Wilf & Ada's - a reinventionPublished on May 12, 2014

  • Photo by: Mark Holleron

Transforming a cherished neighbourhood diner into a chic new venue, while preserving its charm and appeal, is no easy feat. When partners Ion Aimers, Jessie Duffy and Dominic Paul took over the iconic Ada's Diner last fall, they knew they wanted to tread carefully in renovating the Centretown eatery. 

Reborn as Wilf & Ada's after three intensive months of effort, the small corner building is now full of light and energy while paying tribute to its proud past in subtle, pleasing ways. A well-aged brick wall is decorated with an artful version of the diner's new logo, lightly-coated barnboard graces the opposing wall and vintage-inspired wallpaper adds an understated elegance to the bar's half-wall. Repurposed pedestals support roughly-milled, stained-wood tabletops, and schoolhouse-style lights draw the eye upwards, while industrial sconces created by Ottawa's Architectural Antiques illuminate the south wall.

"This space was formerly a garage dating back to the 30s or 40s, later serving as a popular diner for more than 20 years," says Ion. "When embarking on our renovation, we wanted to preserve the space's warmth and charm, but also give it a nice contemporary facelift and improve functionality. We are all so pleased with the final product and it is holding up well under heavy traffic."

Ion admits he had a vision in mind, but revised that once Jessie and Dom were on board to add their own ideas. "We agreed that because the space is so small, we didn't want anything too loud in terms of décor. Where Ada's was full of bright colours and knick-knacks, we have chosen instead to keep things very minimal. We think the new décor is reflective of Dom's menu - it is simple, straightforward and refreshing."

Jessie adds that the footprint in the diner is essentially the same as before, which makes for a comforting familiarity for returning patrons. "They comment on the little changes - the new flooring, the banquette on the north wall, the nice Thermopane windows in the front - and then gravitate to their favourite spot, as they have always done."

Dom was grateful for the opportunity to redesign the small kitchen area for maximum efficiency. "Working in an open-concept kitchen enables back-of-house staff to feel more connected to what is happening in the dining room and more aware of how the guests are reacting," he explains. "Physical space is still a challenge - we are constantly readjusting how we use it to be more efficient in managing our heavy prep. It's tricky, but so far we are making it work."

While very content with the transformation of Wilf & Ada's interior, Ion, Jessie and Dom have further plans. There is talk of a mural to grace the outside of the south wall, as well as making a small patio. "It has been gratifying to create something new out of a familiar place," notes Jessie. "We love that Wilf & Ada's now has a comfortable, stripped-down look that suits the simplicity of the food we are producing and the warm service we offer."

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