Presenting: Michelle Gebhart – a true Renaissance Woman: From Army Brat to Expert Renovator, Biker Lady, Successful Restaurateur & Dedicated Youth Volunteer
All the while Michelle kept insisting that there is nothing to her story, she claimed she really didn’t have anything interesting to share, and the more I listened to her I realized that despite her modesty, I was talking to a multi-talented, multi-faceted, highly unusual woman right then and there. I started to enjoy the conversation more and more.
Michelle’s design in the guest bathroom called for a stylish bowl-type vanity, the type of vanity that is really in fashion right now and can cost several thousand dollars. Michelle simply went to Home Depot, bought several components, and constructed her leading edge vanity itself at a cost of a few hundred dollars. At one point she needed to get a washing machine hooked up in the basement in order to be able to wash the linens and napkins on site. She called in a local plumber to get an estimate: $900! Michelle figured that the job would take at the most 20 minutes and maybe $50 in parts. She dispatched the plumber and ended up doing the project herself. Now here is an empowered woman!
Michelle’s home-made vanity
A TV show about restaurant renovations called “Opening Soon” even interviewed Michelle and taped the “before” segment with her. When the production crew came back to tape the progress of the project, Michelle and her dad had already finished the renovation. The crew said that they had worked too fast and indicated that they would not be able to use the footage after all. As a result the show about the renovation of Michelle’s Beach House never got produced. Talk about getting punished for working efficiently….
Shortly before the official opening of the restaurant, Michelle was hosting a special event: a promotional launch for a winery that had booked her premises for a private event. Michelle had been doing renovations all day, shoved all the tools and materials into various closets, got her clothing and hair fixed up in the last moment – a local store down the street did her make-up – and after a hard day’s work Michelle played the role of the gracious hostess all night long.
On May 18 finally her establishment opened and “Michelle’s Beach House” was born. There were a few glitches at the beginning, for example a chef with a super-sized ego. But Michelle doesn’t tolerate divas in her kitchen, whatever work needs to be done needs to get done. Michelle will even bus the tables herself if the need arises.
The restaurant is certainly hard work. Michelle actively works every day in both restaurants. If she opens one place for lunch, she’ll close the other one after dinner and vice versa. Being present on site on a daily basis is very important in maintaining control over quality and costs. Michelle picks up fresh fish every day at a local fish store and used to handle all the purchasing herself, a task that required her to get up at 4 am every day. Now one of her employees assists her with the procurement tasks.
The appetizers are here
Michelle loves the kitchen and has done extensive catering. Her philosophy is based on high quality food and fresh ingredients, yet despite the upscale quality of her cuisine, she believes in providing solid portion sizes. The menu is changed on a seasonal basis, and she describes the cuisine at “Michelle’s in the Beach” as French Riviera style with lots of olive oil, lemon and various Mediterranean influences. Signature dishes include bouillabaisse, paté, a salad Niçoise and bacon-wrapped dates.
I asked about the specifics of this restaurant and Michelle indicated that the restaurant has 63 seats inside with another 87 seats on the patio. Michelle’s Beach House is certainly a popular hangout in the summer. Her restaurant frequently hosts winemakers’ and brewmasters’s dinners. Another special initiative are the “Manicure and Martini Mondays” which she organizes with a local merchant called Five Star Nails. Guests can come in on Mondays and enjoy some pampering, try some tasty appetizers and wash them down with a martini. Michelle also calls these events “a manicure + a martini + a mouthful”, all at the affordable price of $30.00. At her Yorkville location she organizes the same event as a collaboration with Jeanette’s Spa.
Oversize art in the basement
With all these interesting initiatives, there certainly hasn’t been much time for riding her motorcycle, one of Michelle’s favourite pastimes. Michelle owns a V-Star 1100 Yamaha Cruiser and had it customized. This past year she did not get to ride much at all, not surprising considering she has her hands full running two restaurants. She wants to start building her own motorbikes, and I don’t doubt for a second that she has the skills to do it.
Even though her time on the road is limited, she still regularly socializes with her friends form the Silverados, and has been inducted into the Royal Order of the Silverados for her community work. Incidentally, Los Silverados is a group of motorcycle aficionados (definitely not a gang) that started in August of 1997 with the goal of raising money for the Yonge Street Mission, an organization that helps the poor and disadvantaged of Toronto, regardless of race, religion or background. The motto of Los Silverados is “To make a contribution and to enjoy the ride” and their website explains that the name is derived as follows: Los = “the” and Silverados =”people with silver in their hair, silver in their jeans who are looking for life’s silver lining”….the name could come from a mine in Mexico, or from a pickup truck – no one knows for sure. I did not even realize that there was a motorcycle group out there whose stated mission is to make a positive contribution to the community.
Michelle and Puppy
One thing that Michelle does take time for is her dog “Puppy”. She bought the Bernese mountain dog & golden retriever mix as a Christmas gift for her brother’s children two days in advance of the holidays and fell in love with him instantly. It was definitely going to be hard to give him up, but fortunately Michelle’s employees pooled their money and bought her a pure-bread golden retriever as a present which she could give to her brother, allowing her to hold on to Puppy. Not surprisingly, Michelle’s Beach House is a dog-friendly restaurant, and Puppy often hangs out in the backyard.
As we were getting close to wrapping up our conversation, out of the corner of my eyes I saw our waiter approaching with two sample appetizers: Michelle’s famous baked clams with herbed bread crumbs and the renowned bacon-wrapped dates served with grapes and onion chutney. Both were exquisite and the dates just melted in my mouth. But her business needed her attention, so Michelle had to excuse herself and return back to work. Meanwhile I had a chance to sample the menu.
Potato soup with gruyere cheese and a Canadian cheese plate
I ordered a potato soup topped with gruyere cheese and bacon as the first course and a Canadian cheese plate as a second course. Michelle sent over her talented chef, Ben, who explained the ingredients to me: the Canadian cheese plate includes a Benedictine Blue, a Canadian Brie and a chevre goat cheese. Walnuts, cut grapes and dried berries add a pleasant counterpoint to the tasty cheeses and a fresh warm baguette accompanies the delicacies. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and the Canadian-Mediterranean spread.
I took a picture of Michelle’s entire crew this Wednesday evening and I could tell this bunch of young people enjoyed their jobs and the atmosphere. As Michelle was attending to her responsibilities I had a chance to savour her restaurant’s cuisine and reflect on a woman with so many interesting and unexpected facets– a multi-talented Renaissance woman and entrepreneur who cares about the community. I figured that in her modesty, there were so many things that this intriguing woman did not even share with me.
The crew at Michelle’s Beach House: Adam, Michelle, Ben and Tony
After our personal meeting I visited the website for Michelle’s Brasserie and was struck by the welcome message on her home page:
As we sit at the bar called life, precariously balancing our overfilled glass of morals, snacking on plates of somewhat mediocre integrity, one must ask why?
I believe we are always in search of something new to shake up the martini we call life. We wander from establishment to establishment in the hope that somewhere, someone will offer the ultimate pimento to fill our proverbial olive.
Michelle’s was created to fill this need.
May you find your pimento with us.