The ‘soft’ opening of Union Street Kitchen Cafe happened just over a week ago, and it has been non-stop ever since. “The opening was definitely not soft,” says owner Christine Garand with a laugh. She hadn’t realized that her decision to open her doors on August 20 coincided with New Edinburgh’s annual Lumiere Festival just down the street at Stanley Park. “There were so many people walking by! And people had been watching the renovations the whole time so they stopped in. We ran out of food that day and have been going full speed ever since.”
Union Street Kitchen Café is a co-production between Garand and her fiancé, Craig Pedersen, owner of Little Italy’s Il Primo Ristorante. The two got the keys to the circa 1863 building on April 1 and Pedersen renovated for the next five months. There’s now a pretty café on the corner of Union and Crichton serving up fresh coffee and Garand’s homemade soups, sandwiches, and pastries. The attached apartment next door is home to the Shunnya Centre yoga studio, which Garand also runs.
On the day City Bites Insider visited, the busy café received a steady stream of visitors — neighbourhood kids dropping by for chocolate chip cookies, construction workers grabbing coffee to go, students ordering open-faced avocado sandwiches, and friends trying out warmed-up empanadas for the first time. The busy Garand filled us in on her short- and long-term plans for Union Street Kitchen Café.
I hear you’ve had your eye on this building for years. Tell me the story.
It’s true. I lived in New Edinburgh as a teen when my dad was posted to Ottawa, and moved back to the neighbourhood when I was married with kids. At the time, the building was the home of The SconeWitch and I thought of it as my secret den — I’d stop by with my young son and we’d order vanilla scones and watch Heather [Matthews, the owner] baking. I remember often thinking how fortunate she was to work in such a beautiful place.
Were you looking to open a café when the building became available?
Not exactly. Craig had been saying for the past few years that I needed my own place, but I’d say “That’s crazy talk!” Last year, we took a trip together to Africa and while we were away we began talking about opening a place together — a restaurant on one side; a yoga studio on the other. And then a real-estate agent friend told me that 42 Crichton Street was available, I couldn’t believe it. My dream spot! I get goosebumps just telling the story. It has been like coming home.
Tell me about the concept.
There are two businesses here. The Union Street Kitchen Café and the Shunnya Centre. They are located side by side in the same building, but are purposely separate — I don’t want to push either side! If people stop in for a coffee and breakfast sandwich or a cookie, that’s great. If people visit the yoga classes, that’s great too. But you don’t have to like one to like the other. I’m not into “preaching.”
So your background is in food and yoga?
Yes. On the food side, I’ve taken a lot of courses that focus on Ayurvedic cooking. Different foods and spices have different healing and immune-boosting benefits. I put that into practice at the café with simple food that makes you feel good — you create harmony through your lifestyle and the food you eat. I’ve also studied yoga for more than 15 years — I call the yoga I teach at the Shunnya Centre “yoga for real people.”
Craig [Pedersen] has many years of experience in running restaurants. He owns Il Primo Ristorante in Little Italy. He did all the renovations, which he started on April 1, the day after we took possession. He showed up with the power tools and made it happen!
We wanted to have room for people to sit, so there is seating for 12 at tables and the counter, as well as tables outside in the gardens. Craig repurposed everything he could — I love that if you look closely at the bench by the window, which is made from the counter of 42 Fine Foods [which was the most recent business in the space], you can see the knife marks and stains. You can see the history.
Tell me about the food.
It changes each day, but we always have our version of a breakfast sandwich and avocado toast, which is an open-face sandwich with fresh avocado on a thin slice of toasted sourdough with goat cheese and sesame seeds and salt and pepper. I make the homemade soup and sandwiches everyday, as well as cookies and puddings. This is happy food.
What’s not made by you?
The empanadas are made by an Argentinian lady I know, and her daughter makes the macarons. I get my fresh sourdough and focaccia from Nat’s Bread Company.
And the coffee — obviously it’s a big deal since lots of people stop by just for a cup on the way to work.
I love independent coffee shops — the feel of them, as well as the coffee. I’m working with JJ Bean out of Vancouver. They now have a roastery in Toronto, so they roast fresh beans every week and deliver them to us.
I hear there are secret messages under the café floor. True?
There are messages everywhere — under the floor tiles and under the paint on the walls. Craig and I wrote various mantras and notes to each other before we laid down the tiles. I call this the house that love built.