Le Papillon On Front
By Karen Lloyd

Little Quebec

From the quaint menu to quirky marketing, everything at Le Papillon on Front is done in house, and all staff lend a hand.

General manager Sean Gowland says the homemade rule goes a long way to not only keeping costs down, but also towards creating a positive, welcoming and inclusive environment for every walk of life. “We like to be able to cater to a lot of vibes,” says Sean. “We like to tip on the edge of trendy but there’s no 'I’m not hip enough to go there' or 'I’m too hip to go there.'”

Dishes like hearty French onion soup and tourtière – a traditional Québecois meat pie of seasoned veal, beef and pork with house chutney, potatoes and market vegetables – are comparable to what you’d be served at Grandma’s. The restaurant is stylishly impressive, yet stills feels homey, comfortable and relaxed.

Le Papillon on Front's eclectic team includes a few Francophone servers who help to give the restaurant its French-Canadian authenticity and also come in handy when Toronto classrooms come to learn the language and experience the cuisine. “It’s different being an independent restaurant,” says Sean. “We really do our best to make sure our customers leave happy.”

We really do our best to make sure our customers leave happy. - Sean Gowland, general manager

At Home in the Hustle and Bustle

Even though Sean studied “something completely irrelevant” to the restaurant business, the young man says he simply feels at home in the hustle and bustle. “I love the social aspect of the work. There’s always something new,” he says. “It’s not like I’m walking in the front door and counting the seconds until I go home.”

Sean’s worked in every corner of the restaurant, from washing dishes as a kid to bartending during university. Although his mom Sandra (who opened Le Papillon in 1974) warned him about long hours and a high-stress position, Sean decided he wanted to manage Le Papillon on Front when the opportunity presented itself in 2011. “I enjoyed it enough to take on the responsibility,” he says. “I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough that I can make a good and positive change.”

Location, Location, Location

When Le Papillon opened, the French restaurant was one of Toronto’s first creperies.

Aside from moving around a bit, it's is still very much a popular locale for social butterflies in the St. Lawrence Market after its previous location, in the same neck of the woods, was torn down. “Sandra really wanted to stay in the neighbourhood,” says Sean. “It’s been so good to us.”

He adds that while it was sad to say goodbye to the former location, the restaurant really lucked out with the old town Toronto heritage building on Front Street that became Le Papillon on Front’s home in 2008. The building boasts exposed brick walls, warm wood tones and enormous windows. “It’s just so bistro,” says Sean, noting the patio is also perfect for people watching. “I don’t think there could be a better fit.”

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