Even with all the cultural clout that comes from 47 years in business, Glad Day Bookshop had to face up to a tough truth last year: It’s tough for a business to survive on book sales alone.
With a move to spacious new digs in the heart of the Church-Wellesley Village (499 Church, at Wellesley, 416-961-4161, gladdaybookshop.com) at the end of 2016, the world’s oldest surviving gay bookstore gained a few new titles – bar, cafe, and multi-use event space.
Its latest sobriquet: restaurant. Before the shelves of books (several of which are on wheels – all the better to make room for dance parties!) were brought in, the ground-floor unit was home to Byzantium, a martini bar and Continental kitchen that served the community for 23 years.
“Byzantium was mostly known as an eating spot. It was a bit of a martini bar in the 90s, but in the last 10 years, most of the people came for the food,” CEO Michael Erickson says. The space was already fully outfitted for cooking and backing, and though meal service was always in the cards for the new space, they weren’t sure if they were up to the task themselves.
“When we talked about what we wanted to do for food, we were like, ‘We want it to be like Cardinal Rule’,” Erickson says. “And then we thought, ‘Why don’t we just ask them?'” Looks like it all worked out. Last week, the beloved queer-owned Roncy diner (co-owners Katie James and chef Marta Kusel are a married couple) debuted its first slate of menu items out of Glad Day.
Now, you can chow down on Benedicts, burgers (beef or veggie), club sandwiches, salads and specialty dishes like the “maki and cheese” between poring over the shelves, or while sipping on Propeller coffee or a locally-brewed pint.
Glad Day’s new location on Church.
“We’re already running three businesses — we’ve got the coffeeshop, the bookstore, the bar, which already does events,” Erickson says. “It was like, how much could we reasonably do? So it made sense to bring in some experts. This isn’t their first rodeo.”
On top of their considerable experience (the Roncesvalles location recently clocked five years in business), the Rule’s varied menu, which caters to diners of all kinds, struck Erickson as something different for the strip. “There’s a lot of frozen, a lot of heavy food on this street, but there aren’t a lot of healthy options,” he notes. Compare that to Cardinal Rule’s card of vegan/GF mac and cheese or “cheatloaf”: “They’re giving people gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options that are as good as, if not better than the meat options.”
What was truly top-of-mind, Erickson added, was that they chose a food supplier whose ethics jibed with their own.
“As far as labour goes, we know there’s a lot of issues with the politics of kitchens,” he says. “A lot of them aren’t necessarily welcoming for women or trans people. We know there’s a lot of misogyny and discrimination, so when we were thinking about our kitchen, we wanted it to follow the ethics of Glad Day – friendly, sex positive, diverse.
“What makes us special is we’re not super corporate. We can respond to the needs of the community, and I think Cardinal Rule has done a good job of that too. Keeping things independent, thinking about how to have a community focus in food, in drink, in books — makes this partnership a great match.”
The restaurant is operating on a trial pop-up basis, serving lunch and dinner from Thursday through Saturday all month long – but with enough interest and traffic from Glad Day’s clientele, this temporary fling could turn into a permanent cohabitation.
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