A culinary duo known for showcasing the best of Ontario with pop-ups around Toronto is finally moving into a space of their own in Leslieville.
With an anticipated opening in early February at 996 Queen Street E., Ricky + Olivia will not only show off all that Ontario has to offer through both familiar and all-new menu items, but also through the bottle shop and tasting room which will be included in the space.
Chefs Ricky Casipe and Olivia Simpson, partners in both business and life, first crossed paths at the now-closed Hawthorne Food & Drink. Alongside front-of-house partner Adrian Proszowski, they honed their skills and later ventured into hosting pop-up dinners across the city.”
Though the duo has spent the bulk of their culinary venture operating the pop-up patio at Niagara’s Westcott Vinyards, Casipe and Simpson are eager to bring their talents—and quality tastes—back to Toronto.
“We love Leslieville,” says Casipe, who is proud to have spent his childhood in the east end. “So, we were looking at a bunch of places in the area.”
After losing a space near Broadview that initially caught their interest, the couple felt disheartened while wandering around town. However, their luck changed when they stumbled upon a leasing opportunity in a storefront window – not even listed online, but a place that held special significance for them.
While many may recall Wayla Bar & Lounge as a venue for special events and dancing, for Casipe and Simpson, it holds sentimental value as a place Proszowski would bring them during their shared tenure at Hawthorne Food & Drink.
“Olivia and I weren’t partners yet at that point, and this space is actually where Olivia kissed me for the first time,” Capise shares. “It’s kind of funny that when we eventually got this, it felt very full circle.”
The couple has undertaken a lengthy journey in preparing the space to bring their envisioned ideas to life. As a nightclub, Wayla didn’t have a kitchen, walk-in fridge and gas-line, which the couple have been working to add in since first getting the keys to the place.
From Queen Street, Ricky + Olivia might not even look like a restaurant, given that at the very front of the store will be a bottle shop that leads into a tasting room and lounge. Hidden at the very back of the narrow space (“classic Toronto,” Simpson labels it with a laugh) will be the 30- to 35-seat dining room with open concept kitchen, leading to a back patio.
The small dining space will allow Ricky + Olivia to offer the “intimate” and “personal” dining experiences which they are typically accustomed to with their pop-up diners.
Though having their own space will allow the chefs to introduce new ideas and techniques, they will still be serving up some of their signature items, like the Big Mac Steak Tartar—which, yes, is the most gourmet looking Big Mac you’ve ever had with deep fried saltine crackers on the side.
“That’s something that we’ve become a bit known for and we want to make sure it’s always going to be on the menu,” notes Capise, adding that it’s an item that has evolved a lot over the years they’ve been serving it. “It helps to be a getaway for folks that are a bit afraid of having a tartar. I think with a lot of our food, putting some sort of familiar name or tag on it helps to give people a reference point when they’re trying something for the first time.”
Similarly, their PB&J Chicken Liver Mousse made with beet tahini, wildflower honey, pinot noir gummy bears, and sour cream bundt cakes is what Capise calls their “take on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“We tried to put our own twist on food that used to be somewhat unrecognizable to folks to make it a little easier to approach,” adds Capise.
Ricky + Olivia’s bottle shop will be largely VQA driven, including both all-natural and traditional wines, as well as a few international brands.
Casipe and Simpson are currently running a t-shirt campaign to raise funds for the opening of their bottle shop and restaurant. The target is to sell 150 shirts by December 17. Every t-shirt purchase grants the buyer a raffle entry for a chance to win a tasting for two in Ricky + Olivia’s new tasting room and a $100 gift card for use once the restaurant opens.
As the couple prepare for the opening of their brick-and-mortar location, Ricky + Olivia will be continuing with their pop-ups, doing four per week on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Bodega Henriette and Mondays at Eastbound Breweries. The chefs will be serving up their “greatest hits” while also introducing some new dishes and further preparing Torontonians for the arrival of the first Ricky + Olivia restaurant.
“We just want to be a really comfortable neighbourhood restaurant,” says Capise, adding that he hopes it willl be both a place people go for anniversaries and special occasions, but also where people become regulars and they can really get to know the space. “We just want to be approachable to everybody.”