Woodbine, Danforth retail renaissance

Lots of new and friendly faces on familiar shopping strip

I love it when retail shopping strips change and adapt to the needs of the community, and get better as a result.

The area around Danforth and Woodbine seems to be one such ’hood.

It used to be a place I’d go solely to do a Value Village dig (2119 Danforth Ave.). But a recent jaunt there shows the area is diversifying its retail offerings. A new Home Hardware store launched this spring at 2151 Danforth Ave., and a Mobilicity store has sprung up at 2129 Danforth, in a space that I hear has been empty some time.

And following, perhaps, in the successful footsteps of Better Bulk, which opened a year and a half ago at 2035 Danforth Ave. and has been taking the neighbourhood by storm, a smattering of foodie type shops and cafes have popped up that appear to be thriving.

The popular tapas joint Relish Bar & Grill at 2152 Danforth Ave., for instance, is now open lunches Tuesday to Saturday 11:30 a.m.–2p.m.

Nearby, True Brew Café, open since 2009 in the former Dollar Blaze & Smoke shop, has been going strong serving up its homemade lunches, baked goods and yummy coffees like the Al Pacino (a frapuccino with caramel, yum).

Family-run by Susan Clarke and her hubby Frank and son Colin, the café came about as Susan says she was constantly dreaming of recipes.

A communications and events specialist at BMO for a decade, she took some food courses at George Brown College and eventually left her job to start up the café.

She makes everything herself except the bread on the sandwiches— and speaking of, there are half sandwiches for $3.95 if you don’t think you can go for a full one — perfect for grazers like me.

Susan’s soups are so popular, apparently, that people ask for them in the summer, and her cheddar cheese scones — which are sold out before noon the day I drop in — are the stuff of legend, a gent who works at the bank nearby tells me.

Inspired by the Last Drop Café bar on Sammon near Coxwell, the café is attracting a new breed of younger families who have settled in the area, Susan says, who, like her own family, have moved east as they can’t afford houses around Donlands or Coxwell.

I can tell Susan’s a parent. Her Little Breakfast Brownies have a hand-written sign beside them that reads, “Go On … Your Mom’s Not Looking and I Won’t Tell.” I’ll be back to grab a handful of the chocolate-covered pretzels (only 50 cents each).

I pop in one Saturday and try a delish pumpkin bar with a coffee. The entire fam is at the helm, with Colin — who tells me he loves working in the café — at the cash. Apparently the s’more bar was his idea.

2116 Danforth Ave., 416-467-8783.

Further along on the southwest corner of Woodbine and the Dani, the Cozy Café & Bakery has been up and running since the spring.

Two sisters run the biz and used to have a café in St. Catharines, I’m told, but came to the Big Smoke as they loved Toronto.

Like True Brew, everything is homemade on the spot except here they do have a variety of breads, mostly of the yellow egg dough type.

The space is large, with tables and a couch sitting area in the front and even toys for kids stacked neatly on a red bookshelf. The place reminds me a bit of the kid-friendly, and now closed, Small World Café that was further west on the Danforth.

There’s salad and lasagna on offer the day I pop in, along with the yummiest looking vegetarian pizza, $2.49 a slice, that’s absolutely heaped with feta cheese and veggies and will surely give the nearby Pizza Pizza a run for its money.

I’m not particularly hungry but my sis, who lives nearby, tells me the cinnamon buns are just like our dearly departed gran’s. Natch, I buy one — it’s only a buck, if you can believe it, and with a juice my bill is a mere $2.

The bun is gooey but not too sweet and with no icing. I almost break down in tears right there and then as it’s exactly like my grandmother’s baked glory. I ask the lady behind the cash if she’s Polish like my gran. Turns out she’s Serbian but all the eastern European countries, she tells me, use the recipes of the Poles that are made with little sugar and yellow dough.

My thighs may hate me but I’ll go back to grab half a dozen buns for $5.

2075 Danforth Ave., 647-349-5251.

It’s not just the foodie joints that have sprung up either. Other shops that have been there a while, like the St. John’s Thrift Store, have spruced themselves up, as though in response to the general reinvigoration of the ’hood.

The second-hand shop, part of the St. John’s Mission whose proceeds go back into helping people in the community, has been renovated and overhauled completely. Where the store used to be somewhat dingy and dirty with items tossed into heaps, the revamped digs are clean, crisp and way better organized.

And I swear the offerings, all of which are donated, are way better than they used to be. I spotted Femme De Carriere, Olsen, various Paris labels, and a few vintage pieces on the racks.

I pounce on a khaki faux-suede coat with military buttons and detailing, $25, a fab deal in my books. I also nab a long woolen knit skirt and an Alexandra Bartlett cashmere sweater for $5 each and walk away a happy camper.

2155 Danforth Avenue 416-698-9848 www.stjohnsmission.org.

About this article:

By: Kelly Gadzala
Posted: Nov 3 2010 4:19 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto