Tiny diners Winnipeggers are going nuts for miniature restaurant that serves a very specific, very skittish clientele
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/05/2020 (807 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg’s newest, smallest — and most exclusive — eatery is generating some big chatter.
Opened at the beginning of May, SQRL Restaurant + Bar turns out hyper-local, vegan small plates, such as Instagram-worthy kiwi bowls, garden salads, beautifully appointed fruit and nut “charcuterie” boards and something called a “seed bucket.”
A patron enjoys SQRL’s relaxed atmosphere.
The space, which boasts al fresco dining year-round, is small and rustic, just two tables and a cosy bar that features the work of local artists.
Meals are meant to be enjoyed on site, but many patrons are opting for scurry-side pickup. Water is available in 0.5 and ‘SQRL-sized’ one-ounce pours.
Service is enthusiastic and attentive. Some might even say too attentive; the owner has the tendency to film patrons while they eat.
Also, you have to be a squirrel to get into SQRL.
Yes, that’s correct: SQRL is a restaurant for squirrels. It’s also the pandemic isolation project of Karly Troschuk, who will be familiar to Winnipeggers from KISS 102.3’s morning show.
“I’m not bored,” she stresses. “This was always going to find me.”
Troschuk was inspired by a viral photo of a squirrel-sized picnic table that was making the rounds at the end of March.
“The squirrel was sitting at the table full-on having a snack, and I freaked out,” she says. “I’ve always loved miniature objects and items, since I was a little girl.”
She immediately texted the photo to her dad. To say Donny Troschuk is handy is an understatement; he’s built everything from bunk beds for teddy bears to the entire house Karly grew up in.
“I sent it to him with no caption, nothing needed; he’ll know I want him to make this,” she says.
And, sure enough, by lunchtime that day, he’d built her two squirrel picnic tables for her backyard.
“But, like everything in life with me, I take it just a little bit too far,” she says with a laugh. “I wouldn’t just have a squirrel feeder. I’d make a full-on squirrel restaurant.”
The level of detail is what has made SQRL such a hit on Instagram (@sqrlrestaurant). Troschuk creates thimble-sized, squirrel-friendly dishes that are every bit as photogenic as the people-sized dishes that inspired them, using tweezers to place berries and seeds just so.
She also enlisted the help of talented pals to help make the project sing, including Coal and Canary’s Amanda Bushe, who designed SQRL’s logo.
“I think people are actually confused when they first go to the Instagram page,” Troschuk says. “They think it’s a real restaurant at first, before quickly realizing it’s a restaurant for squirrels in my backyard.”
And although it’s barely a month old, SQRL is already “franchising.”
Troschuk’s dad is making a limited number of squirrel picnic tables available for purchase ($35 for brown, $40 for white), with a portion of proceeds going to Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre, which rehabilitates injured, sick and orphaned wildlife for their return to the wild — including, of course, squirrels.
“Last I heard, they have, like, 30 orphaned baby squirrels in care right now,” Troschuk says.
“They think it’s a real restaurant at first, before quickly realizing it’s a restaurant for squirrels in my backyard.”–Karly Troschuk
Donny Troschuk has made about 50 tables during this first run, and will likely do a second run in June to keep raising money and awareness. “My dad does not know how to say no to me,” Troschuk says with a laugh. “He’s a retired firefighter and has nothing but time to make these — or so I think.”
Wildlife Haven has provided a diet tip sheet so that people who purchase tables know what they should and should not feed squirrels. (To that end, the flagship location of SQRL offers limited seatings and is not open every day, so that area squirrels don’t become dependent on it for food.)
Other local makers and businesses are also getting in on the project. Roughage Eatery, which is a recent SQRL franchisee, has been making tiny creations for SQRL to serve. Laser All the Things created a laser-cut menu board; Ways WoodWorks created a custom sign.
The restaurant even recently hosted a miniature Third + Bird market. “I think a lot of artists and makers are loving the challenge of creating something so tiny,” she says.
And Winnipeggers are loving watching the scene at SQRL on social media. After all, nothing brings joy during These Times quite like watching a tiny squirrel eat a tinier quesadilla.
“The feedback has been very, very positive,” she says. “People are really enjoying it and getting a laugh out of it. And that’s the No. 1 goal right now. I mean, my job literally every morning is to try to entertain people and make them laugh and distract them from the difficult time we’re all going through right now.”
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.