Downtown Toronto restaurant celebrates 45 years on Queen Street West

The Queen Mother Cafe, located on 208 Queen St. W., opened its doors on Oct. 26, 1978. It celebrated 45 years on Thursday. (CBC - image credit)
The Queen Mother Cafe, located on 208 Queen St. W., opened its doors on Oct. 26, 1978. It celebrated 45 years on Thursday. (CBC - image credit)

A downtown Toronto restaurant that is a fixture on Queen Street West celebrated 45 years on Thursday.

The Queen Mother Cafe, 208 Queen St. W. near University Avenue, opened its doors on Oct. 26, 1978.

When it opened, the restaurant had only 18 seats and mostly served sandwiches and salads. Now, after expanding twice, the restaurant has about 80 seats inside and about 40 seats outside on its back garden patio. Its menu grew to include a range of dishes, including Southeast Asian fare.

In celebration of its latest milestone, new and old partners of the restaurant planned to celebrate with a dinner there Thursday evening.

Andre Rosenbaum, one of three founding partners, told CBC Toronto that the restaurant has been successful because of its location but also because it has changed as the city has grown. Most importantly, though, it has always been a meeting place.

"We evolved," he said. "We always just saw ourselves as a place to come together."

Queen Mother Cafe 2
Queen Mother Cafe 2

Bartender Sadir Sadiriah serves customers at the bar at the Queen Mother Cafe. (CBC)

Originally, however, the Queen Mother Cafe was a small space that stayed open late.

"You could stand in the middle of the kitchen, on a swivel, scoop out a bowl of soup, turn around and pass it through the pass-through. There's was no room for anything," he said.

"It was kind of a different era, a hippie dippie day, and it was boho chic."

Rosenbaum said a lot of artists used to go to the restaurant. The founding partners lived in the neighbourhood, and commercial rent was affordable in the 1970s, with no condo towers nearby.

"We took our inspiration from places we had been to in Europe, cafes and things like that, where people would meet up, hang out and then go their separate ways."

Rosenbaum said the menu of the Queen Mother Cafe changed over the years to reflect the diversity of its staff, Toronto and changing tastes in the city. Now, its menu has Thai, Sri Lankan and Laotian influences.

Rosenbaum said other establishments in the area, the Rex Hotel, the Horseshoe Tavern, the Black Bull and the Cameron House, have also endured. He said he believes it helps that they all are near the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Osgoode Hall and the courts.

Queen Mother Cafe takes its name from a print of the mother of Queen Elizabeth II that still hangs on the wall. Rosenbaum said the name is a play on words — its partners wanted the restaurant to be the "Mother of Queen West."

'It's special,' says long-time patron

Patrons say they are regulars because of the food, service and atmosphere.

Susannah Joyce, a resident of London, Ont., said she read a review of the restaurant in the Globe and Mail shortly after the restaurant opened and came with a friend. Over the years, she said she has brought countless friends there.

Joyce said if there was only one restaurant that she and her friends could go to in Toronto, it would be the Queen Mother Cafe.

"It's special," Joyce said.

"I really like the ambience of the place," she said. "It's all really good food."

Jeff Rutherford and Angie Power, patrons for about 15 years, said they like the food and have become friends with servers over the years. They said it's like a small town place in the heart of the big city.

"The food's really good but I think it's probably the service," Rutherford said.

Added Power: "They've got a bit of a community."