Backgrounder: If you’ve been to any large Workhaus event you may have met DJ Styles. Through DJ Styles – or Daniel – we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know his wife and her sisters and their awesome restaurant SugarKane.
You may have heard of SugarKane, the restaurant on the Danforth that has put a delicious spin on Caribbean cuisine, marrying Cajun and Caribbean dishes to create quite the flavourful fusion. What you likely haven’t heard is the amazing story behind the restaurant and how they got started.
Meet the Charles’ sisters; above, left to right: Donna Charles, Renee Charles, Nicole Page-Charles, the masterminds behind this amazing restaurant. The trio has always had a passion for cuisine. It all started in the kitchen of their family home during their early teenage years, cooking with their father and serving/selling to friends and family.
“Growing up, we had a mini restaurant in our house. Our dad would cook and we’d serve the food. We even had seating set-up in our basement and people loved it, we had a lot of repeat customers. And truthfully, we loved it too.” mentioned Donna in our recent interview.
A childhood home kitchen wasn’t enough for the sisters. While they loved and appreciated that experience, the ultimate goal was to have their own restaurant. After an uphill battle trying to secure the needed investment and a seemingly endless number of prospective location viewings, they found the perfect spot on the Danforth. Heavily concentrated with Greek and Italian cuisine, one may think it would be a risky endeavor to open in that area. But where some saw risk, the sisters saw potential. They were different and that’s exactly what they wanted to be. With the flavourful fusion of Trinidadian, Grenadian, and Cajun cuisine, their goal was to bring unique culinary diversity to the area. With a lot of hard work, strategic planning, and a few sprinkles of luck, the sisters opened the doors to SugarKane on June 1st, 2019.
That’s not to say that they didn’t face any barriers or hurdles along the way. In our interview, Nicole explained, “We’ve experienced racism and sexism… a little bit of it and a lot of it since opening, and even up to now. It’s been crazy but we pushed through, we’ve had miracles, and we were lucky”. Their resilience shows. If you really believe in something, dedicate yourself to it, and work hard, you will succeed.
SugarKane has flourished since opening its doors a year and a half ago. However, yet another obstacle presented itself: the COVID-19 pandemic. When news of the spread and impact first broke, the sisters closed their doors and ceased operation for 2 months. Initially, revenue did decrease, but they were not deterred – they were inspired. Over the course of the closure they revamped their operations, introducing new safety protocols and setting themselves up on every popular food delivery service platform (even though they pride themselves on their extraordinary dine-in experience). Shortly after their doors were “virtually” open again, the orders began pouring in. And with the ever-growing support of Black-owned businesses, the restaurant has seen a massive surge in new customers. “One Saturday we sold one full week’s worth of food… in one day! It was crazy and it’s been like that ever since; we even had to hire another chef”, Renee excitedly explained to us.
While the scope of things has definitely changed, the restaurant continues to see support from its loyal customers. With curbside pick-ups coming in from miles away, they’re obviously doing something right in the kitchen. I can personally attest to it! Being from the Caribbean myself, I jumped at the chance of dining on some home cuisine. I did a curbside pickup of their Braised Oxtail Bowl, Cajun Shrimp, and their famous Salt Fish Cakes. Simply put, it was amazing! The delectable dishes definitely took my taste buds on a very needed and flavourful trip home.
It hasn’t been an easy journey for the Charles sisters, but their accomplishments and enduring success with SugarKane deserves a round of applause. They look forward to the day their customers can dine in and enjoy the island ambience they worked so diligently to create. In the interim, they continue pushing through these difficult times, providing stellar service and amazing cuisine to their customers from far and wide.