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Torteria San Cosme

June 28, 2017

By +tongtong

Haphazard” isn’t a word most designers would choose to describe their approach to creating a project—especially in a retail or hospitality setting where staging and product placement are given meticulous consideration. However, when the element of disorder is intentional and employed to achieve a sense of authenticity, it can enhance the end result.

Such is the case with the new Torteria San Cosme, a tiny, 700-square-foot Mexican sandwich shop in Toronto’s eclectic Kensington Market that is a departure
from typical hospitality design. Client Arturo Anhalt sought to recreate his nostalgic childhood memories of Mexico within the space, so the design team at multidisciplinary studio +tongtong worked closely with him to translate a vision of the past into one that is contemporary while capturing the essence of the vibrant colors, playfulness, and authenticity of Mexican street-food stands. Blending the two worlds required the design team to think outside the box to deliver a solution that might best be described as “controlled chaos.”

“At a certain point there’s this switch over to a kind of ‘un-designing,’ which is to break the grid and break the rules that you’ve set into place,” explained John Tong, founding principal of +tongtong. “It comes into play with this kind of project where there seems to be a very chaotic, haphazard organization, but it’s actually very organized.”

Walking into Torteria San Cosme, guests are immediately struck by a cacophony of color. Patterned tiles and hand-painted signs perfectly clash with a vivid mural covering an entire wall, while an awning of multi-hued webbing cantilevers over the takeout counter.

Riffing on this idea of a space within a space—referencing street-food stalls in larger buildings, which are common in Central America—Tong designed the awning to mimic the structure of a traditional puesto (street-food stand). The awning is made of industrial nylon strips weaved by hand through chain-link fencing. Underneath, the takeout counter, which doubles as a spot for diners to eat their tortas (Mexican sandwiches), is peppered with hand-painted
signage by Hamilton, Ontario, artists Brush Boys.

This hand-painted quality continues via the large-scale art mural. Designed and painted by Stephanie Latulippe, the nearly billboard-sized mural reminds Tong of the murals he’d see while visiting Mexico and Central America.

“The mural for me is just something that is part of the kind of urban landscape in the South,” Tong explained. “A lot of street artists are expressing the culture in very bold and colorful graphics. We wanted that—almost bringing a billboard from above the building down to the street level. It’s not something that you would be surprised at seeing in Mexico.”

The fluorescent lighting tubes, which dangle diagonally above counter-height tables, are also inspired by the food markets of Mexico. Rather than having dim, ambient lighting typical to most hospitality settings today, Tong noted that typical Latin American markets are brightly lit, lending the project another layer of authenticity. 

“In North America, LED in fluorescents are pretty much becoming normal now,” he said. “Down south [however], color temperature isn’t something that is specified. Even though we’re using fluorescent in their most direct way—we have exposed fluorescent tubes in the ceiling—we’re using color and other accents to warm [the space].”

Meanwhile, the patterned blue-and-white floor tiles offer a contemporary take on traditional Spanish tiles. This design element contributes to the bold use of color throughout the restaurant, from the mural and vintage-looking signage, to the weaved awning, and the colorful materials and ingredients on display in the open kitchen.

“The objective was to get this really energetic market feel—this street-stall feel—the sense of the graphics and the colorfulness,” Tong added. “The energy was what [the client] was really after.”

One look at this vibrant space and it’s evident that there’s a method behind the madness. 

Metal Siding

By Vicwest
Corrugated metal building panels, which are common in the South, offer both durability and maintainability, while the graphics painted on top also reference a Latin American aesthetic.

Hand-Painted Signage

By Brush Boys
As specialists in sign restoration and reproduction, Brush Boys created authentic, hand-painted signs and graphics on corrugated metal, tiles, and fixtures that add another layer of authenticity to the project.

Wall Finishes

By Olympia Tile & Stone
Tiles in 6-inch x 6-inch and 3-inch x 6-inch sizes in Arctic White are used on the counter front and kitchen wall for their durability and maintainability in the high-traffic restaurant.

Accent Column + Beam

By Benjamin Moore
An accent column and beam above the takeout counter painted in Buckland Blue add color and dimension to the space.

Ceiling Paint

By Benjamin Moore
The ceiling was coated in a neutral Templeton Gray to allow the mural and graphics in the shop to stand out.

Painted Wall Mural

by Stephanie Latulippe
The large, hand-painted wall mural references brightly colored billboards with bold graphics typically seen in Central and South America.

Patterned Floor Tile

by Mettro Tile
Striking patterned tiles in blue and white provide a contemporary take on traditional Spanish tiles, contributing to the bold use of color throughout the restaurant.

Vinyl Strips

By Chair Care Patio
Colorful, precut vinyl straps in turquoise, red, safety yellow, and dove were woven between a chain-link fence awning above the takeout counter, which adds a playful twist on traditional Mexican street-food stands.

Photography by Naomi Finlay

About the Author

Robert Nieminen | Chief Content Director

Robert Nieminen is the Chief Content Director of Architectural Products, BUILDINGS and i+s, sister publications of Smart Buildings Technology. He is an award-winning writer with more than 20 years of experience reporting on the architecture and design industry.

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