Riverside 40 Stories, 40 Years: Bonjour Brioche

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?

Business Founders Lori and Henri Celebrating 20 years in 2017 (Photo Credit: Bonjour Brioche)

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.” 

 

Bonjour Brioche, on a busy weekend Pre-Pandemic, serving the East End (Photo Credit: Bonjour Brioche)

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.” 

Fresh Pastries from Bonjour Brioche (Photo Credit: Bonjour Brioche)

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 Brioche Takeaway Windows Through COVID-19

Bonjour Brioche Takeaway Windows implemented through COVID-19 to offer quick and safe service (Photo Credit: Bonjour Brioche)

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!

Bonjour Brioche took part in the Buy Toronto Time campaign to raise awareness of the challenges small business face during the pandemic

In 2021, Bonjour Brioche took part in the ‘Buy Toronto Time’ campaign to raise awareness of the challenges small business face during the pandemic.

 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. 

Bonjour Brioche's CafeTO curblane patio on De Grassi Street on a rare quiet moment when it's not packed for breakfast or lunch

Bonjour Brioche’s CafeTO curblane patio on De Grassi Street on a rare quiet moment when it’s not packed for breakfast or lunch

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.” 

Celebrating Lori Feasson's 62nd birthday at Bonjour Brioche with staff, Riverside, Toronto

Celebrating Lori Feasson’s 62nd birthday at Bonjour Brioche with staff, Riverside (Photo credit: Bonjour Brioche)

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’:

Scene from ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ inside Bonjour Brioche, Riverside, Toronto

Scene from ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ inside Bonjour Brioche

 

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!”

40 years 40 stories graphic

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.

FIND THE SERIES HERE AS WE SHARE NEW STORIES EACH WEEK

DO YOU HAVE A STORY OF THE RIVERSIDE BIA? SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Meet our #QueenEastEats Community Supporter: Outline Financial

We’re pleased  to thank Outline Financial, one of our Queen East Eats Community Supporters!

Jason Friesen of Outline Financial shared: “Since moving into the neighbourhood in 2015, we’ve gotten to know many people who live and work in the area and like to give back any way we can. Anything that brings more visitors into the area bars, pubs, restaurants and breweries benefits the community as a whole. I really like how this area has become a destination. The selection of options for food and drink are pretty great in the area and we want to see it thrive.”

Outline Financial have been focused on providing great mortgage and insurance solutions while giving back any way they can. They are pleased to support Queen East Eats to help bring more visitors into the area’s bars, pubs, restaurants and breweries, and benefit the community as a whole. 

We were happy to take this opportunity to catch up with Jason and help share his story:

Jason Friesen of Outline Financial (at right) with Jamie Zeldin of Hullmark (left) - two community supporters of the Queen East Eats programme in Riverside and Leslieville BIAs

Jason Friesen of Outline Financial (at right) with Jamie Zeldin of Hullmark (left) – two community supporters of the Queen East Eats programme in Riverside and Leslieville BIAs

What do you love about Queen Street East’s Riverside and Leslieville areas -what do you feel makes this area unique?

Jason: I love the area because it has a lot of diversity and a great energy about it. The food and drink options are pretty outstanding, all within this tight knit community.

 
Throwback to 2018 when Jason supported the Riverside Wine & Craft Beer Fest!

Throwback to 2018 when Jason supported the Riverside Wine & Craft Beer Fest!

What’s your favourite thing about the work you do?

Jason: I love coming to work every day and helping my clients realize their dreams of home ownership. It’s a pretty rewarding feeling to be a big part of such an important decision. 

Big thanks to Jason Friesen and the team at Outline Financial for all their support in the business community!

What’s #QueenEastEats?

It’s a series of giveaways, colourful displays, public art, tours, business features, and more to welcome everyone to the Queen Street East al fresco dining experience this summer and fall. Stay tuned as we bring you something new every week! Learn more check out our Patio Map to plan your experience Queen East Eats in #RiversideTO & #Leslieville

Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories: Toronto Public Library-Queen/Saulter Branch

In this feature of the ‘Riverside 40 Years, 40 Stories’ series, Branch Head, Judy Leung, walks us through the incredible journey of the Queen/Saulter Library Branch, located at 765 Queen Street East. Come with us on this story from its early days, to how it came to be a staple in the community, as we welcome the Branch back with its re-opening after a long hiatus through this pandemic.

Special thanks to Judy Leung for contributing this story:

When I started at the Queen/Saulter Library ten years ago, it came full circle as I remember coming here growing up, when my parents owned a restaurant/convenience store further east along Queen Street East toward Greenwood. 

Shortly after I began, I came across a folder of community support letters that was collected in 2001 when this branch was considered for closure.  The community support for Queen/Saulter was very much apparent in those letters.  One letter from a child summed up the sentiments of many: “I use this library all the time because I love this library with all my heart.”

Those letters told a story about how the community had to fight to have a library in this neighbourhood, and then fight to keep it open.

History

South Riverdale residents had long felt neglected by the city due to the few services available in the neighbourhood at the time.  The community was also concerned about the lack of library service on Queen Street East.

In 1977, the then historic post office building at 765 Queen Street East was acquired by the City of Toronto for conversion into a multi-service community centre. 

The Queen/Saulter Library opened December 11th, 1979 at a temporary storefront location at 761 Queen Street East (where the Riverside BIA had their offices from 2012-2016).  In 1980, the branch relocated to its present site in former Postal Station G., built in 1913, and designed by E.J. Lennox, the eminent architect who also designed Old City Hall, Casa Loma and the King Edward Hotel.

queen saulter library

Picture on right, temporary storefront location at 761 Queen Street East.
Picture on left, permanent location at 765 Queen Street East.

Then in 2001, the Queen/Saulter Library was considered for closure but the community organized to keep it open.  The community support was so strong that instead of closing, it was refurbished in 2002.  It shows how a little library like Queen/Saulter can touch so many people and be a part of something so much bigger through community support and partnerships.

Strong partnerships help bring library programs and services out into the Riverside community, some of the many examples are below:

Inside and Outback Walk with authors Shawn Micallef (Stroll, Spacing Magazine) and Ron Fletcher (Over the Don) presented with the Riverside BIA as part of the Riverside Walks Festival (2012).

queen saulter shawn riverside

Shawn Micallef addressing the crowd inside the Queen/Saulter Library

ron fletcher curling club queen saulter riverside

Ron Fletcher addressing the crowd outside the Royal Canadian Curling Club

Danette Steele presented with the Riverside BIA as part of the Jane’s Walk festival (2015).

halloween queen saulter riverside

Annual HOWL-O-WEEN Party for children and families presented with the Ralph Thornton Community Centre and the South Riverdale Child-Parent Centre (2019).

 

Celebrating the holidays with festive cards given to community members.  The cards feature Queen/Saulter librarians and were created by talented staffers Alison Wright (card on top) and Kayla Preston-Lord (card on bottom).

queen saulter librarians riverside

Queen/Saulter Library – Winner of the inaugural Riverside BIA’s Customer Service Superstar Award (2013).

Over March 2020 to August 2021, Queen/Saulter Library has been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and staff have been relocated to nearby libraries.  Many Riverside community members have visited staff at these locations to express how much they miss the Queen/Saulter Library and their eagerness for its reopening.  We also miss everyone, and it is heartening to feel all the love and support.  It serves as a reminder of how rewarding it is to be part of the Riverside community and the library’s importance in making the community stronger.

We couldn’t be happier and more excited for our long-awaited re-opening on September 14, 2021!

40 years 40 stories graphic

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.

FIND THE SERIES HERE AS WE SHARE NEW STORIES EACH WEEK

DO YOU HAVE A STORY OF THE RIVERSIDE BIA? SUBMIT YOUR STORY

 

Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories: Film & TV Culture in Riverside

As part of our ‘Riverside BIA: 40 Years, 40 Stories’ series, we’re sharing the story of the film and TV culture in Toronto’s Riverside neighbourhood, with some fascinating tidbits from over the years.

This story has been modified from it’s origins as one of our Riverside Walks. Thanks to our former BIA Board Member and local historian Ron Fletcher and his ‘movie buff’ brother Bernie Fletcher for sharing photos and information for this original walk/story.

Have you ever wondered where some of your favourite TV shows and movies were filmed? In some cases, the answer is very close to home! Just steps from Toronto’s major film studios, the Riverside neighbourhood has been a film and TV hotspot for decades thanks to the area’s film-friendly ‘doors open’ policy. Home to the famous De Grassi Street, which inspired the Degrassi TV series, Riverside has been transformed for “Cinderella Man” (2005) and more recently hosted shoots for TV series such as “Handmaid’s Tale” and “Taken.”

Ralph Thornton Centre / Queen Saulter Library (765 Queen St E) & Cinderella Man (Queen St E) 

The columned façade was designed by E.J. Lennox, who also designed Old City Hall and Casa Loma. The building was constructed in 1913 and served as Postal Station G until 1975. It was acquired by the City of Toronto and renovated into a community center and library in 1979. Scenes from Cinderella Man (2005) were filmed in and around the building and in The Mouth of Madness (1994).

Recognize the Queen/Saulter library? Queen Street East was outfitted to look like a Depression-era American town for Cinderella Man (2005) directed by Ron Howard. Photo credit: Bernie Fletcher 

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) directed by John Carpenter, filmed inside the library. Photo Credit: Toronto Public Library Archives.

George Iliades (741 Queen St E) 

A lot has changed on Queen St E, but George Iliades, barber and actor, has been in the same shop for the last 54 years and has been in 14 movies! His first appearance was in 2001, for a TD Bank Commercial (TD rented his shop for the ad and ended up putting him on camera too). After that, he got an agent and has been in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and more.

Owner of Broadview Beauty Parlour and well known figure George Iliades in his shop. Photo Credit: George Iliades.

The Broadview Hotel (106 Broadview Ave) & Teck Theatre (700 Queen St E) 

Originally built in 1891 as a Romanesque style hall for public gatherings called ‘Dingman’s Hall,’ a 1907 ownership change converted it to rooming houses for men working in factories or on the rail lines. The building was Jilly’s Strip Club by 1986. In 2014, Streetcar Developments bought and transformed this iconic building into a boutique hotel with the Toronto skyline’s best views. It has since been the scene of prominent TV series such as A Handmaid’s Tale. Right next door was once the Teck Theatre, a Toronto movie house opened from 1931-33 during the transition from silent movies to ‘talkies’. Read all about The Broadview Hotel’s long and colourful history in our past feature.

Photo Credit: Toronto Archives.

Riverside Bridge & Il Ponte (625 Queen St E) 

The Bridge appeared in Angel Eyes (2001) with the CN Tower at the back, even though Angel Eyes is set in Chicago. At the eastern foot of the Bridge, the Italian restaurant Il Ponte, named for the Bridge it was located beside, was the set for the TV series Mary Kills People (episode 2×05).

A still screen from the series “Mary Kills People”. 

A still screen from the 2001 film “Angel Eyes”

Quince Flowers (660 Queen St E) 

A popular floral shop in Riverside for over 10 years, Quince boasts TIFF as one of their clients and created the flower wall ‘step and repeat’ for TIFF’s 40th Anniversary. Quince did the floral arrangements  for the TV series Suits as well as Atom Egoyan’s movies Chloe (2009) and Ararat (2002).

The stunning flower wall at TIFF done by Quince Flowers. Photo Credit: Quince Flowers

The floral arrangements seen here, a still from the incredibly popular series Suits, was done by Quince Flowers!

The Opera House (735 Queen St E) 

An iconic Toronto music venue since 1989, the building originally opened in 1909 as a Vaudeville stage, then as La Plaza Theatre (1930s), and as a movie theatre through the 1960s. As multiplex screen venues popped up, the venue transformed again in 1989 under new ownership to a live music venue that has hosted many of the world’s top acts such as Metallica, Cindy Lauper, and Eminem. The Opera House has been in many movie scenes, notably The Rocker (2008) and Johnny Mnemonic (1995). Learn all about The Opera House and it’s long history in our past feature about it.

Still screen from The Rocker (2008)

De Grassi Street & Bruce Mackey Park (55 Wardell St) 

Originally named for the soldier, Filippo De Grassi, the street was made famous after it inspired the hit TV series franchise. Bruce Mackey Park was officially dedicated to a founding friend and supporter of the Degrassi TV series: Bruce Mackey opened his home to young filmmakers, Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood, who were making a short children’s film. The Kids of Degrassi Street was born, spawning the cult classic franchise including Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, Degrassi: The Next Generation, which starred now famed artist Drake, and Degrassi: Next Class. Read more about this in our past story about De Grassi St vs Degrassi St!

Laird Fx (46 McGee St) 

Established in 1979 by Laird McMurray, Laird Fx is Canada’s largest firm doing special effects, props and more devices for film, TV, theatre and live events – having worked with series such as Star Trek. Laird changed the game by hiring people full-time year-round – locking in good employees and talented people.

A look inside the Laird FX workspace reveals bits and pieces from countless projects. Photo Credit: Laird FX

If Riverside’s “door open” policy, landscape, and proximity to major local film studios were not enough to make it a hotbed for TV and film projects, the character and history of the area are. Buildings and streets in Riverside reflect a city that has changed greatly but retained qualities and proudly bears markings of its past. Set for today, tomorrow, or yesterday, Riverside provides a great canvas to tell a visual story.

We hope you enjoyed this whirlwind tour of some of the fascinating film and TV moments in Riverside’s history, and cheers to many more being made every day!

 

40 years 40 stories graphic

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.

FIND THE SERIES HERE AS WE SHARE NEW STORIES EACH WEEK

DO YOU HAVE A STORY OF THE RIVERSIDE BIA? SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Riverside 40 Years, 40 Stories: George “Jim” Thomason & Unilever

As part of the Riverside BIA: 40 Years, 40 Stories series, we are sharing the story of Jim Thomason, an East End native, a father and loving grandfather, and a long-time employee of the Unilever factory at the foot of the Don River.

Our thanks go to Jim’s granddaughter, Sabrina (Riverside BIA’s summer 2021 Marketing Assistant!), for contributing this amazing story and to Jim and other family members for sharing their memories.

My Grandfather, George “Jim” Thomason, was born April 22nd 1931 at East York General (now Michael Garron Hospital) and – until he moved to the West Coast to enjoy his retirement “without snow” – he was a Toronto Eastend native who grew up just northeast of Riverside neighbourhood.

An early photo of Jim Thomason as a toddler, c 1933 (Photo credit to the Thomason family)

Gerrard and Pape bridge c 1930 (Photo Credit Toronto City Archives)

Back then he was a tall, slim man and a self proclaimed “Spiffy Dresser.” After all, he did meet my Grandmother, Sheila Taylor, a Scottish-American immigrant, in a $75.00 suit. Three weeks wages at the time!

As a young man Grandad wanted to be a printer, and got an apprenticeship at Bryant Press (near Spadina Avenue in the West End). However shortly after, with the printing system becoming more automated, the Printers Union went on strike and they paid him $25.00 a week to stand on a picket line for a few hours.

According to Grandad, his father, “was pissed off, ‘excuse my language’ ” he said on the phone, “that he was being paid a wage not to work but to stand around for a few hours.” So to keep the peace, as he said he always did – and not uncommon for the time – Jim took a job he did not want and worked there his entire life.

Born in between World Wars and into the Great Depression, my Grandad grew up being told you got “a job that pays every week and it was considered permanent if they liked you and you liked it.” Jim Thomason worked at Unilever – the Lever Brothers Sunlight Soapworks Factory – on Eastern Avenue from March 1948 until he retired with a gold watch and a pension in 1991.

Lever Brothers Soapworks Factory, Exterior, 1930s (Photo Credit Toronto Library)

Lever Brothers Soapworks Factory, Interior, 1930s (Photo Credit Toronto Library)

When I asked my grandad if he liked it he said “No, but I kept my nose clean and held on to it. It’s not like today, where they say ‘we will see how you fit in after 18 months and maybe renew your contract… none of that. You had a job if you showed up and worked hard!”

In 1948 he was paid 95 cents an hour with a 5 cents an hour living bonus, working out to be around $40.00 a week. At 21 he joined the compulsory Canadian pension plan and over 40 years later he retired on a salary of $37 500 a year plus overtime pay.

Images of Lever Brothers Soap Factory, Exterior 2019 (Photo Credit Toronto Library)

Images of Lever Brothers Soap Factory, Exterior 2019 (Photo Credit Toronto Library)

Ninety in April this year, Grandad’s memories of Riverside, Riverdale and Leslieville in the 1930’s and 40’s, although not named as such then, are as vivid as ever. He can still recall the family names and ethnicities of every neighbour he had on Cavell Ave.

Can you tell me about anyone that sticks out in your memory from your childhood?

 “There was this Italian Immigrant family who lived up the street and they owned a grocery store up on the Danforth.” He spoke as if he were standing outside the store telling me about it. “The Greco Family, the son was Tony and they were a ‘go to church two to three times a week’ kind of family but they had the best produce at their store.”

Tony Greco and his Mother, Southwest corner, Danforth and Logan 1930 (Photo Credit Toronto City Archives)

Do you have memories of Queen Street from your days working at Lever Brothers?

“So much of the city at that point was still under development but down south of Queen Street was a combination of working class homes and industrial factories that all depended on the Don River as a way to move raw materials up from the lake docks and into the factories.”

I can recall this story from my own childhood, Grandad telling me about hauling bags of lye off a barge that would pull up to a loading dock in the Lever Brothers factory. “It was labour but few jobs that paid every week and had room to grow with seniority didn’t start out as labour” he said, as if this were still a common work practice.

My grandparents lived in the east end their whole working lives. They raised two children who went on to have families of their own, myself included, in the Riverside and, Riverdale areas. They continue to tell our family stories of life in young Toronto, starting a family and seeing the neighbourhood grow around them.

My Grandad is a thoughtful and hardworking man who served the east end neighbourhood of Riverside his whole working life. It’s been a joy to share his story.

Jim and Kyle, his son and contributing writer Sabrina Thomason’s father – 1964 (Photo credit: Thomason family)

Sheila and Jim Thomason in the 1970s (Photo credit: Thomason family)

 

40 years 40 stories graphic

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.

FIND THE SERIES HERE AS WE SHARE NEW STORIES EACH WEEK

DO YOU HAVE A STORY OF THE RIVERSIDE BIA? SUBMIT YOUR STORY