A Hidden Restaurant In Little Italy
"You have to take a bit of an adventure to get down here. People mostly find us by word of mouth."
Hidden in Little Italy, in the basement of a church is La Limonada. The homestyle restaurant serves lemonade and vegan doubles— a Trinidadian street food with flat fried bread and curried chickpeas.
Although a sandwich board outside advertises La Limonada, it can be easy to miss. La Limonada's owner Jane Frank says that, "you have to take a bit of an adventure to get down here... people mostly find their way here, purely by word of mouth."
Jane is warm and welcoming. She smiles at you. She sings while she works. When I arrive I mention that I had been here the week before and she says, "oh yes, you were sitting at that table over there."
Jane's husband Richard Lewis also helps out. Richard played in the NFL for 4 years (his Football Reference page). While I'm there he steps outside to "talk to people", which means hanging out front and chatting to people in the neighbourhood he's gotten to know.
Richard helps out but Jane runs La Limonada herself. "Everything is just how I want it. I manage it myself. I cook it with love. I'll do this until I can't manage it— and I can manage a lot."
When you talk to Jane, you get the sense she is irrepressibly entrepreneurial. She's been at this for 25 years. She had a 5 year stint working at the Board of Trade which she says was fun but grew tiring once "you had to sit down for [too many] meetings... then it was time for me to get on down the road."
She came by her doubles recipe honestly, "it's original to Trinidad so I cornered Trinidadian grandmas and just wore them out. Eventually I got something that worked... Now when people come in and ask 'What are doubles?', I know they're going to be back."
I stopped by mid-afternoon on a hot Tuesday. While I was there a young man and his dog, fresh from a run came in and ordered two doubles. A few minutes later a young woman arrived and ordered 5 doubles.
The easy pace of La Limonada is enabled by Jane's unique partnership with the Toronto Spiritualist Temple, the church she rents from. "I like that I don't have the high stress of finding rent. I donate to the church as generously as I can. It's fantastic. I help them and they help me."
Prior to the church, Jane operated La Limonada out of Pecaut Square. "After the [Pecaut Square] lease was up they wanted to increase rent and it just didn't make sense because we're at the mercy of the weather and it was already a ridiculous amount."
The opportunity to rent the church basement came just as Jane decided to leave Pecault Square. It's a good thing it did. In Toronto's high-pace, high-rent world of restaurants, a modest, single person restaurant like La Limonada is unusual— which is it's charm. So when someone like Jane is able to carve out a space, it's worth celebrating.
La Limonada is located at 706 College St. It's open Wed-Sun 11:30am - 7:30pm. There is a sandwich board which provides directions. The entrance is on the east side of the church. Just follow the stairs down.