Issue 105

Cover Story, Kate Robinson, The Twisted Apron. By Matt St. Amand. Photos by Trevor Booth.

Kate Robinson of Walkerville’s Twisted Apron Restaurant

Most of Kate Robinson’s fondest memories have taken place around a dinner table. This is what she envisioned for every table in her restaurant when she opened The Twisted Apron in 2011, located at 1833 Wyandotte Street East in Windsor’s Walkerville area.

Having spent much of her working life in restaurants – beginning as a waitress when she was eighteen – it wasn’t long before Kate realized she wanted to own her own place. That finally happened when she opened a sushi restaurant named Teka in Tecumseh in the mid-2000s.

Having chosen her mentors well, and learning much on her own, Kate made Teka into a successful business. She cultivated a loyal customer base, she continuously tweaked the menu, and by all measures, appeared to have a bright future.

And then there was a fire.

While pregnant with her daughter, the plaza where Teka was located experienced a catastrophic fire. Kate’s place was lost. She decided it was time to take a break. She gave birth to her daughter and spent time visiting family in Quebec. This involved seeing friends and family for meals, which, in Quebec, meant meeting for breakfast in neighbourhood diners.

The intervening years have brought perspective on losing Teka – the whole “one door closes, another opens” ying-yang thing – but at the time, it had been an enormously stressful experience. For this reason, few people could believe it when Kate expressed interest in opening another restaurant. The time in Quebec, helped Kate recalibrate her focus. While reconnecting with loved ones over meals, she realized that running a restaurant was more than a livelihood to her. It was a way of life.

Kate returned to Windsor and scouted for a location. Her initial plan was to return to serving sushi.

The location she found for The Twisted Apron had once been site of the Lustre Cafe in 1930, run by a woman named Mrs. Lee – black and white photos of Mrs. Lee standing inside the cafe and outside the front door grace the walls of the Twisted Apron, courtesy of the Walkerville Times’ Chris Edwards.

If one thing becomes clear when speaking to Kate Robinson, it’s that she is incredibly intuitive. She explains: “I found this location for my restaurant, and felt an immediate connection to it, but the place just didn’t feel ‘sushi’ to me.”

Having grown up in Walkerville, pondering her clientele, ideas for the menu came together: comfort food. And so, The Twisted Apron was born.

“We have a menu for all palettes,” Kate says. “You can bring anyone here – your grandmother or your four year old. This is a place where people are not uncomfortable ordering.”

With customers lining up to get into The Twisted Apron the very day it opened in 2011, it would be easy to assume Kate Robinson is a lucky person, who has a knack for turning everything she touches into gold. She only makes it look easy.

The popularity of The Twisted Apron is neither luck, nor fluke, but it’s early success was fortuitous.

Due to Ontario’s arcane liquor licensing laws, it took eleven months for The Twisted Apron to acquire a license. Although the restaurant was free to open for business, Kate did not want to disappoint customers by telling them she was unable to sell them wine with dinner. So, The Twisted Apron originated as a breakfast/lunch joint, making the absence of liquor license all but irrelevant. The equation has now come full circle and The Twisted Apron is one of the few breakfast places in Windsor that has a liquor license. “We serve a lot of mimosas,” Kate says.

Remaining true to the “old school” feel of Walkerville, Kate says that virtually all food and condiments served at The Twisted Apron are made on the premises – from the barbecue sauces, soups, jams, pickles and asparagus for drinks, with all desserts created by an on-site baker. “Everything is made fresh,” she says. “We don’t even have a microwave oven.”

After deciding the location “didn’t feel sushi” – and dealing with the laborious red-tape of acquiring a liquor license – Kate, at first, envisioned The Twisted Apron as more of a cafe. “I was a new mom and wanted to have a kids’ area where kids could play while moms had a leisurely breakfast.” She laughs. “Yeah, that idea didn’t last long.”

The volume of business demanded using all available space for seating.

Six years on, The Twisted Apron has a staff of forty-three, and has expanded twice in the past three years.

“For the first while, we had line-ups out the door,” Kate remembers. “When the spot next door came up, I took it over and changed the entrance. We opened Bar West so our customers would have a more comfortable space where they could have a drink while waiting for a table.

“We also have The Chef Next Door,” she says, indicating the large, private room next to Bar West. “I can’t believe how much fun we have with this room. It’s available for parties. We also do cooking classes. It’s really popular around the holidays because, as seniors move into condos, they don’t have the room to have their families over for dinner, so they come here.”

The Chef Next Door can accommodate 40 people and the rental fee includes a private chef and wait staff.

“We’ve done all kinds of fun evenings there,” says Kate. “In the fall, we’re starting the Singles in the City. People come in and help prep three different meals, which they end up taking home. We do a ‘Boozy Baking Day’ near Christmas, where all the dishes have booze in them. We’ve done five course meals co-hosted with local wineries.”

Hearing about her partnership with local wineries, another theme in Kate’s story emerges: she is all about community. “So many of our customers are from right here in Walkerville,” she says. “During that six-month street closure when there was construction on Wyandotte Street – those were six of our busiest months.”

If Kate had to analyze her “secret for success”, she’d sum it up: “Nothing is ever just ‘OK.’ I’m a competitive person, always in competition with myself. I’m constantly reading food blogs, and coming up with new ideas. I’ve also learned how important it is to listen to other people’s ideas.”

When asked if she has trouble sharing control of the restaurant, she laughs. “Nobody can be in complete control in the restaurant business. You have to put your faith in other people. Every one of our staff members has unique gifts that make our restaurant such a special place.”

And she says that being successful means that one should always be willing to learn. “I’m constantly reading cookbooks, talking with people, always looking for ways to make things better. I’ve been communicating with a woman in Portland who wrote her own cookbook. You can never believe that you know it all.”

For more information about The Twisted Apron at:
www.thetwistedapron.com or visit at them at 1833 Wyandotte St. E. in Windsor’s Walkerville area.

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