O.Noir: Dining in the Dark


by Hayley Seidel

Ever wondered what it’s like to experience culinary delights in the dark?

An odd concept perhaps, but O.Noir, which is already extremely popular in Australia, Europe, L.A, Montreal and New York, invites customers to eat in total darkness! Not only are visitors dining in the dark, but also all of the servers are visually impaired. The idea is that, since the body’s other senses are not being stimulated, the sense of taste is heightened and more intense. Moreover, the franchise also aims to help prepare the blind for the mainstream job market and a percentage of the restaurant’s profits are donated to organizations that serve the visually impaired.

Recently, we had the incredible opportunity to participate in a unique and unforgettable dining experience at O.Noir’s elegant Toronto location. The exciting experience began as we walked underground to reach the large and dark entrance doors. Other than the fancy sign outside the restaurant, it did not look particularly special, but the inside was a completely different story.

The majestic interior was dimly lit, had brilliant quotes painted sporadically on the exposed brick walls and included a quaint lounge area where guests decided their desired menu items. We were then introduced to our wonderful server, Tracey Ricci, who reminded us to turn off our cell phones and remove anything that may glow (like a watch). We were instructed to hold on to each other’s shoulders and were led into a pitch-black dining room. The sensation was remarkable, since we had never been anywhere quite so dark in our lives.

Our meals were brought to us in a quick fashion and Ricci frequently came to make sure we were satisfied. After only a few minutes, we started to feel comfortable. While sitting in the dark, we were able to enjoy pleasant conversation and concentrate on the delicious food presented. When the meal was complete (and after some chatter of course) we were escorted out in the same way as when we came in.

After the meal, we had a chance to talk with both Tracey Ricci and Dr. J. R. Feng, the owner of O.Noir, about the restaurant and its philosophy.

Tracey, how long have you been an O.Noir employee?
Three years, just part time though.

Do you have another job?
I did have another job, but right now I am looking for part time. It is very difficult when you are legally blind; that’s why it’s great that they do hire people like us. It’s pretty tough out there to get a job.

How did you hear about this opportunity?
Through the CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

What is the most difficult part of your job?
Dealing with people that are obnoxious or maybe drinking too much. I guess it’s trying to deal with some people who are still a bit rude and naïve about people with disabilities, so I just try to educate them. The training was difficult and took a while, especially because I’m sighted but I just have low vision.

Are there usually a lot of serving accidents and customer spills?
It is mostly customers. We don’t as much because we are so used to it. It happens once in a while. In three years I’ve done it a couple of times.

What is the most enjoyable and rewarding part of your profession?
I like talking to people. I like hearing stories and telling people stories. Just seeing people everyday really. My whole entire life I have always had to rely on people. This restaurant makes me feel good because I am in charge and customers look up to me in a way. I can calm the person down and make a difference in how they feel.

What was the inspiration behind this incredible restaurant, Mr. Feng?
For the founder of O.Noir, it was the idea of letting normal people get a sense of being blind and providing blind people an opportunity to work and excel. For me, as the current owner, same as above plus doing something unique and special itself is an inspiration.

How long have you had the pleasure of owning O.Noir?
Nine months.

How would you best describe the O.Noir experience?
To enjoy foods without the vision sense in an atmosphere different from any other restaurant, to have a unique relationship between myself (or guest) and the serving staff (complete dependence and trust), and to have fun and some romantic feeling.

Are there any plans in the works to expand the franchise?
Currently, we would like to improve our food and services and grow our business on weekdays (all restaurants are busier on weekends than weekdays, but we would like to balance a little). Yes, there is a long-term possibility to open new stores, in Canada or elsewhere, but currently we would like to solidify the current establishment.

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