The inside scoop on 3 new food ventures by London's Wolfe brothers
The Little Bird Cafe, Wolfe Pack Company Bar and Through Thick and Thin
With two downtown restaurants and three new ones in the works, it might look like the Wolfe brothers are building a restaurant empire in this city, but Justin Wolfe doesn't want you to see it that way.
"We just feel like there's so much room here to bring new concepts and expose Londoners to new things," he said. "Now that we have our roots planted, we're branching out a little more."
Wednesday was a big day for branching out for Justin and his brother Gregg, with the soft opening of the Little Bird Cafe, the framing of a new kitchen on what will become the Wolfe Pack Company Bar next door and taking possession of a brand new pizza restaurant to be built just off Ridout Street in Old South.
The brothers already own The Early Bird, a downtown restaurant that calls itself "a fine diner" and Los Lobos, a taco joint that serves modern Mexican with wild decor inside what was once a well-to-do Victorian home.
The Little Bird
Their newest venture, the Little Bird Cafe, had its soft opening Wednesday, but what might shock some diners is where its set: inside the Wolfe of Wortley, one of the city's most talked about restaurants and named one of Canada's best new dining experiences.
"It's a very tight, small, awkward space to work with," he said. "We put out minds together and tried to figure out the best concept to put in there look-wise, concept-wise, and we went with a smaller version of The Early Bird that we have downtown."
"Essentially, it's breakfast and brunch."
On offer are things such as vegan chia seed pudding, southern chicken and waffles, extreme loaded milkshakes and a breakfast cocktail list that Wolfe promises you won't find anywhere else in the city.
"Some of them have floating cereal in them," he said. "Just really fun and exciting stuff that's going to be exciting for the village, for sure."
As for the Wolfe of Wortley, it may be gone, but it's not forgotten. The brothers bought the former Village Harvest Bakery next door and plan to not just expand, but re-brand as the Wolfe Pack Company Bar.
Wolfe Pack Company Bar
The new space will be triple the size of the old Wolfe of Wortley and on Wednesday, the brothers saw the beginning of the new venture's kitchen start to take shape, but it's taken them a year to get to this point.
"It's been a long and painful process to tell you the truth," Wolfe said.
Home to a butcher shop, then a bakery that served fresh bread to the neighbourhood for over 30 years, the building was purchased by the Wolfe brothers about a year ago.
The condition of the building was not what the brothers had expected and city inspectors ordered a number of changes in order for the new restaurant to go ahead, including structural issues.
"We're finally past all those hurdles now," he said. "Now we're building an entirely new kitchen facility on the back there."
Once its finished, the brothers hope the larger space will mean they no longer have to turn so many people away in terms of space and cuisine.
"We want to open it up to the neighbourhood," he said. "We don't want people to be intimidated to come in. It's a perception thing we want to break. We don't want to be categorized in the fine dining world, we just want to give people good food and drink."
Through Thick and Thin
Originally, the brothers had planned to use the old Wolfe of Wortley space to build a new pizzeria, but after touring a vacant Greek restaurant on Chester Street near Ridout, Justin Wolfe said they had to have it.
"[It's] a great little spot I've been familiar with since I was a kid. It was an old Greek fish and chip restaurant for around 20 or 30 years," he said, noting that when choosing the location, size was everything.
"The crazy oven I'm having built in Sweden for us is a monster," he said. "They come and build it inside the restaurant."
What the brothers have envisioned for the old London Pride Fish and Chips restaurant is Through Thick and Thin, a pizzeria that does New York-style thin crust pizza and Detroit deep dish-style pizza baked inside automotive oil pans.
"This location is going to give us a lot better function as far as a pizzeria goes for take out and delivery," Wolfe said.
"It also gives us a nice size dining room and with a full size basement I'm able to do my own dough production, which was a big factor for me."
With two established restaurants, a newly launched breakfast spot, national bragging rights and two more restaurants on the way, the future looks bright for the Wolfe brothers, even if they won't admit to building an empire.
"Building an empire was never really our goal," Justin Wolfe said.
"This is our home. We have kids here. We have houses. This is where we're going to be and for us to be able to add things we enjoy and expose London to new things, that's what really does it for us."
In other words; community building, not conquest, because as Wolfe reminds us, cooking is an act of love, after all.
"Everybody who's in the kitchen, that's why they're there," he said.
"Whether you're making a taco or putting together a beautiful Michelin star plate, there's the same amount of love put into both ends of the spectrum."