Since opening its doors in 1997, Sassafraz has been consistently loved by locals and flocked to by celebrities, with everyone from Mick Jagger, to Bono making appearances. Founding partner, Zoran Kocovski chatted with us about fostering and maintaining the unique relationship between Sassafraz and the Bloor-Yorkville community and the thought process behind the recent re-design of the iconic “Little Yellow House.”
On Cultivating a Community Relationship:
Most Canadians likely agree that February isn’t the most inviting month to step out and explore one’s neighborhood. The typical retreating to the indoors and losing a sense of one’s community is something Zoran was inspired to change. To entice visitors throughout the winter, Zoran and his team hired ice carvers to surround the restaurant with ice sculptures. After five years of this, the Sassafraz team utilized their resources and approached the Bloor-Yorkville BIA to help facilitate a community event, known to today as the one and only Bloor-Yorkville Icefest!
Of course, the French-inspired Canadian food itself has played a role in the 20 years of Sassafraz success. Geoff Webb has re-created the menu to reflect our ever-changing neighborhood. Guests can look forward to new creations such as “… internationally inspired dishes such as Cape d’Or salmon with chilled soba noodles and ponzu dressing, and classic dishes such as “Fogo Island cod and chips”. He adds, “Sassafraz takes pride in sourcing world-class products from boutique suppliers in Canada to create dishes with fresh, delicious, and sustainable ingredients.”
Sassafraz is a local landmark and, as such, we are part of the character of Bloor-Yorkville – we have a responsibility to remain relevant to the community.
After two decades known as the “Little Yellow House,” working with The Design Agency, Sassafraz underwent a dramatic transformation, painting over the iconic yellow with a sophisticated sage green. Of the update, Zoran says, “Some people embraced the change and thought the building should be more sophisticated in keeping with the evolving neighborhood. Other people were not happy….and they told us. People would call out to the guys who were painting the building – we’d hear comments such as ‘Change it back!’ or ‘beautiful colour, it’s about time!’ or ‘yellow!’ It felt like the whole neighborhood was in on the conversation.” The new yellow doors were no afterthought, lending themselves as an homage to the restaurants 20-year history. Working with Farrow and Ball, the perfect yellow was chosen.
Aside from the new sage exterior, the entire main floor has been renovated, including the cafe and dining room. A new vintage-style window behind the bar lends a “SoHo-like” feel to the space and can be opened or closed to alter the experience for guests, “Sometimes, we have live jazz in the café – now we can open the window to let the music drift into the dining room.”
The Sassafraz x TIFF Factor
With each season of TIFF come the celebrities; Sassafraz has maintained its status as the place to be. Everyone from Meg Ryan to Denzel Washington has been spotted inside the iconic venue. Zoran credits this long-standing red carpet relationship to the early days of TIFF when it was held in Bloor-Yorkville, “We launched just as TIFF was really coming into its own in the mid-1990s. We became a sponsor and it took off from there – TIFF was held in Yorkville at the time and a lot of celebrities visited the restaurant. Musicians as well, [including] The Rolling Stones and U2.” While the festival is no longer held in the area, celebrities often choose to stay in the neighborhood at the Hazelton Hotel or Four Seasons, solidifying the Sassafraz “it” factor with the Hollywood elite.
On Looking Ahead
Never resting on its laurels, Sassafraz has managed to stay relevant in a city that’s seen tremendous growth and change over the last 20 years. The recent renovations are part of their strategy to meet the needs of its current-day clientele, “Yorkville Village is constantly evolving and we’ve seen a lot of changes in the past twenty years.”
We try to stay a step ahead by having a good understanding of our guests, the local people and the needs of the community. We enjoy a collaborative relationship with the Yorkville BIA and we stay informed.
Zoran and his team spent two years conducting formal interviews, talking to guests, and studying the Bloor-Yorkville demographic before implementing any design changes. Looking back to the roots of Bloor-Yorkville, “The restaurant’s location, its architecture and Bloor-Yorkville’s reputation as a haven for artists in the 1960s all contributed to the new design aesthetic.”
On behalf of the Bloor-Yorkville BIA, we’d like to send our congratulations to Zoran and the Sassafraz team for their two decades in the community! You can check out their new look (and perhaps try out the new menu) at 100 Cumberland St.