Is there any smell more universally appealing than that of cookies baking? Warm, inviting and mouth-watering, it is precisely this smell that wafts periodically out the door of The Red Bench, an organic café and treat shop on Yonge Street between Bloor and Wellesley. Cookies are constantly being baked at The Red Bench as they are only made in batches of five mini-cookies; the batches are so small because they are made to order. Yes, custom-baked cookies.
Opened by couple Elie and Dena last January, The Red Bench serves up delicious cookies, frozen yogurt, coffee, and loose-leaf teas. The couple had been working in the corporate world—he as a consultant and she in human resources—but dreamed of opening their own business. Dena, a prolific baker, would often make cookies using her own recipes. Elie says, “We were eating them one day at home. We looked at each other and said, ‘These are so good. Why don’t we sell them?’” The inspiration for the frozen yogurt came from Dena’s niece, a 6-year-old girl who loves the stuff. After reading about the hormones found in many dairy products, and the negative health effects they have on the children who eat them, Dena wanted to create a clean, organic product that parents would be able to feed their kids without worry. The couple, who eat only organic at home, decided to open a shop. Elie quit his job in July of 2012; they secured a location and got to work readying the space.
Cookies at The Red Bench are not ones that have been sitting out for hours or days. Customers pick one of five doughs, all Dena’s own recipes: original, peanut butter, oatmeal, double chocolate or gluten free. They then pick 2 toppings from over 20 choices (and extra toppings can be added for 25 cents). The resulting batch of five mini-cookies is mixed, baked, cooled, and served in 5-6 minutes, homey and fresh out of the oven, just like cookies should be. The self-serve frozen yogurt is also made in-house, and flavours like red velvet, mocha, and orange rotate every two weeks; the wide assortment of toppings changes as well. To accompany these treats, the Red Bench serves a variety loose-leaf teas—all from Toronto tea vendor Tealish—as well as organic coffee.
The shop is strikingly slick-looking on a stretch of Yonge Street filled with instant-loans spots and discount clothing retailers. The Red Bench’s brick wall, which has been there since the 1800s, was retained from the previous tenant, as was the flooring, but Elie and Dena have transformed the rest of the space. Much of what has been added to the shop is intentionally environmentally conscious. The bar and shelves are all reclaimed wood, and one wall is covered with shipping pallets the couple collected from shipping yards, cut, whitewashed and stapled to the walls themselves, a process Elie describes as a labour of love.
The couple also built the eponymous red bench, found on the sidewalk right outside the shop, to recreate one from a park by Dena’s childhood house in Paris. “All of Paris has green benches, but for some odd reason, there was a little red bench outside her house… If a bench could speak, it would have a million stories to tell. At any time, there could be a couple sharing a kiss, or friends sharing a laugh or a secret.” The couple built the bench extra-long—six feet as opposed to the standard four—in the hopes that their bench will host many such moments for their customers, over some cookies or frozen yogurt, and a hot drink.
WORDS: RONIT RUBINSTEIN
PHOTOS: MICHAEL KAHN
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