Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Evolution of Tanya Grossi's Salvador Darling

During the last 9 years, Tanya Grossi (39) has transformed Salvador Darling into several profitable business ventures: a vintage boutique, a trendy café and a hip bar. What’s more interesting is that she did it all at the same Parkdale address. Indeed, no one can accuse Grossi of lacking vision.

She’s a woman who fearlessly follows her desires rather than the rules of conformity, and last month, she celebrated her sixth-year anniversary as a bar owner. I recently dropped by 1237 Queen Street West to talk to Grossi about Salvador Darling’s impressive evolution.

TorontoVerve: How did Salvador Darling start? 

Tanya: My background is in fashion. I first worked in wardrobe styling and then I was a buyer at Le Château. When I left Le Château, I knew that I would inevitably open a vintage boutique of my own. I bought this location when there were no other boutiques in the neighbourhood. It eventually became a café, but when more coffee shops appeared, I decided that it was time to do the bar thing. I live around the corner and I was tired of leaving the neighbourhood to go anywhere. I wanted to open a place where I can shop, drink coffee, and hang out. And hopefully, people would come.

TV: So why did you close the boutique to open a coffee shop? Was business not working out? 

Tanya: It totally was, but being a creative person, I get bored easily. I’m always looking for the next project. It’s all about timing. I always move on when I’m on top.

TV: Did you completely stop selling clothing when you opened the café? 

Tanya: No, I continued to sell clothes in the back, but then a couple of other vintage stores opened up so I decided to go full-café. I love to entertain and cook. I sold Panini and salads, and it was a lot of fun until it was time to do the next thing. People still tell me that I sold the best sandwiches. Some clients ask me: “why don’t you do the café in the day and the bar at night?” I tried that and it was just too much. I wanted to really focus on the night business and it was hard doing both and having a life.

TV: How hard was it to establish yourself as a bar in your first year? 

Tanya: It was very hard and, still to this day, people walk by thinking that it’s a furniture store. I don’t have the money to advertise. Word of mouth has kept my business going. Basically, I make sure that the people who walk through my door come back. I want people to have a good time.

TV: How would you describe the vibe at Salvador Darling?

Tanya: It’s like being in a really cool person’s living room. I collect a lot of art, antiques and weird objects. Everything here has a warmth or a story behind it. The concept was if Salvador Dali owned a bar, what would it look like? His whole surrealism movement was about having fun with art and not being so serious. When I go out, I want to be visually stimulated. I love watching my customers look around. I provide them with an experience.

TV: So you were inspired by Salvador Dali’s vision. How exactly did you come up with the name, Salvador Darling?

Tanya: It just came to me on a sleepless night. Dali saw things as dreamlike -- an adult playground. He also said that some of the most sophisticated people he knew were children inside. That’s my favourite thing. I always say: “never grow up, never be boring and never let the man get to you.” Why can’t I have fun when I reach a certain age? That’s why I have hula-hoops and a rocking horse here (laughs).

TV: I read that one of your loyal customers is none other than actor Geoffrey Rush. How did that happen?

Tanya: That’s a funny story (laughs). About 7 or 8 years ago, my sister and I were in the Bahamas, and we saw him come out of a convenience store. Apparently, he was there shooting one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I had always been a fan of his independent films like Shine and Frida so I told him that I love his work -- especially his art film, Lantana. He was surprised that I even knew about Lantana. After we chatted for a bit, he said: “I love you two. I’m sending you a limo and you’re going to visit us on the set.” And the next day, we were on the Pirates set and we met Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. Plus, we got to hang out with Geoffrey. Whenever he was in town for the Toronto International Film Festival, he would drop by and give us tickets for his film. We still keep in touch. It’s kinda cool.

TV: On your fifth-year anniversary invite it says, ‘you’ll never forget that a woman owns a bar.’ What did you mean by that? Is there a difference between male and female bar owners? 

Tanya: My ex-boyfriend at the time wasn’t proud that his girlfriend owned a bar so he was telling everyone that the bar was his. I also had a guy working for me and everyone assumed that he was the owner. And that always bothered me because there’s this assumption that a woman can’t own a bar. People who knew my ex would come in and ask: “where’s the guy who owns the bar?” And I would respond, “the guy who owns the bar? I own the bar and I worked my f@$king ass off for it!” So that’s why I said that on the invite. Owning a bar is not all fun and games and being in this business as a woman is rare too. Sometimes, I have to be a bitch. People come in and order booze and don’t pay. As a woman, I get taken advantage of. So I have to be a tough ass. It’s a fun business, but it’s hard finding a partner who’s secure enough having a girlfriend whose business is entertaining people. I’m kinda seeing someone now who gets it.

TV: Why did your ex have a problem with you owning a bar? 

Tanya: Jealousy. I tried to make him a part of all this. The reasons why he liked me -- I’m independent and have my own business -- were the same reasons he resented me. That’s not a partnership.

TV: What is the biggest misconception that people have about you? 

Tanya: There’s this assumption that I live this crazy life. I don’t go out to clubs. I love staying home. I have a dog. I read. I live a healthy lifestyle. I’ll be going to the Bahamas soon for a month and I’ll be doing a lot of deep-sea fishing -- it’s one of my favourite things to do in the world. I also love training hardcore.

TV: How do you train? 

Tanya: I love shadow boxing. Sometimes I do yoga. I can do almost every yoga move. I’m not a gym person. I don’t lift weights, but I do lift a lot of beer cases (laughs). I’m a hand-ons person.

TV: What other talents do you have? 

Tanya: I love music. I also DJ here and every second Tuesday at The Beaconsfield down the street. I love hip-hop. I consider myself a f@$king classy girl who loves hard hip-hop. I’ll often DJ in a dress and high heels. It’s hard to label me.

TV: How would you describe your style? 

Tanya: I love being a woman with a bit of an edge. I love dresses. I think I only own two pairs of pants. My edginess usually comes from my accessories or shoes. I’m confident and comfortable in my skin so I know the kind of stuff that’s going to look good on me.

TV: Where do you like to shop? 

Tanya: Mostly in vintage stores. My inspiration comes from my parents and they always dressed cool. My dad comes from a very big Italian family and he married a non-Italian. My mom is Eastern-European. She’s tall and looks like Marilyn Monroe. She always walks with an air of confidence. There’s a passion with the way that I dress and I think it comes from my background. If you have to think too hard about your style then it’s not you. To me, style is instinctual. It comes from wherever your inspirations are.

TV: Salvador Darling has been a bar for six years now. Are you getting bored? Will there be another evolution? 

Tanya: I’m definitely on for another couple of years, and then I want to do something else. Maybe a bed and breakfast someplace where it’s warm all-year round, but before that happens, I think there’ll be one more evolution (laughs). Then I’ll go when I’m on top.

Follow Tanya & Salvador Darling on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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