TORONTO — On Monday, Nov. 30, a large, cheerful crowd gathered at a familiar address in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood to open a new chapter at what’s long been one of the premier dining destinations in the city.
It was standing room only at 9 Church St., former home of Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, where new ownership team Ted and Mary Koutsogiannopoulos, Scott Vivian (who’s also executive chef) and his wife, pastry chef Rachelle Caldwell, warmly welcomed family, friends and media to the official opening of their new restaurant, Wine Bar. It marked the passing of the culinary torch (at this location, at least) from one of Toronto’s most popular chefs, and champion of the slow food movement, to one of his protégés and a team that shares the same culinary ideals.
Earlier this year, Kennedy sold his interests in his namesake restaurant to refocus his efforts on his other ventures, which include Jamie Kennedy Kitchens’ wholesale and catering operation, the Gilead Café and his burgeoning farm in Prince Edward County, where the chef regularly spends time with his family (and dog, Champ), and is planning his own pastoral culinary retreat.
Nibbles from the new menu circulated the room and the local wine flowed as guests eagerly soaked in this new iteration of the frontline Toronto restaurant. “Our philosophy is almost identical to Jamie’s — good, local and sustainable food,” said Ted Koutsogiannopoulos of his approach to running Wine Bar (as well as Hank’s sandwich shop, which is directly beside it) and whether he had any plans to make significant changes to what JK’s regulars had grown to love. “Our chef and partner, Scott Vivian, also used to work here with Jamie. He’s an amazing and talented chef, so we foresee the transition to be seamless,” he said.
Koutsogiannopoulos, a 25-year veteran of the Toronto restaurant scene (and former owner of Joy Bistro), did admit to planning some small tweaks to what customers have come to expect from JK Wine Bar, and he believes that Vivian’s inventive cooking style will deliver many unique and innovative new dishes. Wine Bar also has a new bar in the back room, and it’s going to be the first restaurant in Toronto to carry Beau’s Beer, a popular craft brew out of Ottawa, which is slowly trickling into the GTA. Hot sandwiches will also soon be available at Hank’s.
When asked about the challenges of opening a new resto at a place that had such a loyal following, and having to do so on the tail end of what’s been a pretty miserable year, the tall and lanky Koutsogiannopoulos didn’t flinch. “I’ve operated numerous restaurants through a few different recessions in this city, and I know that Torontonians love to eat out,” he said with a smile. “Good restaurants will always survive.”
Image courtesy of Jo Dickins and Good Food Media