Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
Local cheesemaker Ruth Klahsen is opening a restaurant on Wellington Street that, like the traditional Italian osteria on which it’s modeled, will be nondescript from the outside but memorable inside.
The small establishment, set to open April 1 in the location last occupied by Evergreen Terrace, will have no name or sign hanging out front, and will offer customers a simple selection of local specialties.
Klahsen, a longtime chef and the owner of Monforte Dairy, says the unassuming nature of the business is all part of the plan.
“The whole mandate for (the osteria) is that it’s really different than anything else in town,” she adds, noting that philosophy also extends to the renovations currently underway inside the building, where the plan is to use all repurposed materials.
Klahsen initially purchased the building for its kitchen; the dairy is expanding into charcuterie and preserved and pickled goods – some of which will be hand-picked from a garden out back of her dairy’s Griffith Road facility. But she soon realized the extra space out front could also work to her advantage.
“We ended up with the restaurant, so we might as well serve some people if we’re trying to sell them stuff downtown too,” she adds, with a laugh.
The eatery will serve cured meats, jarred goods and, of course, a selection of Monforte’s award-winning artisanal cheeses, as well as some cheeses from area farmers. Many of the foods will be available to purchase to take home as well. There will also be a limited menu with one or two items that Klahsen plans to change daily and some menu basics like soups, salads and sandwiches.
A graduate of the renowned Stratford Chefs School who spent 25 years working in local restaurants – 15 of those at the Stratford Festival’s Green Room – Klahsen says she always hoped to one day open her own restaurant.
Just like her dairy, which moved to and opened in Stratford in 2010 on the strength of an innovate subscription drive supported by foodies as far away as Toronto, Klahsen will be counting on her out-of-town supporters to help her newest venture thrive, at least in the beginning.
It’s no coincidence that Klahsen is working feverishly to have the Monforte osteria open in time for the Stratford Festival season, which begins its previews later that month.
“That’s my hope, that when they’re here we can give them a different experience,” adds Klahsen, referring to her many loyal Toronto-area customers. “We need another way to sell to tourists in the summer.”
Klahsen is equally optimistic the restaurant will attract a local following during non-tourist season, if not year-round.
“I really want (local residents) to feel comfortable there,” she adds.