The Island Cafe
The Island Café is located on Ward’s Island and is known for its delicious foods, beautiful outdoor dining, and green initiatives.
For over 13 years, the Island Café has been a must-visit gem for anyone in Toronto.
And the WaterfrontBIA had an amazing opportunity to sit down with the owner of this family-lead business, Zorah Freeman-McIntyre.
Location: 20 Withrow St
The Island Cafe first-opened in 2010 as a family business; can you tell us more about how the Island Café first started?
There are two chapters to the Island Café, and the first chapter was between 1983 and 1987, before I was even born.
My parents were actually running the Island Cafe before they gave it up to do other things in their lives. When the lease became available in 2010, I decided I wanted to do it. Which brings us to the second chapter.
I was young when this happened, about twenty years old, and the bank needed co-signers, so my parents supported this.
We expanded the café to have a patio, got a liquor license and expanded the food selection.
Did your parents depart any wisdom to you when you first told them about your interest in the café?
Oh, absolutely, they said, “don’t do it. You’re young. Do other things.”
They’re 100% a part of the business and have so much hospitality experience. We all have our different strengths and bring them to the Island café.
The Island Café has some incredible green initiatives – can you tell us more about some of them?
Yes! So, we have a partnership with the City of Toronto’s Parks Department and their GreenTO initiative.
The initial idea was to farm 1 100th of an acre of Kale, which was very successful, and we donated the kale to different food banks in the city once a week.
From there, we grew the garden even further and added more kale.
This year, we have a harvesting goal for the number of bunches (kale, chard, and other greens) we donate to Toronto food banks, and we are way ahead of it! At this point, we’ve donated at least twice a week
We also use compost produced from the restaurant, and supplement it with coffee grounds that we pick up from the Moonbeam Coffee Company in Kensington Market.
These are the main things we do around our green initiatives, but we also do other things like all our packaging is compostable.
Along with great food, views, and sustainability built into the DNA of the Island Café, the Island Café also has live music– can you tell us more about this?
We have live performances every other Wednesday and Friday and feature a lot of different genres.
The Island Cafe has been doing live performances since 2012, but we expanded the setup throughout the years. We now have a stage and a dancing area. Most of our artists are from Toronto or local to Toronto.
The artists love to perform here, and visitors or community members love to watch or dance along.
The Island Café has a delicious menu – do you have a go-to meal that you can recommend?
I have to recommend the kale salad. The kale is grown from the Island Cafe garden and served with a slightly pickled golden beet tossed with house mustard and green apple dressing.
It has everything you want: raisins, pickled onions, and feta cheese. It’s a great salad.
All of our salads are really great. We use tomatoes from our own garden, really high-quality bocconcini, and locally grown basil.
We also have the classics that you can’t go wrong with. The fish and chips and the burger are great. We only use meat from Sanagans Meat Locker in Kensington Market.
What’s something about the Island Café that people may not know?
Something that people may not know…well, we’re in a historical building. This building is called the Wards Island Recreation Association Clubhouse and has been here for over a hundred years.
Before it was the Recreation Association, there was a hotel here called the Wards Hotel.
And this area was really the centre of social life in those days.
The building is still used today to host events, and we operate completely outside. We have no inside dining.
There are so many things to do on the islands and at the waterfront, do you have any must-do activities that you recommend?
Take a swim at one of the beaches, and all the beaches have their own charm.
If you’re spending a day on the Island, then I recommend a walking tour with Susan and Linda.
Doing a paddle board from Toronto Island SUP is also a must-do.
A thank you to the Island Cafe for their time!