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Ace Bakery daughter rises to the occasion Add to ...

Devin Connell jokes that there was life before Delica, the suddenly popular takeout breakfast-and-lunch kitchen she opened last week on Yonge Street. And life after Delica, which is arriving home after a 12-hour day of feeding customers to an empty fridge.

Not that she's complaining.

Already, there are lineups out the door with private-school girls and Bay Street foodies jostling for the Spicy Bird, a chicken-wing dinner inside a ciabatta roll, or the Strawberry Jammies, baked hybrids of doughnuts and muffin-tops, swirled with jam.

The 28-year-old whose girl-next-door charm conceals her understandable exhaustion admits that some of the buzz stems from her parents being Linda Haynes and Martin Connell, founders of the hugely successful ACE Bakery, which they have since sold.

But while Ms. Connell has no qualms about people knowing that she descends from a carb-fuelled mini-empire, she has not rested on her genetics. She has a degree in graphic design from Parsons School of Design in New York; a sojourn attending classes at the Cordon Bleu and studying art history at the American University of Paris; a job working for Selfridges creative director Alannah Weston in London and an apprenticeship with the renowned Slanted Door operation in San Francisco.

Two years ago, Ms. Connell had the opportunity to move to Hong Kong to work in high-end retail but she decided the entrepreneurial route, à la mom and dad, was a better fit. "I was washing the outside of the store yesterday and had cuts on my arms and hangnails and [I was]freezing and, honestly, it was a moment when I felt so proud," she said, three days prior to Delica's opening.

Designed by Bradley Denton of Harbord Room and Le Petit Castor fame, Delica's 750-square-foot space boasts white wainscoted walls that are decorated by framed food-for-thoughts such as "When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree." The restaurant's name, said Ms. Connell, has its origins in the words delicatessen, delicate and, most important, delicious.

But the venture is more than just a passing taste. With a staff of nine and plans to pump up the catering side, Ms. Connell means business. She said that she was really fortunate to have her family for financial support. Her father also helped on the planning side. "I barely knew how to use Excel before we started doing this," she said. "I think it's silly to try and pretend you know what you're doing when you don't."

The way she sees it, the ACE association gives her some credibility. "It's nothing I want to hide ... [and]I don't want people to think my parents aren't involved." Though she has recently written a cookbook with her mother, Two Dishes, she still wants to achieve success on her own terms, noting that her mother opened an ACE Bakery and Café in 1998 just down the street from where Delica is today but closed it two years later.

"They had the product and did the retail, whereas I'm starting with the retail and then want to branch out with private-label stuff," she explained. "I think they realized that the business was obviously more lucrative [as]wholesale."

Ms. Connell is being very strategic about her approach, beginning with situating Delica in a not-too-trendy yet well-trafficked neighbourhood. "We really are hoping to cater to [the]lunchtime crowd so as elementary as it sounds, it was sort of like looking up in the sky and seeing where the most towers were," she explains. "For the first location, [I wanted]to have a storefront and connect with customers who perhaps aren't in as big of a rush as they are downtown."

If all signs thus far suggest pricey fare, think again. She jokes that her mom walked in recently and expressed her concern that prices seemed too cheap (a medium portion of hand-cut beef chili is $5.95 and no item tops $7.99). "It's a fine line because I think when ACE was down the street at Balmoral, it was too expensive for people; they didn't get it then," said Ms. Connell. "We want to be a volume-driven business. I don't want to have to charge someone $16 for lunch. That's not how I eat lunch. ... I want our regulars to be able to come five days a week."

Delica deliberately offers very little in the way of customization, said Ms. Connell, who points to the city's surfeit of design-your-own salad and sandwich shops. "That freaks me out. I don't want a clipboard. I want to read a menu and fall in love with a few items and keep coming back."

Her long-term vision, however, is big: as in, multiple locations including airports. "We'd probably open a commissary kitchen which would then be able to support retail satellites," said Ms. Connell. "I really had no desire to ever open a little soup-salad-sandwich shop and spend my life doing that. I really want it to be widespread. I think people deserve to be eating better."

Sounds like the family has got a brand new breadwinner.

Delica Kitchen: 1440 Yonge St., (416) 546-5408

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