A Plateau restaurant bounces back stronger after a fire

We spoke to the founder of Kiffin about revitalizing the business against the odds.


Celebrating at pyjama brunch

Kiffin restaurant on St-Denis Street made its comeback last week with a new seasonal menu, student specials, pyjama brunches, a fun 1980s pop-up theme and a liquor licence.

Last spring, Kiffin was seriously damaged by a fire that started upstairs in a neighbour’s apartment, and the restaurant had no choice but to cease in-house operations. Natasha Alani (the executive behind Kiffin) saw an opportunity to overhaul her business while continuing to build a strong reputation through other services like catering and private cooking classes.

KiffinBayWindow1118“The support I got from friends, classmates and advisors from McGill really helped me get through. I felt like I had a big family. The fire situation allowed me to take (my) vision further without thinking about the retail space, and I changed the whole concept altogether,’’ she says. “The way that we came out of it is the greatest success!’’

These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Their catering services were recognized by big names such as McKinsey Consulting, Desjardins and Microsoft, and Natasha has received tremendous support from the global innovation event C2 Montréal, where she had the opportunity to share her story in front of hundreds of people.

Since the restaurant’s humble beginnings, Alani has always had a strong vision: “Kiffin is not just another restaurant. We are company leading change in the food industry. Good food is a right, not a luxury. We are sustainable, delightful and nutritious. We exist to narrow social divides through food.’’

She always wanted to take on big problems with a business of her own, and food had always been her first concern. Before getting established in Montreal’s community, she was running a café in San Francisco staffed by people with severe mental illnesses who were either exiting from prison or getting out of hospitals; Alani got interested in how healthy food could positively impact their psychological well-being.

“I never had a job I hated. Never ever. Every single step I took was super important to the way I look at problems now and how I reach my goals. Getting international experience was a big part of it. It was an expensive way to learn,” she says with a laugh. “Emotionally expensive!’’

Kiffin scones
Kiffin scones

It was also back in San Francisco that she met her teammate, chef Aaron Fetherston, the man she later married in Montreal’s La Fontaine Park. A graduate of le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland, Fetherston enjoys creatively working with simple ingredients to draw out bold flavours. ‘‘He works extremely hard to keep things simple and natural while using highly technical methods. You can definitely taste the difference,’’ says Natasha Alani.

The chef’s colourful menu changes with the seasons and features various menu options, including vegan. Among Kiffin’s must-tries are their naturally creamy mac and cheese and their famous scones — both vegan. Finally, Kiffin has started to feature a weekend pyjama brunch with a different theme every week. ■