Darcy MacDonell at Farmhouse Tavern

Darcy MacDonell has been at the centre of two new restaurants in last little while. The first was La Societé, where he opened the successful Yorkville power-bistro as General Manager. The second is his own restaurant, Farmhouse Tavern on the very west end bit of Dupont before it turns into Annette past the train tracks. Whatever Charles Kabouth and Co. spent on interior design at La Societé it was probably a lot more than the $5,000 budget MacDonell had to open Farmhouse Tavern. And it’s unlikely the former restaurant is decorated with any treasures salvaged from the dump.

I found myself at Farmhouse Tavern on a recent sunny fall day at the behest of the producers of Junk Raiders 3, a reality TV show that airs on the Discovery Channel. There, I saw MacDonell and chef Alex Molitz, pouring drinks and preparing food, as one would expect. Also present were the three main cast members and doers on Junk Raiders, contractor Geoff Woodmansey, designer Michelle Mawby, and dumpster diver and professional salvager Gordie Wornoff. The three of them took me through a tour of the 100 year old double store front that houses Farmhouse Tavern.

Junk Raiders 3 cast Michelle Mawby, Gordie Wornoff, and Geoff Woodmansey at Farmhouse Tavern

What the three of them, and other cast members, accomplished in only four weeks, with only $5,000 is impressive. All manner of salvaged items are repurposed throughout the restaurant, with has a very Brooklyn/Parkdale/Plateau hipster-chic look. Watch the show to see how it was put together (or, better, go for dinner). I wont spoil the drama of the show by posting pictures or describing the design in detail. Forgive the crummy journalism, but trust me it’s worth seeing for yourself, on the tube or in person.

What the Junk Raiders 3 people did to Farmhouse Tavern is pretty cool.

What struck me as particularly relevant about Farmhouse Tavern and Junk Raiders 3 is that redesigning old spaces in gentrifying neighbourhoods in Eastern North American cities is pretty much the norm. Young restaurateurs like MacDonell might, these days, have a little more than $5,000 to open up their first restaurant, but it’s likely not much more. And whatever they have has been likely been scraped together from credit cards, family and friends: every penny counts. In this sense, Junk Raiders 3 is the ultimate ‘Opening Soon’ and one of the few reality TV shoes that actually seems to be rooted in, you know, reality.

PS. MacDonnell and Co. host an increasingly popular Sunday night event aimed at restaurant industry folks, but open to everyone, whose name cannot be repeated on a family website like this one. The premise is that various menu items drop in price as the night goes on. So, you could party it up chef-style on Sunday night, and recover by watching Junk Raiders at 9 on Monday night.

Malcolm Jolley is a Toronto-based food and wine writer and social entrepreneur. He is the founder and executive director of Good Food Media, the not-for-profit company that publishes Good Food Revolution. Follow him at twitter.com/malcolmjolley.