It’s been a busy—if not slightly unnerving—week for Chad Comfort, owner of Sky Blue Sky Sandwich Company, the cozy, Wilco-themed comfort-food hangout in the Annex. “For the past few weeks, people were walking in, two or three a day, and asking how long we’d been here. I didn’t even know the review was happening, but then after it did, things really picked up, and people who dropped by out of curiosity kept coming back.” The review in question, a favourable one on blogTO, picked up a considerable amount of steam after Wilco themselves Tweeted it and Pitchfork ran a tip from a Torontonian two days later. Before Comfort could blink, the Chicago Tribune had him on the phone for a chat about their hometown heroes’ new fixture in Toronto. “I started to get so nervous [with the attention]; I was out of sorts. One day, I was just dropping everything and knocked everything off of a table. People were telling me, ‘you went viral!’ I had no idea what viral even meant.”
Opened last October, Sky Blue Sky had a slow start, and at times Comfort wondered if his soups alone were what kept it open in the winter months, but he’s glad the attention didn’t come too fast and furious; hailing from the Niagara region and with a previous background in not-for-profit, it took a while for the amateur restaurant owner to settle in. “I’ve always liked to cook, but the opportunity just came up. It took us a while to find our feet, and the feedback might not have been as good in those first few months if we had that attention.” Ready to open, and wanting to align it with the music he loved, Comfort (and his wife, Robin, who doesn’t work in the shop but shares the music and business decisions), settled on Wilco for a couple of reasons. “When it comes down to it, Wilco really is my favourite band. We thought, ‘should we pick someone Canadian?’ Like, I really like Great Lake Swimmers and toyed with Great Lake Sandwiches, but that was just me. My wife didn’t like that one so much,” he chuckles. “I really just wanted somewhere friendly that people could feel relaxed, and when I think of how someone would describe Wilco, I think, ‘unpretentious.'”
Comfort’s own disarming down-to-earth demeanour is built into every part of Sky Blue Sky, from the warm and simple decor to the homemade soups, bread, and baked goods. A regular customer in his early twenties, gym-bag slung over shoulder, comes in to get the soup of the day on his way home and Comfort—his own four-year-old son, waiting for his mom to get back from some errands, quietly playing his Nintendo DS in one of the booths—knowingly asks him about his family and roommates. A table of three talkative fast-fashion frosh girls get up to leave and make a point of thanking him, and he makes a point of asking how everything was. “One time, there was a table of university-aged guys here, and I wanted to have some fun and test them. So I brought over a plate of pumpkin cookies and said if they could guess which artist was playing on the speakers, they could have some. I was nicely surprised when one immediately answered, ‘Ryan Adams.'”
Other artists you can expect to hear in the shop include The National, Radiohead, Jenny Lewis, Fleet Foxes, and, well, yeah, Wilco. A true music fan, Comfort is clearly eager to chat about music; knowledgeable and politely reserved, highly curious and receptive, his ear has even recently been turning to the sounds of his new home, Toronto. “I’ve been finding more out about the Wooden Sky online. I think they have parts of all my favourite bands and write such great songs. Everybody I mention them to tell me they’re the best band in Toronto right now; I’d love to see them live.”
Of course the burning question on every Wilco diehard’s mind—what does Wilco think? “I’ve talked to their management, and they knew what we were doing,” he says “It’s in honour of the band more than anything. I don’t want it to be cheesy, or gimmicky.” And Jeff Tweedy’s son, Spencer, might even be providing some custom artwork for the place. “We’re doing a sandwich of the day with different bands, where they send us a sandwich recipe and a picture, but the one band I didn’t even ask was Wilco. I didn’t want to feel like I was bothering them! But I thought it was pretty stupid of me,” Comfort admits, “so I ended up contacting them, and Spencer, through his blog—I really love his pictures—so [if it happens], he’s willing to do the photos.”
“We’re nerds,” Comfort concludes. “This place is for nerds. Music nerds, book nerds…Wilco fans. People can come here and be united by one thing. Besides, you know, the sandwiches.”
Sky Blue Sky Sandwich Company is located at 605 Bloor Street West (just west of Bathurst).
Photos by Eugen Sakhnenko/Torontoist.