With its antique communal dining tables imported from France, modern cottage-style décor, and trays piled with fragrant pistachio brioche, almond croissants, and their famous nutty chocolate chunk cookies, Maman Toronto offers sweet respite from the bustle of the city’s Financial District.
Having opened its first location in New York’s SoHo district in 2014, Maman may be a young company, but its trifecta of co-founders is pure firepower. The equation is as follows: French-born Benjamin Sormonte, with a background in corporate law, manages the business-side of Maman, while his partner, Elisa Marshall applies her experience in event planning to craft a welcoming atmosphere. The menu is left in the capable hands of Armand Arnal, head chef at Michelin-starred La Chassagnette restaurant in the South of France. United by the goal of bringing nostalgic treats to urban crowds, the team’s ambitions are lofty.
Maman augments the usual café selection of pastries and coffee with a rotating cartes du jour, a growing arsenal of exquisite quiches, sandwiches, and seasonal dishes which reflect the comfort foods its founders recall from their own childhood kitchens. “The idea was to recreate what it’s all about—family food in the South of France—with my friends,” remarks Arnal. “All our childhoods, we grew up with our mothers, grandmothers, or great aunts preparing dishes on Sundays with all this effort to make things beautiful. We really wanted to revisit that as much as possible with Maman”
Maman Toronto is similar in spirit to its SoHo sister, but oriented somewhat more to the business district’s post-work drinkers. Cinq-à-sept, a happy hour–style cocktail menu, features French-influenced aperitifs like the Herbes de Provence (Calvados, infused Lillet, lemon juice, sugar, and egg whites), as well as delicious plates to share. It’s still the grandma’s kitchen Arnal remembers, but as he remembers it later in the afternoon, once all the adults have come home from work and someone’s cracked the brandy. “We really wanted to create that sharing moment with a nice Canadian and French charcuterie, [using] Canadian and French cheese and produce, to be able to offer some warm pleasure to the people working in those buildings [of the Financial District]” says Arnal.
Quality control was a key focus upon beginning the first, but not last, Maman expansion. “We have chefs who are turning around, coming back and forth between New York and Toronto,” explains Arnal of their commitment to consistency. “We have people searching for produce and our recipes are made with what is seasonally available.” Hopefully, Maman 3.0 will involve less running around. Due to open soon in Tribeca, Maman’s newest incarnation will skew more towards serving restaurant fare as opposed to just snacks and sweets, with a tapas-style dinner menu, a full bar, and a weekend brunch service. “Tribeca is going to be different from what Maman is doing right now,” explains Arnal. “We really are going to have a cozier place with beautiful tableware and try to go beyond just lunch. We are thinking about salle à manger style dishes.”
Evidentially, the team behind Maman is as concerned with how their company will develop as they are with what elements of it will stay reassuringly constant; namely, a welcoming environment and fresh food that tastes like home.
Photos courtesy of Joey Salmingo and Phil Crozier.