We Got The Beet

More and more now, it seems restaurants are forgoing the customer convenience of Interac payments, in favor of having an ATM tucked away in the back, near the bathrooms or behind a door. But in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, there’s a new eatery you can find tucked in behind a bank machine. And it’s pure kismet that The Beet Organic Cafe and Market, an enviro-conciously designed space, happens to stand in an old TD bank building…behind the Green Machine banking vestibule that still occupies the front entrance.

The project was a welcome challenge to Toronto-based designer Paul Morra. “I’ve always tried to talk clients into using sustainable materials, but the reality is that a lot of the time, they see the price tag, and that’s it,” he says. Even though they understand that these features will pay for themselves in the long run, the immediate costs, particularly for a new venture, can be overwhelming. But for these clients, green was the only option. The proprietors of the Beet — Michelle Vella, a certified nutritional practitioner, and Heather Osler, a homeopathic doctor — mandated that the space should be as organic as the edibles they planned to sell.

The project actually came together quite organically, with two main contributors to the success of Morra’s design. The first, surprisingly enough, was the low budget. A lack of funds forced the designer to think outside the box and look for materials wherever he could — which included a number of local businesses — and in the space, where he was able to find features and materials that could be reused, a significant resource for any green space.

The location itself was the other key factor. The room featured high ceilings and huge windows that let in plenty of natural light, contributing to the bright, airy feel that predominates at the Beet. As well, Morra found some elements like the sheets of glass that he has frosted and etched in a tree graphic, a piece that now screens off part of the food-prep area. An old door, found detached and abandoned in the space, made a comeback on the bathroom. And when gutting the space a beautiful old clay tile floor was discovered beneath the existing vinyl floor. The floor has been refinished and the tiles now give a bit of retro appeal to the new space.

The many antique and vintage shops in the area proved to be an excellent source for items like the Lucite lamps that “look like something from Switzerland in 1982,” says Morra. A perfect juxtaposition with the yellow-corded hanging bulbs he had gone to great efforts to obtain, the pendant lamps were new old stock from a local merchant.

Sustainable stand-bys like Kirei board, Dakota Burl, Durapalm, bamboo and of course good ol’ fashioned plywood were used extensively throughout the project. With a lot of the budget going toward the pricier materials, a little inventiveness had to be used to make up for it in other areas. For example, there was a large return air vent that needed to be covered, and which Morra planned to order a custom-made grille for. Instead, he built one himself, fusing together several smaller grilles in various colours. The result is as much a practical solution as a piece of art, which customers often comment on.

“You have to choose your moments carefully,” says Morra, of building green on a budget. “But things have a way of working themselves out, once you resign yourself to the situation.” CI