Break's over

Chris Millin greets customers at Saint Germain.

Saint Germain, the café and gallery space on Main Street, reopened its doors last Monday after a stylish spring refresh.

Owner, cook, curator and coffee artist Christopher Millin welcomed back his happy band of regulars to enjoy the newly updated interior and reinvigorated menu.

New floors, a fresh coat of paint and a deep clean have breathed new life into the popular café. One wall that runs the length of the space, painted a dark slate blue called ‘Stormy Sky’ – inspired by his new Simonelli espresso machine – is more dramatic than tempestuous, offset with white trim and artwork from Millin’s private collection.

The space feels more personal, more welcoming and – according to Millin, “like a new café.”

Change is as good as a rest, it seems. Before the nine-day closure, Millin had bandied about the notion of closing and selling the business. To add insult to injury, he was randomly sucker-punched on his way to work one morning, and on another, showed up to work to find the locks glued shut. (I’m so disheartened to learn that violent vandalism is a serious issue in the downtown core, especially in the last few weeks.)

Luckily friends and family came to the rescue and pitched in to made quick work of the café’s makeover and lend Millin much needed support.

The menu is focused more on grab-and-go salads and multi-ingredient sandwiches, including a double-carb potato salad and ham number, along with the signature favourites that we’ve all come to crave.

Dig in to the hearty housemade soups; ham and split pea, borscht and red lentil are some of the bowls, along with my new favourite, roasted red pepper, tomato and fennel, served with buttered slices of baguette. Sorry folks, no more grilled sandwiches.

Millin starts his day at 6 a.m., baking muffins, brownies, quick breads and scones for the 8 a.m. opening rush and prepping for lunch. (During his first few days of reopening, his supplies of food were completely cleaned out!) Gluten-free treats are from Prairie Creek Edibles in Summerland. And cheesecake and other desserts are coming down the pike.

They all pair nicely with espresso-fuelled beverages from that shiny new Simonelli machine, or with a Honduran drip coffee custom-blended for Saint Germain by newbie roasters Seis Cielo.

Change is no stranger to Millin. The former Vancouverite juggled life as a children’s book author and children’s art curator with an upper management position at Starbucks.

After 20 years and wanting out of the corporate world, relatives emailed a suggestion to check out a café in Penticton. He did and discovered Saint Germain, then owned by Stefano and Brigitte Liapis, was for sale.

Without ever having been to our city, he purchased the café and – in just eight weeks – moved lock, stock and barrel to Penticton. With a skill set that only involved vegetarian pasta dishes, he spent two intensive weeks alongside Stefano learning baking and cooking all the recipes for the café.

During ownership for the last four-and-a-half years, Millin created a gallery hub and meeting place that successfully married art with food, but knew it was time for a refresh.

Gallery shows will be put on hold temporarily while Millin takes time to reset and enjoy the new space. He invites people to pop in and relax over coffee and a snack, grab a lunch for the office, or bring the crew for an afternoon meeting at the long harvest table. And plans are on paper for a return to storytelling nights and open mic events.

“It’s exciting to keep the cafe alive,” says Millin. “And I hope people find it a good respite.”

 With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and curious traveller, goes in search of the delectable. adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and curious traveller, goes in search of the delectable. This column runs every other Monday in The Herald.