Gwyneth Storr and Rechel Bauer have never met each other before, they say, but they're sitting side-by-side having a conversation over coffees at Patachou Patisserie on Yonge Street.
They say it's a common experience to make new friends at the Rosedale bakery and coffee shop. But after 35 years in business, Patachou is closing its doors on Saturday.
Ms. Storr and Ms. Bauer say they've been coming to Patachou for years. Ms. Bauer says it's the only place she can find quiche that's not made with cheese. Ms. Storr says she comes for the hot chocolate. Regardless of what kept them coming here, they both agree – Patachou was something special.
Owners Robert Sidi and his wife, Elizabeth Sidi, started with a location at Eglinton and Bathurst (which is also closing on Saturday) and eventually opened up in Rosedale on Yonge. While Ms. Sidi says she enjoys coming to work every day, they're ready to give up the long hours and early mornings.
Mr. Sidi says that it's a bittersweet ending for the family, but they're glad to be doing it on their own terms. "It's not for economic reasons, or anything like that," he says. Ms. Sidi is retiring, while Mr. Sidi plans to move out of the food industry.
During an interview in the café with Ms. Sidi and her daughter, Camille Serebecbere, customers keep coming up to them to kiss them on the cheek, say goodbye, and tell them they can't believe the bakery is closing its doors.
Ms. Serebecbere started working at the café after school when she was younger, and spent her summers working there before she became a full-time employee. She says their customers have become familiar with her and have watched her grow up.
It was a lifetime engagement for Ms. Serebecbere, and she's certainly not alone. Her mother says many of their employees have never had jobs other than the ones they have at Patachou. "I know they're employees, but I really feel like they're family," Ms. Sidi says.
Patachou's chef Christian Serebecbere, who is Ms. Serebecbere's father, is one of those employees that helped make Patachou what it is, Ms. Sidi says. She calls him the most important employee in the kitchen, where he leads a very loyal team and manages the show.
"We sell only what we like," she says. "Only what we would eat. We care."
Ms. Sidi remembers when Patachou first opened in Toronto, there was little variety in the coffee shops and bakeries in town. "When we first came, the coffee was terrible," she says with a laugh. "Now, there's good coffee everywhere."
It was that first, new experience for many people that kept them coming back after Patachou opened, Ms. Serebecbere says. For others, it was the familiarity. "I think they liked that it was very European."
Mr. Sidi remembers a new immigrant to Canada from Hungary going to the café and finding pastries that were the same quality of what she had at home. That woman took her own children to the café, who've since grown up and take their own kids there now.
Politicians, prominent journalists, authors and NHL players have all frequented the café. Ms. Serebecbere says actor Eugene Levy and TV personality Jeanne Beker are among the spot's recognizable regulars.
In the week the closing was announced, the owners bought guest books for their customers to fill out. In only a few days, one guest book was completely filled and a second is nearing its last page.
"I think we're going to have to buy a third," Mr. Sidi says.
Inside the books are hundreds of well-wishes for the Sidis and their future, and notes expressing how sad people are to be losing their favourite coffee shop. Many of the messages are written in children's handwriting with doodles of happy faces and hearts beside them.
"This is where I grew up. I'm 10 years old now," a girl named Alyssa wrote. "I will miss this place very much. I wish you would never close."
Others write that they had their first dates with their husbands or wives there. Some say they always visit with their now grown children on their visits to Toronto after they'd left for university or for work.
"I was drawn back to this area after my divorce," an unsigned message says. "And found gentle comfort here."
That gentle comfort, Ms. Sidi says, is what made Patachou stand out in Toronto for more than three decades.
"There's not much difference between home and Patachou."