You never know what could come to be if you don’t take a risk. That happened to be the case for Miss Likklemore’s very own Head Chef Lonie Murdock. The self-taught culinary creative is a serial “yes sayer”, as she shared in an interview with Curiocity.
Confidence, ambition, and an appreciation for her culture eventually brought Chef Lonie to King Street, opening her first upscale restaurant in Toronto.
And it all started by taking a chance and saying yes.
Though she didn’t have a background in culinary arts, Chef Lonie did know flavour and wasn’t afraid to experiment in the kitchen.
Being the designated chef in her family, cooking became a hobby for her, but at that moment in time, not her main career choice.
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She had a 9 to 5 job as an Executive Assistant and found time to be a workout trainer before her workday. Being one of the many side hustles she had throughout the day, Chef Lonie also kept her clients fed and prepared home-cooked meals.
“A couple of them were like, ‘Oh, you should really pursue this. I’m losing weight, but I feel like I’m eating real food,'” shared Lonie.
“And so a lot of the things I was cooking were things that I make at home, like jerk chicken and curry chicken and rice and peas and all of these West Indian things. But I was just kind of cleaning up the ingredients a little bit.”
With a little push and encouragement, Chef Lonie began a meal prep company with a friend back in 2016. To get some feedback, they held a tasting for the company and invited a few people – one of them being Hollywood actor Will Smith’s assistant at that time.
“She came and they were using another meal prep company,” shared Chef Lonie. “They were here filming Suicide Squad. I invited her, she came and she was like, ‘Great, this is great. Sign us up.'”
And just like that, what started as an idea led Chef Lonie back into the kitchen. She left her day job and pursued cooking full time, cooking up meal preps for stars like Will Smith and her personal training clients.
Yet with all this cooking, opening a restaurant wasn’t an idea Chef Lonie had in mind. It was her husband, who is in the restaurant business, that had the idea of opening a West Indian – Caribbean restaurant in Toronto.
She teased that she immediately supported her husband, telling him it was a great idea and that she couldn’t wait to be his best customer. Instead, she became his business partner and Head Chef of the 2020 Queen Street pop-up Miss Likklemore’s.
“There was a space available across the street from us that belonged to some of his business partners, and they weren’t doing anything because we were just outdoor dining at that point,” shared Lonie.
“When that kind of came about, it was like way outside of my wheelhouse cause I had never cooked for anybody in real time or done any of the things that come with running a restaurant. So I was, petrified but again, a serial Yes Sayer. So I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.'”
Though Miss Likklemore’s only served as a pop-up at the time, it quickly became a must-try spot in Toronto. And considering it was only a pop-up, the next step was to look for a larger space and create a thriving, viable business in the city.
Restaurateur Hanif Harji and partner Darren Hinds (The Good Son) found a permanent home on King St and created an elevated execution for the concept, all while keeping the traditional soul of its unique flavours.
And though they’ve seen the success of their pop-up, Chef Lonie shares that it was tough showcasing something that’s so near and dear to a culture as the cuisine wasn’t what they were used to.
“I hope people can really see that it’s for the greater good,” shared the cheg. “Maybe it’s not as spicy as some people might like it all the time or it’s presented in a way that their mom didn’t do it, their grandmother didn’t do it and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with people feeling initially like this is a little bit different because 90% of the time, by the time they leave, they feel so inspired by it.”
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The restaurant itself is full of inspiration, including the menu items themselves. Take the Jerk Chicken for example, according to Chef Lonie, it is inspired by her grandmother’s recipe. With a little tweaking and tossing in her own additions, she took it from an old-school recipe to restaurant-style.
As for dessert, the beloved Miss Paula’s Carrot Cake is her husband’s mother’s recipe, who actually came in and showed their pastry chef how to make it.
“We have a lot of like return customers and some have been very kind that it has brought me to tears in the restaurant because there’s so much emotion tied to that, to our food,” said Lonie.
“People come in and say that this is something so special for them, this is like more than I could have ever imagined somebody would ever say to me about a restaurant, considering I never thought that I was going to do this. It’s pretty special.”
Thanks to all that love and appreciation for the restaurant, Chef Lonie has shared that they are currently looking at spaces for a second Miss Likklemore’s location, contemplating a more after-dinner type of vibe among many other ideas.
But for now, the focus remains on the current King Street location.
It just goes to show how much can come from something unexpected, as long as you stay true to yourself and always say yes.
Where: 433 King Street West