An east end espresso bar with a twist
Two years ago, Toni Giordano and Elaine Bedell left their corporate jobs in Vancouver, got into a car, and drove around the United States for two months searching for inspiration. The women had grown tired of working for other people—Giordano at a mining company and Bedell at a nonprofit—and dreamed of opening a business of their own. Initially the duo had wanted to open a restaurant serving raw food, but they soon realized they had too little experience in the industry and scaled back to a more manageable coffee-shop concept. They opened Cabbagetown espresso bar Mylk Uncookies, which specialized in raw and vegan fare, in mid-December last year.
The business gets its unusual name from the homemade almond milk and raw snacks, like macaroons and vegan cheesecake, it serves. “Milk and cookies is nostalgic,” explains Bedell. “We all know what milk and cookies is. It’s a safe place. It’s comforting and cheerful. ‘Mylk’ is a known word in the vegan community for alternative milk, and ‘uncookies,’ well, raw vegan treats are uncooked, so it came together.”
One benefit of making goods in-house is their tangible freshness. Their almond milk is bright but doesn’t overpower in coffee, providing a mild sweetness and refreshing nuttiness. A cocoa macaroon we try is dense, moist, and chewy, with the right amount of spiciness, and it demonstrates that raw and vegan desserts can still satisfy.
“We wanted to live a healthier lifestyle and we wanted to do something more community-oriented,” explains Giordano. “We like the idea of connecting people and a coffee shop tends to do that.” The partners, in business and in life, spent a frustrating 10 months searching for a location before settling on Gerrard Street just west of Parliament Street. They say the high cost of rent meant fewer options in the city. “Queen Street West is out of the running for any new venture without deep pockets,” says Giordano.
The owners say they’ve been welcomed in their new neighbourhood: “I thought we’d get a few regulars, but the amount of regulars we’ve had since we first opened is very heartwarming,” says Bedell. They admit to being worried about having opened Uncookies in a less-developed area of Toronto, but they’re buoyed by the neighbourhood’s sense of community. “The mix of people reassures us,” says Bedell. “All kind of artists, moms, kids, professionals—it reassures you for those afternoons when there are people just stumbling about and you’re thinking ‘oh, dear.’” Giordano adds: “You’ve got to remind yourself that these people who have chosen to support us on a daily basis have chosen to live here. They know what the neighbourhood is—this is what it is. They come in and they wave to each other.”
Uncookies marks a homecoming for Giordano: “Toni grew up here—inner-city kid—very loyal to Toronto,” says Bedell. “Even though she spent most of her adult years in Vancouver, her family is here. She carries Toronto with her.” Bedell, on the other hand, says she’s “definitely a West Coast girl, but this is where my girl was coming—home is where your heart is.”
Still, Bedell is enjoying her new home and has realized some preconceptions she’d heard were untrue: “What I noticed about Toronto is how community-oriented it is,” says Bedell. “I’m blown away by it. All these lovely little pockets, it’s almost like a bunch of little towns around the city. There’s so much familiarity. I’ve never experienced that and I didn’t see that in Vancouver.”
Photos courtesy of Mylk Uncookies.