An Orangeville landmark gets a splashy makeover and the chance to turbocharge the town’s vibrant dining scene.
In the bright and spacious basement prep kitchen at Greystones Restaurant and Lounge, staff in face masks and gloves are chopping onions, lugging vegetables and stirring giant vats of broth on a chilly, damp February afternoon. The room is all gleaming stainless steel; giant stock pots show no signs of wear and tear. A series of whisks and other implements hang as though merchandised in a high-end kitchenware shop.
Because the town of Orangeville is still in lockdown, this bustle will fill only takeout orders starting at 4:30 p.m. It’s only the team’s fourth day at cooking for customers in the new space. Still, it’s a glimpse at the well-oiled machine that this professional kitchen – affiliated with Glen Williams’ Glen Tavern and Toronto’s venerable Scaramouche Restaurant, Pasta Bar and Grill – will be when all the seats are filled on the main floor.
Head chef Shigetaka Wakai fills a pan with herb-dusted, hand-chopped breadcrumbs. He will soon sprint them upstairs, where they will coat slabs of fresh halibut served with beurre blanc. The secret to the dish? “Lots of butter,” he says. That’s also true two workstations away, where pastry chef and café manager Kasten Alvarez is showering a cloud-like coconut cream pie with shavings of white chocolate as she lists the pie’s components: coconut cream custard, Chantilly cream and a puff pastry crust made with “a lot of butter.”
In the “before times,” this truism about how butter makes restaurant food taste so good might have inspired a dose of diner guilt. But after the year we’ve had, many of us are saying: Bring. It. On.
Filling takeout boxes with halibut, house-made cavatelli and delicate desserts was not the original game plan. Restaurant co-owner Benn Froggett – who has been running the Glen Tavern with partner Carl Korte since 2015 – says he and his new team have been happy to, “stay busy, introduce ourselves to the community slowly and get to know people.”
And for locals who’ve been watching the renovation and construction at the historic Georgian building at Broadway and Third Street over the past year and a half, walking through the door for takeout is not only a break from cooking, but a chance to see what all the fuss is about. The 1850s landmark is one of the town’s most famous sites, designated by town council in 2002 under the Ontario Heritage Act as part of the downtown’s Heritage Conservation District.
Now, with its spacious 60-seat dining room, glamourous glassed-in lounge, two private dining spaces for intimate meals or full-on weddings (remember those?), and a café space in the small building to the east, this incarnation is bigger and bolder than anything that’s come before. It’s poised to boost Orangeville’s reputation as a thriving dining destination for locals and tourists alike – especially when it becomes able to operate at full throttle.
A passion project
The story starts three years ago, when Jennifer Dattels, who lives in Caledon, finally acted on her longtime crush on the place – and an accompanying itch to refashion it into a chic restaurant. “I just adore the stonework more than anything,” says the philanthropist and former antiques dealer. “I love the size, the shape of the windows. The scale of everything is really good. And I’ve always been a fan of Georgian architecture.”
According to local lore, the location got its start in 1852 as an inn and stagecoach stop owned by one of the town’s famous early settlers and businessmen, Jesse Ketchum. Tavern keeper and Irish immigrant James Graham is believed to have leased the property and replaced or expanded the original log structure with a fieldstone and ashlar design in the early 1860s, calling it Graham’s Tavern. According to research by former Heritage Orangeville member Shelagh Roberts, Graham finally bought the property, valued at $600, three years before his death in 1879. About a century later, the first modern iteration of the Greystones Inn opened its doors. Since 2015, it housed Orangeville entrepreneur and restaurateur Rodney Hough’s Steakhouse 63.
Rumours have always swirled that there are multiple ghosts and spirits – including early owners and staff – who may not have vacated the premises. Some owners have been known to regularly set a table for one such spectre, complete with a bottle of scotch. A lovelorn First Nations woman named Red Feather who once worked here has long been linked with the place. Tribute is paid to her with the dramatic mural of a red feather by artist Candice Kaye in the lounge.
Dattels bought the building, ghosts and all, from Hough in 2017, and set about on renovation plans and securing new co-owners for the restaurant business. (Hough has continued to work with Dattels and the Froggetts as a consultant.)
Preparations for the renovation work began in February 2019 and by the fall construction was in full swing. Contracting company Anjinnov oversaw the work under the guidance of Ian Rydberg of Solid Design Creative and architect James Rasor of Stanford Downey Architects, all based in Toronto. (Steakhouse 63 moved to 34 Mill Street in the meantime. It closed in May 2020.) Orangeville-born landscape architect Matthew Regimbal of Toronto’s Strybos Barron King and the team at Orangeville-based Tumber & Associates will put their final touches on the hardscaping and greenery in the spring.
While Dattels’ son and daughter-in-law are partners in the successful Toronto restaurant, DaiLo, with chef Nick Liu, Greystones is Dattels’ first foray into the business (no pressure!). In the fall of 2019, Scaramouche chef/owner Keith Froggett and his son, Benn, came into focus as the “dream team,” Dattels was looking for. The youthful new Greystones team is made up of Benn Froggett, the trio of key chefs Wakai, Alvarez and sous chef Sam Bavaro, and director of operation Danielle Hughes. Each has worked at Scaramouche or the Glen Tavern, or both. “We’re all young and motivated and we want to grow together,” says Froggett.
A new era
Locals and previous customers will recognize the building’s historic calling card – all that pale, elegant stone and the tidy proportions. The new addition on the north side, which houses the lounge, mimics the proportions of the original building, but with a contemporary aesthetic. According to rules for designated buildings, explains Debbie Sherwood, town councillor and chair of Heritage Orangeville, “the addition did not have to match the original building but complement it, and it needed to be approved by the committee to ensure it would work with the original building.”
Inside, everything’s been reimagined, most strikingly the original warren of small rooms, once divided by the central staircase. With the stairs moved to the north end of the old building, the main dining room is now open, warmed up by plum-coloured leather booths. Soft renderings of native plants were painted directly on the walls by artist Tisha Myles in a whimsical update to traditional framed botanicals. The once-structural ceiling beams were reclaimed for their decorative value after they were removed during the renovation.
Tucked on the east side of the main room, the small solarium – believed to have been added in the 1970s and the most requested spot in the house ever since – now features vintage paintings and a deep green banquette. Solarium fans will notice one big difference once in-person dining resumes, says Dattels. “It used to be absolutely freezing, freezing cold in there. There was never sufficient heat, so we fixed that.”
Unanticipated hiccups included having to replace the six-over-six sash windows on the second floor because they weren’t up to code and would have needed safety bars installed. And there was the matter of rushing to get special dispensation during the first lockdown in 2020 to work long enough to cover the structure because there was no roof on the building at the time.
Now, cue the anticipation – not just for this jewel of a restaurant, but also for the promise of life that includes eating out in a busy restaurant once again. Among the lessons of the pandemic for many of us is a clarity around just how life-affirming the pleasure of meeting friends and family at restaurants really is.
Sure, the Greystones tuna tartare travels well and is as fresh and citrusy at home as it would be in situ. And pastry chef Alvarez has been busy making whole pies for pickup, so they must travel well. (Also, the word could be out that at $48 a pop, they’re $10 less than a whole pie at Scaramouche, where they have been a staple for decades.) But we crave more than tasty mouthfuls.
“When you go out for dinner, it’s an experience,” says Froggett. “You let someone cook for you, and you let someone look after you. It’s an escape, really, from your day-to-day life.” And while far-flung holidays may remain a mirage for months to come, the satisfying act of sliding into one of the new Greystones booths amid the din of fellow diners feels tantalizingly close. (At press time, Greystones was allowed to welcome just 10 diners at a time, with a maximum of four per table. According to their recorded phone message, Friday and Saturday reservations were booked well into April and May, respectively.)
As Danielle Hughes, who on this February day is busy answering phones and training a new front-of-house staff person, puts it, “I miss the sounds of a live restaurant.”
A broader role
Coincidentally, the splashy Greystones relaunch comes at a time when the Town of Orangeville is rolling out its new tourism strategy and can benefit from some fresh narratives. Along with arts, heritage and outdoor attractions, the town’s growing reputation as a dining destination was identified as something to build on in the five-year plan released mid-January.
Indeed, the Orangeville restaurant scene contributes significantly to the town’s appeal, adding essential energy and character to the downtown vibe (see sidebar). “Restaurants just add such diversity to cities and towns,” says Froggett. “You take away restaurants and small businesses, what really do you have left?”
Councillor Sherwood suggests Greystones will tick two major boxes. “Many visitors to our town come to enjoy the culinary offerings as well as the heritage, including the historic downtown walking tours. As one of the oldest permanent structures in the town, it was important to preserve the integrity of the building, and the end result is impressive.” The building really needed that investment, adds Froggett. “It’s a pretty big deal what Jennifer has done. Now we need to do it justice.”
To that end on this wet afternoon, sous chef Bavaro is prepping pizza dough and freshly handmade egg pasta in the main kitchen off the lounge. Down the line, Wakai is working on the halibut. And even though no one will be sitting down here for weeks yet, Froggett is moving through the 50-seat lounge straightening chairs and wiping up wet footprints from customers picking up orders and gift certificates.
After making a success of the cozy, convivial Glen Tavern, Froggett appears laser-focused on the success of this new venture (he often mentions his 23-month-old daughter and his wife, Camille, and how he could not have taken on this project without Camille’s support). It’s as though he might get word any moment that a full house is about to flood through the door, so everything must be perfect.
The stage is set. The players are ready. All they need is that live audience. “Believe us, we can’t wait,” says Froggett.