Former bar employees-turned-head honchos, Stephen McKeon (Wrongbar) and Cameron Hutton (formerly of The Drake Hotel) have zeroed in on what the cities' diners and drinkers are looking for. The best-friend duo has teamed up to bring some of their small town upbringing to the streets of Parkdale with their first eatery Small Town Food Co. Bringing on Chef Tallis Voakes, who boasts Nobu pedigree, the menu highlights ox cheek, popcorn alligator, and rabbit bolognese. Eater recently caught up with the two to talk friendship, industry camaraderie, and more.
What's the dynamic like when close friends work together?
Cameon Hutton: We've never worked together before but we're childhood friends, we've lived together, and travelled together.
Stephen McKeon: Working together is a lot like living together. The more you know someone the easier it is to work with them all day.
How do you share the responsibility?
SM: We have nine staff members not including us. We are full-time owners, managers, bartenders, floor sweepers, and basil pickers.
How did you come together with Chef Tallis?
CH: We met him through a friend. We were all introduced at a food festival. Once we started chatting we realized we had the same views on stuff and then you know, we opened a restaurant.
SM: He cooked for us a few times first and we liked what he cooked.
Describe the menu?
SM: Wait Cam, I've got this one. It's French, British sharing plates with a heavy Japanese influence. People have been labeling as a snack bar but we aren't. We have a great selection of sharing plates but serve a full course menu. We're trying to go both ways.
Is it an evolving menu and did you help create it?
SM: Yes, definitely. We have a daily meat and fish special. The menu will be changing seasonally. As far as the creation, we had some influence.
CH: The cocktail menu is an ode to our friendship, very funny stories.
SM: For example, the Remington & Bigelow are the names on our first fake ID's. The Sinking Ships is a great story about a boat we sunk last summer! So we rented a boat - it was one of those 80s cigarette boats - and we ran out of gas. The weather all of a sudden got really bad and the boat filled up with water. We had to swim 500 meters from the middle of Lake Ontario to shore.
CH: And now there's a cocktail named after that day!
Your team comes from different backgrounds; did you know exactly what you wanted to do with Small Town Food Co?
CH: We had no idea. It changed as we went along. We just had the general idea that we wanted to open a restaurant.
What is it that you offer that might have been missing from the city?
SM: We eat out a lot and just look for good food and good drinks with a welcoming feel. We wanted to make everyone that came in feel like friends of ours. Everything down to the open kitchen was a factor. We come from small town hospitality, where you go to a restaurant and everyone literally knows your name. We also wanted to make sure we could provide quality creative food and drinks at a cheaper price point, which is hard to come by.
Why did you pick Parkdale as your new digs?
SM: I manage Wrongbar down the street and Cam was at The Drake Hotel. We knew the neighborhood; our friends are all in the area.
How has the welcoming been so far?
CH: We opened in December and did a few one-off parties just to get a feel for the place. We officially opened on the 8th. So many people from the area have welcomed us; it's been amazing so far.
What do you think you younger industry devotees bring to the table as opposed to corporate or chef-driven restaurants?
CH: I think we want to eat at places that are owned by people like us. Being creative with food and cocktails. It's a different experience than the big corporate restaurants.
SM: We have 25 years of experience collectively. I've done everything from dishwashing to bar backing to managing. We want to provide great service with a personal feel.
Is there anything you want to incorporate into the venue as it grows?
CH: We just want to have fun with it!
Do you feel as though there is a sense of alliance within the industry now, where everyone supports one another?
SM: For sure: especially around here. Everyone is really friendly and supportive.
CH: There's a good little vibe going in the industry.
Any plans in the near future to expand?
SM: One step at a time! But I would want to open up a steak house.
CH: Maybe a cocktail bar for me.
Lastly, what are some of your favorite places to grab a cocktail or a bite to eat?
SM: I'd say The Harbord Room. We live close by and owners David Mitton and Cory Vitiello are good friends of ours.
CH: We've been going to the Playa Cantina's a lot, very tasty Mexican.
mdash - — Hana Hussein
· Previous coverage: Small Town Food Co. Hits The Big City