As part of the Riverside BIA: 40 Years, 40 Stories series, we’re sharing the story of Bonjour Brioche, a cafe and bakery serving up authentic french pastries and unbeatable brunch! Bonjour Brioche has been in the Riverside Neighborhood since the late 90s and the community has developed so much around this East End staple, it is now a part of the foundation that makes Riverside the close-knit neighborhood it is today.
If you are a Toronto East-Ender, Bonjour Brioche is Saturday Morning music to your ears. This Riverside institution has been satisfying french-pastry lovers, brunch enthusiasts, and latte bowl devotees since opening 1997.
Located at 812 Queen St E, on the Corner of Queen and De Grassi, Lori Feasson and her French, pastry chef Husband Henri opened the french patisserie over 20 years ago with the hope of filling a massive food and beverage void in the neighborhood at the time. Named Bonjour Brioche after Hello Toast, a small breakfast joint the couple knew of, Lori said “Okay, Henri is from France so it’s Bonjour Brioche for us!”
“We were living in the area, well in Leslieville which we still are and I liked it here even though 25 years ago it was pretty [different than today]. But we just didn’t want to commute, and we wanted to stay in the hood and we figured we could handle like a little ma and pop style bakery,” Lori said pretty matter of factly when asked, Why Riverside?
The owners agreed that the Riverside neighborhood has seen a massive change in the last two and a half decades that was propelled by new businesses like Bonjour Brioche putting down roots and saying we are here to stay. “There wasn’t anything here, like I was excited that there was a 711 in the neighborhood, there was literally nothing when we started,” Feasson explained. She said that even her contractor helping them renovate the bakery before opening thought they were crazy for choosing Riverside at the time.
But after opening and having some initial success Lori said “other restaurants started to follow when they saw that we were up and functioning… [they] could see that it was working for [us] so they knew this area had potential and could support more.”
When Lori and Henri initially opened they had their sights set on owning a bakery. “…we just thought we would sell our pastries and our tarts and things like that to-go and the breads of course!” Lori continues “but well it kind of evolved rapidly into more of a cafe as well. And of course, it’s still a bakery but yeah the brunch thing kind of evolved on its own.”
The bakery’s success brought french classics and fresh bread to the east end, something that – until Bonjour Brioche – was reserved for Toronto’s West-Enders. Lori also commented that even despite the insane weekend rushes and success of the front of house “the bakery aspect is still even more than the table service. Our sales are still higher for our takeaway and whole pieces and cakes and things like that than it is for brunch or lunch.”
The bakery/restaurant’s main kitchen is located in the “dungeon”, the building’s basement, where Henri and his team somehow seamlessly produces hundreds from scratch goods. So I had to know how it was possible to cater to such a growing audience without compromising on quality or quantity.
“I don’t think people are aware of the fact that we don’t have a deep fryer or big industrial stove. We cook all the omelets and stuff on three hot plates that we have upfront. I guess people don’t have any idea how much can be pumped out of three hot plates. Really I should have called the restaurant three hot plates,” Lori explains while laughing thinking about the front-of-house service. “We have to keep it fairly simple so mostly our items are baked downstairs in the large bakery ovens and then we just plate them with a quick salad.”
Bonjour’s menu hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years as classics never go out of style. Lori recommends the Quiche Lorraine because it’s simple and really yummy plus it comes with a salad that’s dressed in the most incredible shallot vinaigrette. The dressing was created by Feasson over 20 years ago and she said she has been the only one making it in those two decades. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this dressing has converted even the pickiest eater into a salad lover, it’s that good!
The pandemic hit the hospitality industry, harder than most businesses but Bonjour Brioche sought to embrace the new restrictions and returned to their roots of offering all their menu and specials to go via a takeout window built into the restaurant’s front window. Lori said with the support of the CafeTO patio to add additional outdoor seating options alongside their existing covered patio, the Bakery has been just as busy as before.
Although her team has shrunk from 25 to 9, they feel like the business and its staff are more like family than ever, and she explains that “we just trust each other and we’ve kept COVID free because, you know, we are all pretty much living within five minutes of here as well so we know that we’re all staying together and local and following protocol and yeah it’s been really good. I’m feeling safe and so is the team.”
The Riverside neighbourhood has grown into a community of small businesses that over the last 25 years have gotten to know one another and Bonjour Brioche is notwithstanding. Their fame of course reaches beyond the East End as they’ve been voted Best Brunch by NOW Magazine readers, just to name one example.
They have even been featured in famous TV series such as ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’:
When we asked if there was anything else Feasson wanted to say about their time in Riverside over the last 20 plus years she had this to say.
“I’ve watched families grow up, literally like little kids were in their diapers and now they’re coming out, and they’ve got to be 25 now you know, and asking ‘can I have a baguette?’.
A lot of changes but it’s just a real sense of community when you have a small place that has served, you know, everybody for so long; and I get that sense of community first hand because I’m here every day. Unlike my husband who’s just down in the dungeon. I get the compliments and the accolades.
Just this summer for instance, someone said ‘I’m so happy here! We’ve been living in New York City. We got engaged here, I never thought you’d be open after all these years. Been in New York for 10 years and I came back and, and it’s just as good as it was 10 years ago. So all those things that are just really nice to hear from families and just different people and tourists and that have been coming for years as well. It’s just, yeah, just I guess a nice sense of community!”
The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.