TORONTO—“What’s the five-buck Hangout Special?” I asked Cassandra Germann, one of three partners in the Extra Butter coffee shop.
“A bottomless cup,” she said.
“At last!” I thought.
Time was, refills were a given. Then came the Starbucks-type places. I remember how shocked I was learning Second Cup doesn’t give out second cups.
Extra Butter, which opened in mid-March on what might be the trendiest street in Toronto, will refill your cup.
Ian McPhedran, one of the shop’s three owners, says they really want people to stick around.
The restaurant is designed to be a “community-oriented third space;” i.e. a hangout between work and home. Mr. McPhedran, who is minutes shy of a PhD in history, says such places are even more important “as more and more people are self-employed.”
Extra Butter is on Roncesvalles in the southwest corner of Toronto, not far from Sunnyside Beach. When Helena and I moved here 20-odd years ago, it was pretty much a Polish ‘hood. A huge statue of Pope John Paul II stands outside the Credit Union.
While Polish delis and shops still dominate, Roncesvalles is home to a growing demographic of articulate artistic young moms and good-hearted self-employed over-achievers. Cool folk indeed.
It’s also hugely competitive. New shops open weekly.
So as nice as a $5 hangout special is, and as important as “third space” might be, in order to avoid joining the 80 percent of restaurants that don’t survive their first year, a coffee joint needs a killer app.
Enter Wikwemikong’s Ray Fox.
When you open Extra Butter’s front door, you are blanketed by the best smell in the world: freshly baked croissants. And like my 21-year-old son Michel said, “people remember places just ‘cause of the smell.”
Mr. Fox, a self-trained baker, arises at 4 am, so by the time the doors open not only is the place as aromatic as a fairy-tale grandma’s pantry, customers are greeted by a visual array of culinary delights. His donuts are pretty; his croissants imaginative and tasty.
My first visit, I had a cheese croissant that was so light I forgot I was holding it and so rich I didn’t put butter on it, and I usually do that to croissants.
Next time I’m trying one of Mr. Fox’s breakfasts: a tart-like thing made of phyllo-style pastry filled with sautéed potatoes, bacon (or spinach) and an egg. (Now that I think of it, I’m going back over for one after I finish this story.)
Mr. Fox, the son of Donna and Stan Debassige of Wikwemikong, got his early inspiration from his dad and has since worked in a variety of eateries in Toronto, London, Ontario and New York. He met his two business partners when they worked at another popular Roncesvalles café called Cherry Bomb, which is where Mariya Tsitron used to go for coffee.
Helena and I met the 30-year-old digital marketing consultant in Extra Butter early Saturday morning.
After telling us that she hopes the current crisis in the Crimea doesn’t hinder her plans for hopping the Trans-Siberian Express this summer, she mentioned that the Cherry Bomb, as nice as it is, didn’t lend itself to just hanging out. It was more geared to take out.
“And wait ‘til you see Cassie’s art,” she said referring to co-owner Ms. Germann’s paintings. “They’re going to make the place even cooler.”
Mmmmmm…delicious pastries, intriguing décor, refillable coffee and it’s all brought to you by a charming artist, an erudite philosopher and a handsome aboriginal chef who clearly has the touch for pastry: hard to imagine how cooler a place could get.