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COLUMN: Kick meat to the backseat, let Shine take the wheel

Whether you're a vegetarian or a meat eater looking to give your body a break, plant-based kitchen in downtown Orillia has something for everyone

I love hamburgers. They’re my favourite food.

That’s a weird way to start a column about a plant-based restaurant, but bear with me. I’m going somewhere with this.

See, Shine owner Alex Cherubin used to be an omnivore, too. While working in steakhouses and Italian restaurants, he would see people shuffle out after a meal with their taste buds titillated but their bodies burdened.

“They enjoyed the food. You want to enjoy your food, but you’re also eating to survive, you’re eating to nurture your body,” he said. “When you walk out of here, you don’t feel like you’ve just swallowed a truck, you don’t feel bloated.”

He knows that feeling.

Cherubin used to be overweight and often felt tired and sluggish. Nearly a decade ago, he switched to a plant-based diet — a lifestyle more than a diet, he explained. He lost 50 pounds in the first three months.

“I’ve not looked back since,” said the father of four children. “I want to be able to run around with them as much as possible.”

Through his food, he’s been helping others feel better since he opened Shine seven years ago on Peter Street in downtown Orillia, and he continues to do so at the current, larger location on Mississaga Street.

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite, a healthy snack or a full meal, Shine has something for you.

There’s also a meal plan people can sign up for, and they do — about 100 per week. Many of them tell Cherubin how much better they feel and that the food has helped them lose weight.

“That’s honestly what we’re here for,” he said. “I love hearing stories about how good people feel after they’ve eaten here.”

They can also feel good about supporting a business that sends next to nothing to the landfill and sets about 30 compost containers at the curb every week.

Bravo, but back to the pre-compost.

For those with dietary restrictions — out of necessity or by choice — “we check a lot of boxes,” Cherubin said.

It’s ideal for the lactose intolerant as there is no dairy on the menu. It’s great for vegetarians because, well, there’s no meat. Almost everything on the menu can be made to cater to gluten-free customers. Those with peanut allergies can feel comfortable at Shine, too. The peanut butter used in the smoothies is contained at the counter, not in the kitchen.

While some people have no choice but to avoid certain ingredients, the plant-based lifestyle was a switch Cherubin and his wife, Laura, decided to make.

“We believe it’s the proper way to eat, the best way to eat, the healthiest way to eat,” he said. “There are much more positives than negatives.”

Not that they’ll turn their noses up at anyone who eats differently.

“We’re here to offer a little variety in people’s lives. No one’s judging,” Cherubin said.

I can attest to that. They didn’t kick me out when I showed up wearing a Leadbetters mask.

Let’s circle back. Most of my meals include meat, but I can empathize with Cherubin. I’ve fallen into many a food coma and, almost every time, meat was the culprit. Sometimes a break is needed.

That was the case recently.

It was time for lunch and, while I was quite hungry, I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating beef or pork or chicken. I immediately turned to Shine for some takeout.

I ordered the Taste of the Orient Trio, described on the menu as follows: “Made-to-order fresh spring roll with seasonal veggies and locally grown sprouts served with a side of tamari. Three baked wild mushroom dumplings served with a creamy lime wasabi dip. Roasted cauliflower and chickpea salad with a sweet and spicy mango dressing topped with green onions, alfalfa sprouts and sesame seeds.”

It was everything I, and my body, needed at that moment. And that lime wasabi dip? I’ll take a bucket full, please.

Dips and dressings are among Cherubin’s specialties. He has received both praise and accolades for them, including the Caesar and tzatziki. Both can be purchased on their own.

There’s much more to his business than the sauces, though. The Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association made that clear in 2019, when Shine received the People’s Choice award for Favourite Restaurant in Simcoe County. It beat out St. Germain’s Steakhouse (a restaurant Cherubin once worked for at Casino Rama) and Mahogany Room at the Nottawasaga Inn Resort in Alliston.

Take that, meat.

“It’s something that we are very proud of here,” Cherubin said.

They should be.

“In the restaurant business, as a small restaurant, I feel like we’re going in a boxing match with our hands tied behind our back,” he said. “We don’t have the premium cut of meat. We don’t have the high-end shellfish. We don’t have nice blue cheeses and things like that. We have to rely on food talent.”

Attention to detail is important when it comes to seasoning and fresh ingredients, including the microgreens Cherubin grows on site. They’re the secrets to making the dishes, er, shine.

Because he used to eat meat, Cherubin can still figure out how to elevate an ingredient like a portobello mushroom.

“There are 50 ways to cook a mushroom, but we pick the way we think works the best,” he said.

The fan-favourite portobello steak sandwich is a fine example. It consists of thinly shaved portobello mushrooms on a roasted garlic loaf with truffle aioli, Chao cheese (a kind of mock cheese), caramelized onions and arugula.

When Cherubin talks about food talent, he isn’t referring to himself alone. There’s a small but mighty squad at Shine that, in addition to Cherubin and his wife — as well some help with dishes and a bit of prep from a couple of their kids — includes Shawn Wilkinson. They call him Big Daddy Five Star for a reason. His performance in the kitchen is some kind of sorcery. Order the gnocchi. You’ll understand.

But don’t just take my word for it.

“We’re pretty confident here. Try it. If you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back, but I guarantee you’re going to like it,” Cherubin said.

The good stuff

Most popular: portobello steak sandwich

Alex Cherubin’s favourite: portobello steak sandwich as well as the chicken souvlaki

My favourite: Taste of the Orient Trio

Nathan Taylor’s local food and drink column appears every other Saturday.





Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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