Robyn Despins and Bryan Gray have a lot of entrepreneurial experience. They are successful pharmacists, operating pharmacy and clinic locations in Thunder Bay. The fun of trying something in a different industry was a challenge they were excited to undertake. The old location of Bernie’s Upholstery would be perfect for their new venture, Carte Blanche Cafe.
A love for the things they sell at Carte Blanche was a driving force behind its inception.
“Our charcuterie, our coffee, those kinds of things were just something we really enjoyed,” Despins said. “We thought, we could bring this to Thunder Bay and provide a really cool experience for people.”
Operating a cafe is already challenging, opening Carte Blanche during the COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of obstacles for the duo to navigate. They started with offering take out, and have been slowly expanding their service over the years. Some of their drink selections are totally unique and exclusive to Carte Blanche Cafe.
“Many of them are named and inspired by personal touches, I didn’t want to just go with standard names,” she says. “The Marietta is named after my mom. The flavours in that latte with Irish cream is something that she really enjoys and when she visits she certainly does enjoy the Marietta as well.”
The Fireside hot chocolate is another standout offering on their menu, evocative of the natural atmosphere and camping culture of the locals.
“We spend a lot of time at camp, sitting by the fire, we felt like was representative of northwestern Ontario.”
Despins is from Saskatchewan so the Prairie Sunrise is a direct homage to the province.
“I’m a self-proclaimed lover of the skies, the sunrises and sunsets, so I wanted to name something after that as well.”
The charcuterie boards have been their menu staple since they opened.
“Our idea behind those is to have a meal that looks beautiful, almost so beautiful that you don’t want to touch it. And just has a really great blend of everything that you could want in one box.”
The charcuterie boxes are an eclectic selection of goodies.
“Everyone has a fun dinner and there’s some leftovers for lunch the next day. Or something to serve at a special event that you’re hosting. We have a lot of return customers for our charcuterie boxes.”
Carte Blanche works with local suppliers to pack their charcuterie boxes with great quality flavours. Their coffees are sourced from Rose N Crantz Roasting Co. and their teas are from International Tea House. Donato’s Bakery and Thunder Oak Gouda are regular suppliers. For holidays, they’ve partnered with Sleeping Giant, Heartbeat Hot Sauce and Sprucedale Farms to name a few. As pandemic restrictions ease they are very excited to reach out and build more relationships with other companies in the area.
Carte Blanche as begun to welcome more dine-in patrons.
“We’re excited to host more people. Whether your coming in to meet your mom for coffee, or to meet a friend after work, we’re excited to have people enjoy our space.”
They are working on some new gift box options with more shelf stable items. “We can actually ship and sell in grocery stores. Something that doesn’t necessarily have to be enjoyed the day that we make it. So we’ve been working on that for many months now and we’re excited to prefect that and get it out for people to enjoy.”
Despins has also been working on a unique mocktail experience for customers.
“We see an opportunity to have a really awesome atmosphere and ambience, but with non-alcoholic mocktails.”
Carte Blanche has a a bright private space that can be rented for special events, keep them in mind for your next party or add some fun and flavour to your next meeting. Their excellent website is full of information and their Facebook page has updates on special events and offerings. Carte Blanche is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 389 Oliver Road.