Elisabeth Lang likes peppering the customers at her Roncesvalles bakery with personal questions: Top three qualities in a mate? Favourite body part? Going braless, yes or no? And perhaps most importantly: Are you single?
As Ms. Lang jots down their intimate thoughts in a notebook, strangers will invariably begin chatting each other up in the bakery, which fits all of two Formica tables.
Call her the matchbaker. Ever since opening Seventh Sister Bakery at the foot of Roncesvalles Avenue three years ago, Ms. Lang has been playing cupid with her regulars – while churning out narcotic peanut butter cookies. With a mind to get them mingling further, she's now hosting mixers at her house. The first in April drew 22 friendly guests; her customers are pumped for the next round, slated for Feb. 1.
"There's lots of time while making sandwiches and baking cookies to get to know the customers," says Ms. Lang, the seventh sister and youngest of eleven children in her family. "I was immediately struck by the number of interesting, kind singles who were coming in. How did I know they were single? Well, I really like people and I'm super nosy."
Married 12 years herself, Ms. Lang (Liz to regulars) has now launched a local yenta venture called Love Cats Match. "I do like to make people happy and people in love are really happy," she said.
Seventh Sister's biggest romantic success story to date is Larry and Lee. Last fall, Larry Roland was nearly out the door, his favourite breakfast bagel in hand, when the bakery's other owner pitched a question across the room.
"Would you have more children?" Penny Stuss yelled. Mr. Roland, a 42-year-old divorced father of two daughters, remembered thinking, "This is not a question I answer standing in the doorway here." Then he sheepishly replied, "I would if it's the right person, but it's not what I'm looking for."
Over days of repeat visits, the two owners took turns quizzing Mr. Roland, who drove streetcars stationed at the nearby TTC yard. Did he have a car? Was he a dog or cat person? Was he outdoorsy? Boxers or briefs? "They just honed in," he recalled.
Eventually, Ms. Lang handed him the card of another regular, a "peanut butter bagel lady" named Leeanne Farrugia.
"I just kept saying they're both winners," Ms. Lang said of Larry and Lee, who've been together for 14 months and now live in Mono, a small town just outside Toronto.
Seventh Sister is turning the old dating maxim that "you'll never meet The One in a grocery aisle" on its head, with a little help from the proprietor.
"You don't expect to walk into a bakery and meet the love of your life," said Ms. Farrugia, 40, who runs a dog daycare. Both she and Mr. Roland had been divorced for about five years and "brought their A-game," said Ms. Lang, recalling, "They met and I'm not kidding, a week later he was like, 'Oh my god, I'm in love with her.'"
Teacher Joanne Glenda, 40, says Seventh Sister's matchmaking services are "definitely better than online dating." A regular customer and Rocky Road bar lover, Ms. Glenda attended the mixer last spring. While the teacher didn't meet her match then, Ms. Lang later introduced her to a man who was to have attended the party but cancelled last minute – the two have been dating for seven months.
"Liz is like a scientist of people," says 29-year-old barista Sarah Gardiner, who has been single for nearly a year and will be attending the February mixer. While Ms. Gardiner doesn't have any expectations going in to the event, she sees the bakery owner as a local fairy godmother. "She genuinely wants to see everybody happy, but she is fulfilled and entertained by it as well. She blushes and giggles a lot."
The bakery mavens are a fixture in the neighbourhood, often greeting customers in costume (think Parisians, matadors, toothless hockey players, Princess Leia and Yoda). Clogs, cross stitches and other tchotchkes line the walls; a sign on a bookshelf advertises the bakery's popular book exchange. A weathered photograph of a customer's cats advertises the fare: "Three out of four Maine Coons agree salmon on a bagel is delicious! (Tuna is also acceptable.)" One recent afternoon, the bakery filled with hip Parkdale moms, elegant older women shopping on Roncesvalles and employees from St. Joseph's hospital next door. A small boy and his mother offered the owners a "creepy cat figurine" for their collection; they accepted.
"You go in there and you feel like it's not just about business for Liz," says Ms. Glenda. "She's a great community builder."