Few bakeries in Baltimore boast out-the-door lines on a regular basis. An exception is Cafe Dear Leon, the coffee and pastry shop on Canton’s O’Donnell Square, where owner Min Kim said he has been inundated with pleas to expand since opening in August of 2020.
Now, he is about to make a lot of people happy.
Kim is planning to open a restaurant in the former Shiso Tavern space at 2933 O’Donnell St., on the same block as Cafe Dear Leon, as early as March 2024. Shortly after the Baltimore City liquor board approved a transfer of the shop’s liquor license Friday, Kim said, they would likely convert the space into an Italian eatery.
“We want to do a similar idea: using flour and water to create something,” he said of the soon-to-be dinner spot. “So we thought, ‘What about pasta?”
They are still exploring other possible cuisines. But the intention behind the concept will be to catch Cafe Dear Leon loyalists as they are pushed out the door for closing at 4 p.m. For Kim and his Culinary Institute of America business partners, the restaurant will allow them to “continue to serve the community.”
The new digs will be intimate without compromising the cafe’s relaxed, neighborhood appeal, Kim said. Cafe Dear Leon rakes in customers with its Japanese-style tamago sandwiches, which are like a crabby egg salad, with thick flakes of crab meat and just the right touch of Old Bay. Baked goods roll out at the eatery on a schedule throughout the day.
“They enjoy Cafe Dear Leon because it feels personal … there are not too many distractions,” he said.
Kim told The Baltimore Banner that it is a thrilling time to expand in Canton, despite concerns over rising food costs and pandemic-era losses across the metro’s food scene. He said the decision comes as older neighborhood staples appear to be thriving and shuttered eateries like the Looney’s Pub at 2900 O’Donnell St. or the Portside Tavern at 2821 O’Donnell St. are undergoing construction to make way for emerging businesses.