When The Wren’s Dennis Kimeda, along with his wife and friends, transformed a hair salon into a hangout, the Danforth rejoiced.
Dinner service at The Wren is busy on a Wednesday: An elderly couple settles into a private nook at the back of the room, their teenage grandchildren helping them read the menu. A few single souls perch on barstools, examining taps. Strangers at communal tables exchange pleasantries over daily specials and shared elbow space. In another corner, a little girl and her parents sit in comfortable silence. On the wall next to them, and behind frames, the Rocky Mountains and Swiss Alps are captured in needlepoint, their ragged peaks slightly softened. The diminutive diner tucks into a heaping plate of fries, swinging her legs under the table, while the two adults clink tulip glasses before taking appreciative sips—this is a craft-beer bar, after all.
With plenty of experience in the restaurant industry, Dennis Kimeda convinced his wife, Rhonda, that it was time to open a place of their own. Once an address was secured last October, Kimeda and his right-hand man, Jared Hevenor, set about gutting what was once a beauty parlour (that coincidentally—and bizarrely—already had an on-site meat locker). Eight months later, The Wren hatched.
Kimeda and crew wanted a place that was “really folksy and warm with zero pretense,” where “you can spill a beer and no one’s going to freak out.” They ended up with just that: a low-key spot with a country-cottage vibe. Wooden slats that look as if they have yet to be reclaimed cover one wall, and opposite, exposed bricks bear a painted ad boasting the sale of Coca-Cola—a remnant of the Danforth’s past, uncovered when drab drywall was peeled away. Kimeda wasn’t necessarily trying to be on-trend here—in fact, he had full intentions of doing just the opposite—but he realized it was easier not to pay attention to fashion either way. “If it works, it’s going up,” was Kimeda’s motto, and, hey, who’s going to turn down free and plentiful reclaimed wood, however in-vogue it may be?
The Wren’s food tends toward southwestern, with personalized tweaks. Sandwiches come loaded with fried chicken ($13) or brisket ($15), and the chorizo gumbo is topped with puff pastry ($16). Tacos make surprise guest appearances, but the chimichanga ($15) is a staple: Chef Jake Taylor’s mole-inflected pulled pork is stuffed into a soft tortilla with poblanos, caramelized onions, and a cooling scoop of house-made queso fresco, before being given a dip in the fryer. It’s food that hugs.
The menu is short, but there’s always a daily special, which is Kimeda and Taylor’s way of giving the younger kitchen staff a chance to create their own dishes. One night, it’s a pulled-pork Cubano sandwich; on another, jalapeno poppers are up for grabs. As dinner service wound down on a recent evening, one cook with a knack for making pastry whipped up a batch of pecan tarts that sold out before they had time to cool down. Hevenor says, “It’s fun to see how proud and excited the chefs are”—and competitive, too, since they keep track of how many specials leave the kitchen.
Although there’s ample stroller parking available outside, The Wren was never intended to be a place for the underage crowd, despite the fact that the Kimedas have two babes of their own. The food can get spicy, there’s no kid’s menu, and the focus is on beer, but Kimeda says the neighbourhood is very family-oriented. Plus, tot-toting parents seem to enjoy having a place to go for a pint that isn’t a Montana’s or a Kelsey’s. “I always say be nice to the moms,” Rhonda chimes in. “They’re just trying to have a life.” Her husband adds, “Parents and their kids can come, but we’re still going to do our thing, and that’s how we’ll succeed as a business—by doing what we’re good at.” So far, it appears to be working.
1382 Danforth Ave., 647-748-1382.