“I just wanted a place where everybody felt comfortable, whether you’re in your 70s or your 20s, if you’re a teenager or a family. A place where everyone felt like they were welcome,” says chef/owner Renée Lavallée of what guided the evolution of the almost three-year-old Canteen from bustling lunch counter above Two If By Sea to 55-seater restaurant. That inclusive, neighbourhood-focussed mindset has clearly been working for Lavallée—thanks to her dedicated diners, the Kickstarter campaign she launched to help fund The Canteen’s transformation hit its $30,000 target within days, and went on double it. After a complete overhaul of the building, tomorrow the next phase of the sunny family restaurant opens its doors (and arms) to Portland Street for the first time.
“We looked at the Sun Sun, and it was a family run business for 40 years,” says Lavallée of her commitment to honouring the restaurant that 22 Portland Street was home to for decades. “This will be run by another family and the kids will grow up in this space hopefully and learn to love it and work here.” The 100-year-old building was re-developed by Elliot MacNeil of Bruno Builders Inc., who also had a vested interest in staying true to its history—building on it, rather than starting over— which is why little details like the iconic circular windows stayed put. “The people who were here before us loved this place, it was their life,” adds Lavallée. “I want to make sure they know it’ll be loved as much as they loved it. That kind of sounds hokey but it’s the truth.”
Lavallée and her husband Doug Townsend wanted the new Canteen to feel as much like home as possible—bright, comfortable, welcoming and accommodating. “And our house is actually all white,” she says of the restaurant’s aesthetic, which they worked together with By + Large Studios to bring to life. Though the space feels brand spanking new, there are hints of the past throughout—leftover floor joists from pre-reno, a stone wall behind the bar, vintage Sun Sun sconces in the bathroom and, of course, the circular cut-outs that give a peek-a-boo into the kitchen, and the entrance of the restaurant (see annotation 1). Bold pops of colour—like the seafoam green bar, vibrant yellow chairs, teal and nautical-patterned pillows and killer bathroom wallpaper—tie the cheery vibe together.
“Homey east coast-ish” is how Lavallée sums up the selection she’ll be serving on Portland. “I just want people to be able to read the menu, understand it and get it.” While the star sandwich selection will remain (for both take-out and eat-in) The Canteen will also dish out seasonally-inspired salads (heavy on the Hutten Family Farm), hot and cold rice bowls, a Lucy Juicy burger, chowder and classic dinner plates like steak frites and pan-fried haddock. There’ll be fresh-baked bread and French-inspired plates too, plus a bar stocked with local: Jeff Van Horne designed cocktails, Bishop’s Cellar chosen wines and four rotating taps of craft beer (including a special North Brewing Co. creation, the dry-hopped sour White Lightning, for The Canteen’s debut).
Opens Tuesday, February 7
22 Portland Street