Must Try: College Street’s Windup Bird Cafe

Even forgetting that the restaurant’s name, Windup Bird Cafe (382 College Street), is taken from a novel by famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami, it’s immediately obvious upon entering the airy and creative space that there’s a writer’s touch involved. 

Co-owner Sang Kim is an award-winning fiction writer, playwright, chef, and restaurateur. He co-owned Blowfish, was Food and Beverage Director at The Drake, currently runs Yakitori Bar and Seoul Food Co. on Baldwin Street, and in 2013 he picked up the Gloria Vanderbilt Prize for Short Fiction while also being named the LCBO’s Feature Chef for fall. To say he’s multi-talented is almost to give the word ‘multi’ too much credit. He also grew up in the Jane and Finch area and spent most of his childhood very poor and, at times, was forced to steal food in order to feed himself and his family. Those memories have formed into the desire for Sang to create more than just a restaurant – a space that doesn’t simply provide food but also nourishes ideas and engagement with its community.

Inside the Cafe, you’ll find original art on every wall, and words too. “Love makes you crawl out of your hiding space” is scribbled in pink marker on the baked goods display case. “What happens when people open their hearts? They get better” is scrawled across a window that looks out on the corner of College and Borden. There’s a welcoming feeling here. Of course the large, bright windows, smooth hardwood, and exposed brick also don’t hinder the desire to stick around. 

While Sang’s past has surely influenced the idea behind the restaurant’s creation, Chef and Co-owner Yumiko Kobayashi (who was a textile designer in her native Japan) is actually the one who designed it. It seems that everyone at The Windup Bird Cafe excels in more than one area.

The very shy and humble chef sits across from us and explains that her inspiration for the menu came from both her friends and her mother. For her friends, she wanted to create a place where both vegetarians and meat eaters alike could share a meal, while her mother’s influence is in the amount of vegetables delivered with each plate. As a child, Kobayashi was always told that for every bite of meat she should also have three bites of vegetables. And now we get to benefit from the abundance of fresh greens that come with everything from our tasty Baked Vegetable Loaf (more than 10 individual veggies) to our mouthwateringly tender 5oz grass-fed Ontario roast beef tenderloin. 

However, it’s not only the simple and effortless food combined with the inviting atmosphere that set The Windup Bird Cafe apart from many of its College St. counterparts. It’s also that they walk the walk. Every worker receives two free meals a day at the restaurant (even on days off) and are encouraged to take food home with them that would otherwise be thrown out. They prefer to hire employees with less than five years industry experience because they don’t want anyone too jaded to be capable of enjoying themselves. This is about community and sharing and building something unique. We suggest you be a part of it too. 

#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)

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