Let’s Eat: A fun passion project

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Carte Blanche aims to become a café by day and a wine bar by night.

The pandemic may have been stressful for many in the healthcare industry, but a few entrepreneurs have found a creative outlet.

Robyn Despins and Bryan Gray, who operate Oak Medical Arts, launched their “fun passion project,” Carte Blanche Co in December 2020. “We basically took the things we love and appreciate in our free time,” says Gray. “We love snacks, we love to eat together, we love wine, we love coffee. So we wanted to share that with Thunder Bay.

Carte Blanche, located at the corner of Oliver Road and High Street, focuses on coffee, cold cuts and wine. During lockdown, they offered take-out boxes of deli meats for people to enjoy a special treat at home. The co-owners have set up a permanent patio for the summer and plan to renovate the interior space, so Carte Blanche can be a café by day and a wine bar by night.

The building previously housed Bernie’s Upholstery and caught the attention of contractors when it went on sale. “We’ve both been thinking about opening a food and beverage business for a while,” says Gray. “We were driving by and we were like, ‘Wouldn’t that be a great location? “”

Gray says that although they did not have experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, they were able to draw on their experience operating pharmacies to start the business. “It’s a really good change of pace,” he says.

Carte Blanche claims their signature deli boxes have been popular, with four sizes – individual, small, medium, and large – to choose from. They also make themed boxes for parties such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day.

Some buy a gift box to take to an occasion like a family dinner or a party, says Gray, while for some, “it’s literally their dinner.” The boxes are well balanced and include all the different food groups, he adds. The ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible, with baked goods from Donato’s Bakery and Gouda from Thunder Oak Cheese Farm. Sweet and savory snacks are sourced from Bulk Zone.

Carte Blanche also worked with other small businesses and local artists to host events, like a Plant Night with Bill Martin’s Nurseryland, where attendees were able to create their own succulent terrarium while enjoying a box of cold cuts.

The boxes are filled with fun for the public – Gray says he’s even had comments from parents saying their picky kids love the deli box. “We’ve heard some really amazing stories from parents whose kids love it,” he says. “They open the box, there is so much color and fun in there. Parents say, “My kids must have tried so many new things that they probably haven’t tried in a long time.

So far, the “passion project” has been great, says Gray. “It’s a fun project to work on, because we work in the health field, we work with people who are sick or who are not feeling well, but a coffee – these are usually people who come to eat or have a drink. A coffee. “

Gray is hopeful that Carte Blanche becomes popular, as more people start going out and socializing again. “It would be great to become one of those destinations when you plan to go out for the night, to be one of the top 10 places people think of for the best places to go,” he says.


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