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Robin des Bois: Tasty charity

Tasty charity

Robin des Bois owner Judy Servay serves the public well
Photo: Jennifer Alleyn

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)

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  • by Livleen Rehal - September 8, 2006, 6:42 pm

    i think this is a phenomenal idea….i wish i came up with it! but i would have loved to hear something about what is served up….and how much it is….the website is in french so i kinda made up as to what kind of stuff they serve and it sounds really good…grilled salmon with red lentils…curried chicken with quinoa…and then there are quiches, crepes, mueslix and all the yummy good stuff that dream breakfasts are made of…i am definetly checking this place out…and i hope when ya’ll go….ya’ll tip generously….good food with all the good intentions and love behind it.

  • by Mark St Pierre - September 10, 2006, 12:47 am

    Wow, such a staggeringly simple socially responsible idea full of such unmitigated good-will. This is an incredibly novel way to give something back to the community and inspire scores of people to do like-wise in some way – from feasting at the resto and, in so doing, helping to fund it’s charitable endeavors to giving of your time as a volunteer – Robin des Bois nourishes both your body and soul!

  • by Heath Abram - September 12, 2006, 2:47 pm

    This is such a great idea. We all spend money in restaurants anyway, and I would much rather see my money going to a worthwhile charity. For all of us who have never worked in a restaurant, I think this would be a wonderful experience to try our hand at serving, bussing, etc. Get a bunch of friends together and give of yourselves. The feeling is priceless!

  • by Mona Menassa - September 14, 2006, 8:51 am

    Wow! What initiative! Its nice to see that some people are still real, that its not all about making money. I’m gad to hear about it and I’ll definitely grab a bite to eat there and play my part. Its fun that you actually get something in return for your donation….whether its food or that «wow i feel good» feeling knowing you helped!!!

  • by Pedro Eggers - September 19, 2006, 6:26 pm

    And they say that there are no new ideas out there…
    This is the fundamental difference between a hardened naysayer and someone who believes despite all reasons against it. Le Robin des Bois is an inspired idea to say the least but only someone with the hope and the balls to see it through to the very end despite all the obstacles thrown before it. Just when I’d given up on the idea of Montreal restaurants surprising I hear about this one. Kudos!

  • by Reuven De Souza - February 8, 2007, 3:24 pm

    I think that is your obligation to support at least once such a noble effort such as this restaurant. A lot of talk a good game but more often than not it is actions that speak louder than words. After all it is not what you say but, rather, what you do that defines who you really are in the life. Robin De bois even has a location that makes it that much easier for everyone who cares to support a deserving idea such as this. In fact, the menu seems to me to be a distant secondary notion to the cause behind the effort. We all go to restaurants. While some of us may even spend way too much on them. This is a best case scenario where you can do good at the same time!

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