, people walk into a restaurant, stand around and socialize while having a glass of wine and some tapas, then head out. I’d like for that to happen here, along with the regular restaurant seating.
Hintonburg already has a lot of restaurants. Is that a concern?
Not at all. If you do things right, people will support you. When I was originally looking at where to locate Fauna, Centretown and Hintonburg were the two neighbourhoods on my list.
Is your opening date set?
We signed the lease February 1 and the renovations are rolling along nicely. I don’t want to run to the finish line and trip over it, but right now I’m confident that we’ll open between mid-April and early May.
What are you most excited about?
Cooking with wood!