Chris Klugman (left) interviews Regent Park resident Che Yuen about a position at his new Paintbox Bistro.
Later this month, an ambitious 9,000-square-foot, multi-purpose culinary project is coming to the east end with the goal of providing job training to residents in Regent Park, Moss Park, and St. Jamestown, as well as students from the George Brown Chef School.
Paintbox Bistro is slated to open for dinner on Sept. 17 on the northwest corner of the new Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre (585 Dundas St. E. at Sackville). There will also be an in-house catering company, lounge/cafe, event space, and workplace for aspiring food entrepreneurs.
Owner Chris Klugman (who also teaches at George Brown’s culinary school) has been training the first batch of trainees on basic culinary skills and cooking in a banquet hall-setting. He says his team are currently working with not-for-profit research company MaRs to become a B Corporation, which means Paintbox will be a certified business that helps the surrounding environment and social situations, kind of like how a coffee grower gets fair-trade certification.
“One of the key goals of revitalizing this neighbourhood isn’t just residential, but also infrastructure developments,” says Klugman, adding that, before he was brought on board, a few local restaurant groups passed on heading up Paintbox: “Nobody would touch Regent Park with a 10-foot-pole.
“In the old Regent Park,” he continues, “there were no grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, or banks, so these are all elements that are critical to a successful neighbourhood.”
As for the food, Klugman says Paintbox Bistro will be serving dinner inspired by Regent Park “with a dose of Nordic influence.” Food will also be worked into the cocktails, like smoked whiskey with Zatar-spiced caramel popcorn, and a vodka soda float with Red Bull and burnt-lime sorbet. The wine list is Ontario-sourced, with the exception of champagne and a cab sauv from Washington. Takeout windows will also serve street food to passersby walking along Dundas.
The opening dinner menu—created by chef Matthew Cowan, formerly of Simple Bistro—includes starters like spicy greens with wildflower-honey vinaigrette, bee pollen, and olive powder ($10) and crispy sweetbreads with parsnip puree, leeks, mushrooms, and horseradish vinaigrette ($13). Mains include lentil dahl with mushroom fritters and bok choy ($17) and seared lamb neck with walnut soubise, and papas rellenas, and dandelion ($18). Klugman has been tweeting various photos of the menu over the last few days.
There will also be Paintbox Express (opening later around mid-October on the northeast corner of the building), which will operate as a lounge and coffee bar with $8 entrees. Paintbox’s catering operation—they’ve already been booked for events with more than 200 people—will highlight Toronto’s ethnic make-up with Bengali and Aboriginal dishes alongside vegan and vegetarian options as well.
As if that’s not enough, Paintbox will also have a “food-business incubator,” meaning local aspiring entrepreneurs will be given a place, equipment, and financing help to develop and fine-tune their business idea, be it a catering venture or a food product.
Paintbox is currently waiting for their liquor licence (they won’t open without it) and will be getting a public-health inspection tomorrow.
“I literally get high fives when I walk down the street in Regent Park,” says Klugman. “The community takes a lot of pride in what’s happening and the revitalization has been largely driven by them. It may not be perfect so far, but a lot of our Paintoboxers are proud to say they’re from Regent Park.”—Karon Liu
Photo: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star