Chef Matthew Carmichael, formerly of Social, Side Door and Eighteen, approached us to help create his own restaurant. Having worked with Matt on his personal kitchen and home, we were really excited to work with him again in a commercial capacity.
Matt spent the better part of a year on a sort of sabbatical from the restaurant business and used the time to explore notions he had about design, architecture, social interaction, and, of course, food. Overall he was looking to create a space that would act as a second home for him, allowing for exploration of his craft as a Chef, while also offering a setting embodying his views on the dining experience.
From Nightclub to Restaurant The principal challenge was how to work with the existing space. The volumes and proportions were interesting, but it was a former night club; below grade with tiny washrooms and decrepit stairs leading to the restaurant. We began by stripping back the entire space to create a deliberately raw and industrial setting. The materials opted for were deliberately heavy, dark-stained, rusted, and concrete. Touches of eclectic whimsy like graffiti art, neon signage, a pinball machine, and ceiling art in the washrooms juxtapose the weight of some of the materials to create a character-filled atmosphere for people to become immersed and feel comfortable in.
The kitchen is fully exposed, well lit, and on display to the patrons and to street traffic. In exposing the kitchen the art of food–its creation and preparation–is celebrated. Watching how a kitchen operates is also engaging; it encourages discussion and connects people to the food they are about to enjoy.
The bar is spectacular and the main focus of the space. Its winding shape and two-sided seating challenges the conventional idea of separation between staff and patrons. Traditional bar culture is turned on its head as the boundary of what is restricted to staff is blurred. Patrons can sit along side the person mixing cocktails rather than in front of him or her. The bar itself also creates the opportunity for interesting seating configurations. Parties of four or six can sit across from each other and also beside strangers, allowing opportunities for casual conversation emerge.
Finally, the take-out taco window extends the restaurant to the street and is a fun way to get Matt’s incredible food into the hands of more people. The hulking staircase leading to the restaurant was moved to the side and the concrete walls were sand-blasted and painted a dark charcoal. Graffiti art will soon cover the exterior courtyard walls. The subtle, rusted steel sign for El Camino hangs over the exterior space and marks this restaurant as a destination along Elgin, a busy street known for its restaurants and nightlife.