Will Sault Ste. Marie lose another beauty?Tuesday, September 17, 2013 by: Steffanie Petroni
She practically grew up in a kitchen in Mexico.
As a young teen Claudia Lambert would take the bus home from school and go directly to her mom’s restaurant.
She would help her mom with the prep work and on the weekends they would go to the market early in the morning to buy fresh caught seafood from the fishermen.
“My entire family is all about good, wholesome fresh food. I love cooking. I love food.”
When Claudia was 21-years-old she came to Canada and brought along her love of cooking.
Claudia also has a passion for the arts.
“I was doing pottery with the Potter’s Guild and we didn’t have a place to display our work. I always had a dream to bring together the two things I love most.”
Claudia received a grant through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and in April 2012 Frida Café and Art opened their doors in Sault Ste. Marie.
Claudia named the café after Frida Kahlo who she admires from the depths of her soul.
In an interview with LOCAL2 last autumn Claudia commented,
“Frida has been an important influence in my life, a hero. She really was an inspiration. She lived through a lot of pain and she turned her pain into art. I’ve always kept that in my mind. She painted about her life, her experiences. She was also married to Diego Rivera, one of my most favourite artists from Mexico. They are both very iconic of Mexican art and our culture. Frida was very much about promoting culture and very much for the arts in Mexico.”
The food - Oh, the food!
When you walk into Frida’s the scents wafting out of the kitchen are a pleasure to your olfactory receptors.
Claudia has honoured her mother’s cooking values and has stayed true to buying local.
“The food is fresh. I don’t use anything out of a package. I buy everything local or if I can’t find something locally I buy Ontario. I try to support the local farms as much as possible and I prepare the best food possible.”
Claudia’s food is down home authentic Mexican cooking - it’s no Taco Bell.
The recipes she uses have been passed down the line from her grandmother and her mother.
Claudia carries this torch now, preparing her daughter, Page Caputo, to receive it.
Claudia gives the same care to every meal she prepares for her customers as she would with food that she would prepare for her own family.
Her menu changes daily and her meals reflect what is in season locally.
But for the customer with a sweet tooth, Claudia makes the best crepes in town - hands down.
Honouring her father’s French background, Claudia treats her customers to sweet as well as savoury crepes and if you’re gluten intolerant Claudia has your back.
Claudia also brings in a few specialty items from Mexico.
A favourite drink, the Jamaica, pronounced ‘hamiica’, is only found in the Sault at Frida Café and Gallery.
It is an iced tea brewed from the petals of the Hibiscus flower.
Claudia brings in the dry petals from Mexico.
She also carries a supply of Mexican sodas.
But perhaps the most special of the specialty items at Frida’s is Claudia’s own blend of coffee and espresso made from beans imported from Mexico, Brazil and Africa.
Claudia takes great pride in the quality of her coffee.
“My coffee is roasted to my specifications. It’s an exclusive blend of mine that I developed with a roaster. It took months until I liked our espresso blend and house blend. It had to be perfect to me.”
It’s true. Claudia doesn’t mess around with her coffee.
“I did my homework. I trained at the Canadian Barista Academy. It took almost a year but I wanted to know the coffee business. I wanted to know coffee, not just how to pour it.”
And of course Frida’s provides much needed gallery space for artists to showcase and sell their work.
Claudia has hosted several exhibits and regularly rotates displays of local art work.
Delicious food, beautiful artwork and a bit of Mexican music playing in the background creates the perfect setting.
But the next few weeks might make or break Frida.
There hasn’t been enough traffic through her front doors and staying open is starting to look financially unviable.
It’s just hard to imagine a Sault Ste. Marie without Claudia’s crepes and coffee.
Brilliant food meets beautiful art
Frida Café and Gallery is a celebration of Claudia’s cultural heritage as well as an appreciation of local artists and local farmers.
However, for some reason the community just doesn’t seem to be actively supporting local vendors and producers.
Has Sault Ste. Marie become enslaved to the franchise mentality?
Are we stuck in a familiar rut?
Sault Ste. Marie has been parched for greater cultural diversity and yet perhaps one of the most authentic establishments in the community, that also pulls together a bevy of local talent, can’t generate enough local support to make it.
Claudia is disappointed.
“I want people to know that we need to support local. Not just my business. I understand that everyone has to stretch their dollar but I think that at the end of the day we all have to remember that we live in a community that we have to support.”
She hasn’t given up on the Sault just yet. However, Claudia will be faced with big decisions over the next few weeks.
With her daughter soon leaving for university and without family in Sault Ste. Marie, the terrible profit margins at the end of the day sadly makes Claudia’s choice a bit more than obvious.
Claudia is broken-hearted at the thought of putting her five employees out of work.
And it also pains her to see that there has been such a lack of support for the local artists displayed in her gallery.
“This is a place to support the arts. It’s very disheartening for artists who have put up their art for sale. Nobody is selling anything.”
Claudia is seriously considering closing Frida’s doors within the next few weeks.
She has been scouting out available space in Toronto’s distillery district.
“When I look at the environment in Toronto and Southern Ontario they are just so welcoming of things like this. I’ve just done everything I can to bring the best quality of food and coffee to this town. I’m not going to cut corners. I’ll never make a cheap salad. I won’t compromise quality. I’d rather shut down.”
Claudia, like her beloved inspiration – Frida Kahlo, is a strong woman.
If it comes to the worst over the next few weeks she’s not giving up her dream. She’s moving it.
“Frida is not going to die. Frida will go where she can make it. Frida is going to survive.”
But the answer to the remaining question is still unknown.
Does Sault Ste. Marie have what it takes to convince Frida to stay and give us one more chance?
Get it while you can
Frida Café and Gallery is located at 128 March Street. You can check out Frida’s daily menu and art displays by clicking here.
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Snowdon 9/17/2013 9:41:43 AM Report
I can vouch for this place being very good.
The Enigma 9/17/2013 9:44:58 AM Report
Looks like we've at least lost an 'e'.
Concerned citizen 9/17/2013 9:47:51 AM Report
Although disabilities keep me from enjoying restaurants downtown in general, I am always interested in reading about new and different ones- and do have friends and relatives who love to try new places.
This is the first I have heard of what sounds like a wonderful Mexican food restaurant. Perhaps the name has prevented Sooites from knowing what is offered. Now that this has been published I hope the traffic will improve.
Lisa220 9/17/2013 10:00:02 AM Report
I'm always into checking out the new and culturally diverse restaurants in town but to tell the truth I totally forgot about this place.
B Boy 9/17/2013 10:22:04 AM Report
SSM in general is a Coors Lite type franchise town. Many great businesses and ideas die here that really by logic should flourish.
My favourite Mexican restaurant to date was Los Mexicanos but that closed down apparently due to a huge lease increase.
Until now I'd never heard of Frida's, but I'm excited to hear that they serve authentic Mexican!
rcssm69 9/17/2013 10:22:21 AM Report
Very unfortunate, but I doubt the Sault could be considered a franchise restaurant city! Actually, the very opposite!
jojoe71 9/17/2013 10:30:21 AM Report
Advertising is a wonderful idea; someone should have thought about it when they opened. Location and parking is another factor.
Snowdon 9/17/2013 10:36:49 AM Report
There is tons of parking near Frida's, it is literally right beside a public parking lot, and there are 2 or 3 others within a 5 minute or less walk.
B Boy 9/17/2013 10:37:21 AM Report
rcssm - the soo is a franchise town for a lot of things, that's why it's referred to as a coors lite town.
Maybe not for restaurants necessarily, but the soo has it's favourites. Anyone with a name that's not known in the soo doesn't really stand a chance.
In Frida's case, maybe the lack of advertising and the name worked against her.
When I hear café I think coffee and light foods. Beyond that it sounds like for a lot of people this is the first time they've heard of the place, myself included and I've been asking around for a while about Mexican places since the last one closed.
B Boy 9/17/2013 10:38:25 AM Report
Snowdon - there are those who won't park their cars downtown unless they are within sight. Even without valuables in the car.
B Boy 9/17/2013 10:41:32 AM Report
Wow I'm spamming this article today.
From anyone who's eaten there, I can't find much on the net, is it just a café or do they service whole Mexican meals?
Snowdon 9/17/2013 11:04:21 AM Report
BBoy - I'm assuming the B stands for the bubble you live in? I live downtown, I work downtown. Lock your doors. The place is open during the day. It's not some post-apocalyptic anarchy.
Snowdon 9/17/2013 11:05:58 AM Report
There is a link provided in the article that lets you see the menu, even if you're not a facebook user.
TaliasVeganBaking 9/17/2013 11:21:18 AM Report
i love this place great salsa, great service beautiful atmosphere, however very little to none vegan options makes it hard to support a business you cannot eat at. :(
Lynds 9/17/2013 11:25:56 AM Report
I think her implications that the Sault can't appreciate different types of restaurants, or art, are slightly rude. I eat at tons of multicultural restaurants when I go on trips, and eat at many non-franchised restaurants here in the Sault. The fact is, I haven't been to Frida's because I have never heard of it, not that I would not appreciate it.
grizb8x 9/17/2013 12:00:27 PM Report
Lynds may think her implications are rude but it doesn't make them untrue. Until relatively recently if you were tired of pasta your only choices were burgers, fried chicken and very run of the mill chinese. For myself I am always on the lookout for anything different, foodwise in the Sault and I had never heard of Frida's. that however has changed and I will be there either today or tomorrow. Definitely needs more advertising and a higher profile.
B Boy 9/17/2013 12:16:23 PM Report
Snowdon - I almost bought a business downtown but backed out because of my local survey results.
I'm not saying that it's a wild-west, crime ridden burden, I'm pointing out some of the things I've heard people say.
Some residents feel uneasy about leaving their cars unattended downtown. You can't deny there have been lots of vehicle break-ins. Not limited to downtown of course, but there seems to be more downtown.
Not meant to be a jab or an insult.
Personally I think the downtown has been completely mismanaged and mis-planned by the city. Downtown should be a shopping, culinary and cultural centre - not a major traffic thoroughfare.
Why is there no police store front down there either? But I digress...
There is just so much potential.
Number One Son 9/17/2013 12:31:41 PM Report
Like many, it is the first I have heard of this place. I love Mexican food, and I will be going there ASAP to try it out. But I also think they are in the wrong location. i and many others don't frequent downtown much. GNR would be an ideal spot and open later hours is a must. I will do my best to keep this plac open, ... I hope more think the same way.
budz 9/17/2013 12:32:09 PM Report
a little advertising and promotion would have helped from the beginning.Not being open for supper as not all of us work downtown would be nice also. I've missed out on eating there because of this and I've tried.
Lynds 9/17/2013 1:11:09 PM Report
grizb8x, it's untrue when applied generally. It might be true for certain people, but not for you, me, and all the others that said now that they KNEW about the place, they would go.
Dead End Kid 9/17/2013 1:32:21 PM Report
B Boy, you can't live life in a bubble. If your car gets broken into then you'll deal with it. Go out and have some nice Mexican food.
B Boy 9/17/2013 1:43:47 PM Report
dead end kid - what the hell are you talking about? I go downtown all the time. I said that I didn't buy a business downtown because during my research too many people said they didn't like going downtown for several reasons.
What I said is that I see lots of potential downtown and that I city hasn't managed that area well.
I never once said that I won't go downtown.
Dead End Kid 9/17/2013 1:47:22 PM Report
unclmank 9/17/2013 1:48:02 PM Report
I enjoy checking out different places but again, until someone I work with mentioned it 2 days ago, I knew nothing about it. Must try to get there.
B Boy 9/17/2013 2:01:29 PM Report
Dead end kid - I was calm, just wondering why you're putting words in other peoples' mouths.
I've always been an advocate for downtown but I fail to understand why the current model was designed this way. Maybe there was no planning at all.
Wasn't Queen St at one time a 2-way street? Unless we're talking about a big city like Hamilton, Toronto or Vancouver a 1-way street doesn't make sense, especially in a small town. Edmonton has a culturally diverse downtown district with good shopping. What makes it easier is that it's 2-way.
Dead End Kid 9/17/2013 2:05:33 PM Report
My point is that people should take chances in life once in a while. I wasn't addressing you personally.
B Boy 9/17/2013 2:14:55 PM Report
Dead end kid - "your car get's broken into and you'll deal with it"
Really? Now you're sounding like the police the last time I called them when my car was broken into. LOL
That's all fine to say but who is going to pay the deductible for the damage that was done? I keep nothing of value in it except a cell charger which was stolen.
For the record, the police were a no-show and there was no report.
Dead End Kid 9/17/2013 2:35:39 PM Report
Your car can get broken into anywhere. That is why I don't worry about it.
steve930 9/17/2013 5:01:59 PM Report
so there open 8-4:30?and when do they post the days menu.in the morning?
steve930 9/17/2013 5:06:06 PM Report
i wish during the summer months they would block part of queen off and have cafe's etc.lately me and the GF on saturday mornings go downtown for breakfast then just walk around.go farmers market,walk queen etc.
lizzardskills 9/17/2013 5:48:18 PM Report
@number one son....you should be going town. The majority of businesses are small and locally owned. I think Queen st should be blocked to traffic on weekends. Events and live music, street bbqs, movies, halloween, easter parties and dinners on the road! There is so much empty space, but a lot of cool little shops too! I agree so much potential!
Dead End Kid 9/17/2013 6:49:16 PM Report
Now your talking. I like that idea.
sinikka 9/18/2013 6:53:06 AM Report
I will take the heat for stating unequivocally that it is not the job of sootoday to promote failing local businesses. If these owners truly had a clue about running a business perhaps more people would hear about them. In this case running a business is more than just preparing good food. I am sure that the soo has many struggling businesses that would enjoy some free advertising. Is sootoday prepared to give them all the free air time as well.
Dead End Kid 9/18/2013 3:46:39 PM Report
Sinnika,I see you don't have a life as well. Welcome to the club.
Dead End Kid 9/18/2013 3:48:47 PM Report
I'm sorry I misspelled your name.