Designing Nostalgia in Dovercourt Village

An inside look at Toronto’s latest old-school doughnut shop.

On a bright-orange bench along Dovercourt Avenue, neighbours sip dark-roast drip coffee and munch on French crullers. It’s a warm, sunny weekend in Toronto. Above the striped brown awning, a Googie-style neon sign lights up. It reads: Better Days.

“People can see right in as they walk by. It’s pretty hard to resist watching people indulge in a sweet treat and not want to come and try it for yourself,” says Better Days owner Dave Fish.



Designed by Studio Otty, the interior delivers the nostalgia-tinged optimism promised by its façade. A sweeping mirror illuminates and expands the 300-square-foot space. Vibrant mosaic stripes streak across the curvilinear bar, drawing the eye up and along the bulkhead ceiling. Saucer-like pendulum lights dangle over bolted stools, echoing the geometry of the midcentury roadside diner.

Interior designer Alisha Sturino notes the strong angles, starbursts, arches, circles, and spheres. “Taking those notions and implementing it into the architecture, but also merging all of these shapes—from the wave detail to the strong angles of the merch display to the fun forms in the art—we were able to make it all work.”




This style once symbolized progress and industry: American diners catered to motorists, later nodding to the space race in aesthetics and palette. Today, these colourful accents are reminders of a sacred, bygone era. Fish plucks relics of the past that he misses most from his youth in St. Thomas, Ontario. Back then, coffee was just drip—simple—not that of the Starbucks persuasion. Doughnuts were just doughnuts, baked for comfort over shock value. Shops like Tim Hortons, Country Style, and Mr. Donut served as unofficial community centres, roadside watering holes for the working class.

“We have lost an honest, uncomplicated approach to food and dining,” Fish says. “I think food became somewhat focused on how it looks on your phone as opposed to how it actually tastes and how it makes you feel.”



While its ethos is guided by these old-fashioned ideals, Better Days isn’t stuck in the past. Fish and Sturino have elevated the quick-service concept with bespoke details and custom pieces by local contemporary artists: a ceiling mural by New York transplant Maxine McCrann, stained glass by Wychwood window maker Kristie Lee, framed prints curated by Reena Nacianceno, and custom shelves by Werribee Workshop, each one lined with merch. (The Victor mugs—classic, concave, printed with Better Days’ retro logo—prove a tempting purchase.) Everything has been meticulously selected, down to the pastry-themed Benjamin Moore paints. The result is less a time capsule than a beacon of goodwill and simple pleasures in Dovercourt Village. Grab a soda from the cold-drink fridge, split different flavoured treats on the Formica countertop, hold your breath in anticipation for a fresh batch to emerge from the back.





The stained-glass portholes in the kitchen’s double doors seem to glow with anticipation in the daylight, turquoise diamonds bursting in the centres of two rectangular panes. The doors swing open, ushering in the heady scent of powdered sugar, citrus, and cocoa (with it, a sense of childlike wonder). A trolley tray of old-school kettle-cooked doughnuts and fritters is wheeled out. The fresh treats are displayed in a no-frills glass case with magnet-lettered labels spelling out familiar menu items: Cherry Stick, Maple Dip, Sour Cream, Sprinkle, among others. The hand-painted lightbox menu by Arcade Signs doesn’t list any prices. Instead, you’ve got six simple words: Donuts, Fritters, Fresh Coffee, Ice Cream. It doesn’t get much better than this.

“I am hopeful that the simplicity of concept that Better Days represents continues to resonate with people,” Fish says. “I hope to be a part of the neighbourhood for a long, long time. I hope to grow with the neighbourhood and continue to connect with the people who appreciate what we’re doing.”




Photography by Britney Townsend.