Veggie cafe aims to change minds

[attach]5842[/attach]When it comes to food, Sam Kanner enjoys getting people to broaden their palate.

He says one of the dishes garnering attention from customers at his new kosher café and catering company is the tofu steak salad.

“Even people who when we say tofu they sort of turn their nose, when they walk out the door they swear by it and they come back and they order it again and that’s been refreshing,” he says. “That people are starting to look at different options, tofu, vegetarian items, that they wouldn’t necessarily have done before.”

Pantry Foods, which officially opened in November at Bathurst Street and Ranee Avenue, offers dairy and vegetarian foods ranging from salads, soups, sandwiches, quiches and pizza to biscotti and muffins.

Kanner, who went to culinary school in Israel, says they also have an assortment of prepared items and ingredients ready to go like pickles, sauces and cookie mixes.

“We want to be your own personal pantry,” he says. “If somebody was cooking in the kitchen and they needed to grab something from their pantry that’s how we envision our self, whether it’s a quick meal, some prepared foods or an ingredient or a recipe.”

Along with chef Randi Kates, he says they draw from their backgrounds to come up with seasonal menu items and take inspiration from anywhere from cookbooks to nature. He says they are also working on a pop-up fish grill concept for the summer, recently added a Sunday brunch menu and periodically offer cooking classes for all age groups to spread their culinary knowledge and tips.

Having worked up the street at Hartmans Fine Kosher Foods for the last three years, Kanner says the concept for Pantry Foods manifested itself when the space became available.

“I don’t live too far from here,” he says. “It just seems like there was a bit of a need for it and I gravitate towards the more indie, hip places downtown and I kind of bring that to my community.”

New to entrepreneurial life, Kanner says he’s been on an interesting learning curve over the last few months.

“I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions,” he says. “I’ve never owned a business before so it’s exciting for me.”

Although he often knows his customers, he says it’s nice when he meets new people and discovers they’ve already frequented his café.

“Them saying, ‘Oh yes, I’ve been there and it was great,’ it was just very rewarding,” he says.

Although they focus primarily on corporate event catering, he says the café has been popular among people in the area. One of his main goals was to be as fresh as possible and have an open concept kitchen where customers could see the food being prepared.

“It’s great to be able to have a concept and to bring it to fruition and to see people respond to it,” he says. “I just want them to appreciate the good food and to just have a good time in whatever it is … If they’re coming for a meal, it should be tasty, it should be a memorable experience.”