In the heart of downtown Toronto’s financial district, amongst all of the standard coffee shops, honking horns, and billows of cigarette smoke, sits a little taste of Southern France. Up the stairs of First Canadian Place, bustling with people rushing to and from meetings and masked by an outdoor waterfall in the plaza below, is Maman café—new to the Toronto food landscape, but already making its mark, with daily lineups out the door.
Maman comes from New York, its original location going strong in SoHo, where it has done incredibly well in less than a year of business: featured in The New York Times, New York Magazine’s Grubstreet, and Time Out New York, for starters. Much like the food on offer, the concept for both cafés was the amalgamation of multiple countries and cultures: Michelin-star chef Armand Arnal of La Chassagnette in the South of France, Toronto-born and New York-based designer, baker, and event planner Elisa Marshall, and Marshall’s husband, hospitality entrepreneur Benjamin Sormonte. To head up the Toronto location, the partners brought on long-time friends Laure de la Moussaye and Othman Kacimi. It is truly a friend affair, and a friendly one, too; the small, bright space is warm and neutral, with lots of natural wood and white, antique furniture shipped from France, and accents of pattern created by New York/Toronto textile designer Candice Kaye (look down: the white tile on the concrete floors was hand-painted). Attention to detail is paramount and obvious, with delicate potted plants, a wooden ladder displaying the menu on little clipboards, and stacks of the café’s signature white-and-blue to-go coffee cups.
“We really wanted to create a home feeling, something that reminds us of our childhood and the pleasure to share a good meal with friends and family,” says de la Moussaye. “Maman brings to life childhood favourites, both savoury and sweet, from France and North America. The dishes focus on the highest quality, locally sourced ingredients, and highlight Chef Arnal’s classic French technique.” The fresh, laid-back menu changes every day, offering a delicious bounty of salads, sandwiches, quiches, and pastries, along with coffee from Brooklyn-based Toby’s Estate. This daily challenge is important, says de la Moussaye, to focus on the seasonality of ingredients, as well as encourage creativity from the culinary team, and ensure returning customers (of which there are many, already) do not get bored with the selection. For the chaotic grind of the Concrete Jungle, Maman is a calm breeze, a refreshing gulp. “The Toronto food scene is really dynamic now, but it’s not overcrowded yet as it is the case in Montreal where you have so many French establishments,” says de la Moussaye. Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup.
Food photos by Marlee Maclean; others by Phil Crozier/Photophilcro.
Maman, 100 King Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M5X 1B1, Canada, 416- 216-6767.