New St-Laurent joint Robin des Bois steals from no one, but gives to all
Finally you can order dessert guilt-free! The calories may still count, but you’ll rack up the brownie points. That’s because when you eat – or volunteer – at Robin des Bois, a chic new bistro on the Plateau, 100 per cent of the profits (and tips) go to charities in the city like Santropol Roulant, La Maison Doris, Cactus and Sun Youth.
The restaurant is staffed almost completely by volunteers. Only the cooks and managers make a small salary. Volunteers from every age group and walk of life wait and bus tables, wash dishes and tend to the herb garden in the back, and in return for their four-hour shift all they get is a bowl of lentil soup, in keeping with the eastern tradition of baksheesh, or the giving of alms. That, and the sense of having done something wonderful for their community.
The idea was born several years ago when Judy Servay, the restaurant’s founder, worked in the advertising industry. She ran a small production company back then and came upon a novel way to entertain her clients for the holiday season: She hosted a cook-off. Servay had her clients come in and cook together, after which all the resulting food was delivered to soup kitchens around town. "It was the only Christmas party where you felt good the next day!" she says grinning.
The project was so successful that Servay and partner Philippe Fehmiu (of Loft Story) started thinking about a way to create a forum where that spirit of giving with no expectations could live all year round. They spoke to friends, formed a board of 13 directors, and on Aug. 3 – just a month ago – Robin des Bois opened its doors to the public.
The restaurant took about a year to build. More than 500 volunteers contributed time, money and materials to the project. "It was amazing," says Fehmiu. "We did no advertising or promotion at all. It was purely through word of mouth that people kept coming in the door."
Robin des Bois’s primary objective is to make volunteering cool again – something fun for a group of friends to do on a weekend afternoon. They want to rid society of the notion that doing something good has to feel like a sacrifice. And in keeping with their theme of social awareness, they’re eco-friendly too. All their cleaning products are environment-safe, their takeout containers are compostable, and they recycle everything they can.
One volunteer, Jayne Engle-Warnick, speaks of why she’s chosen to get involved. "By supporting a place like this, you’re investing in much more than a restaurant. It’s a holistic way of looking at the community and a way to be part of something bigger."
Or as another volunteer, Martin Cloutier, says, "Come try it. If you like it, come back."
But if you currently lack the time or inclination, simply come and taste one of chef Myriam Pelletier’s delicious creations. Good for the tummy and even better for the soul.
Robin des Bois
4403 St-Laurent; 288-1010
Log on to www.robindesbois.ca to sign up for a shift
(they’re usually short-staffed at lunchtime on weekdays)