Restaurant Owners Traded Grilled Cheese Sandwich for Painting That Sold for Over $250,000


Irene Demas paints a rather picture as to how slinging grilled cheese sandwiches led her and her partner, Tony, to hundreds of 1000’s of dollars.

The couple’s story of obtaining a exceptional Maud Lewis painting thanks to a grilled cheese created headlines lately, but in an job interview with Currently, Demas described that her story is much more about how food stuff fosters social exchange and community.

In accordance to Demas, 69, the story commences in London, Ontario, decades ago, in the early ’70s. Demas was a 19-yr-previous newlywed whose husband worked in genuine estate and experienced a fantastic eye for opportunity. After a getting a creating that experienced at the time housed a cafe, Tony pitched his wife on opening their possess restaurant, and collectively, the two proven an eatery termed The Villa.

In advance of then, Demas experienced zero culinary practical experience and had under no circumstances envisioned herself performing in a restaurant kitchen area. But as she tells it, on The Villa’s opening day, the restaurant’s chef experienced one particular as well quite a few beers, and Tony requested his spouse to step in. “I realized almost nothing honestly about meals,” she described. “But I did know how to make a grilled cheese, so I considered, ‘OK, our special’s just going to be grilled cheese sandwiches. That is it.’ Which is the only matter I realized how to (make) … and probably boil water.”

When Irene Demas first started working at The Villa, the only thing she knew how to make was a grilled cheese sandwich. Ultimately, she went to culinary school and  even went on to be featured in a local television show called "The Kitchen Witch."
When Irene Demas initial started off operating at The Villa, the only thing she knew how to make was a grilled cheese sandwich. Finally, she went to culinary faculty and even went on to be featured in a nearby television display termed “The Kitchen Witch.”
Courtesy of Irene Demas

The sandwiches had been a hit, and the cafe managed to remain afloat. Someday all around 1973, it was there that the few came to satisfy long run regulars, Audrey and John Kinnear. Following a when, the couples grew to become helpful, and⁠ — mainly because it was the ’70s⁠ — they resolved to start generating some trades.

“Soon after a even though, he started bringing in some of his art and asked my partner if we could trade for their lunches for his artwork,” Demas stated. “We transpired to genuinely adore his art. He did some extremely stunning watercolors … he did a lot of European kind of things, English countrysides and attractive animals.”

Irene and Tony Demas met John and Audrey Kinnear in the '90s. The two couples became friends and John Kinnear ultimately got the Demas to agree to trade his daily orders for grilled cheese sandwiches for art. The above artwork of The Villa was painted by Kinnear.
Irene and Tony Demas satisfied John and Audrey Kinnear in the ’90s. The two couples turned good friends and John Kinnear finally acquired the Demas to agree to trade his day by day orders for grilled cheese sandwiches for art. The over artwork of The Villa was painted by Kinnear.Courtesy of Irene Demas

“We under no circumstances truly stored tabs, to say, ‘OK, perfectly, you were in, and you spent $15. Now, you know, you are gonna give us $15 credit history,'” she continued. “There was this sort of a amazing connection with the Kinnears.”

Practically nothing was a tit for tat. They just available and took and, sooner or later, one particular working day, Kinnear arrived in with a established of paintings that weren’t his personal to trade. Demas remembers that Kinnear advised the story of the artist he’d achieved who experienced constrained mobility (Lewis experienced rheumatoid arthritis) and was of very simple signifies. He established up six artworks from different artists all over chairs and towards glassware and offered them to Demas and her husband.

“(Kinnear) came in with this incredibly unusual-searching art. It was on board, unframed, a pretty childlike, really primitive artwork that I’d under no circumstances witnessed prior to,” she described. “I’m not an artwork qualified, and we weren’t art collectors. We just knew what we preferred.”

But one particular of the paintings stopped Demas in her tracks. “There was just one unique painting that seriously jumped out at me that was extremely vivid, and it was a tiny black truck. All the other kinds I did not treatment for had about two or three diverse versions of cats … I was expecting at that time. And (I believed), ‘Well, if it is a boy, we can hold it in in his room’ … it turns out I picked the suitable just one.”

Demas did have a boy, and following putting it in a body with a handful of letters Lewis sent to Kinnear, she hung the painting in her newborn’s place. A long time passed, and so, much too, did the Kinnears. Then arrived a change in the art earth.

Lewis, a folk artist from Nova Scotia who’d by no means obtained any monetary success for her artwork, became a matter of fascination in the early aughts.

“There was an article written about her in one of the newspapers,” Demas spelled out, remarking that it was not till all around 2000 that she started to listen to the common name Kinnear had talked about to her a long time before. “A lot more and more persons have been amassing and getting her art … Items commenced popping up. I began seeing her art at auction product sales. You know, and they have been bringing $2,000, $3,000 at that time.”

Then, as Demas remembers, a person found a Lewis painting at a Goodwill retail outlet that went up for auction and sold for $45,000.

“But I wasn’t really on the lookout into it since, like I reported, we liked the piece,” Demas discussed. “We did not obtain it as an financial investment or did not imagine that it was a excellent piece of artwork even.”

Nonetheless, Demas had the foresight to have the piece insured. At the time, Lewis’ art was on the increase but not but a very hot commodity, and the insurers Demas spoke to failed to acknowledge the artist’s title. Their ignorance established Demas on a route of appraisal soon after chatting to auctioneers, she uncovered that the black truck was exceptional. Demas found out that Lewis normally included the very same photos in her art — cats, barns, cows — but the black truck was unique. To this day, no just one else has claimed obtaining a black truck in a Lewis portray.

"Black Truck" by Maud Lewis, 1967.
“Black Truck” by Maud Lewis, 1967.Courtesy of Irene Demas

Numerous auctioneers pursued Demas, but two brothers from Miller & Miller Auctions had been determined. Leaning on the trope that a way to a person’s coronary heart is by means of their belly, the two auctioneers drove by way of sleet and snow to meet up with Demas and her partner facial area-to-confront and to present them with a box of butter tarts. Not lengthy just after their go to, immediately after encouragement from her small children, Demas set the piece up for auction.

At a viral auction on May perhaps 14, the hammer struck at $272,548. The letters marketed for about $55,000.

< p class="">Demas recalled the bittersweet sentiment of parting with the portray immediately after a long time, but also observed how her earnings will be put to excellent use. She and her spouse Tony are now retired. She functions on and off as a private chef (her roster of clientele includes an NHL star), and her spouse, who is now 90, has been traveling. Currently, he’s waiting for her to appear to join him at the household they very own in Athens, Greece.

“He’s around in Greece, and he’s climbing mountains and chasing goats,” Demas explained with a smile. “Collecting new herbs and waiting around for me to arrive around.”

Demas’s marriage with her partner is just 1 of the quite a few causes she feels an appreciation for Lewis and her artwork.

“I feel she place so significantly of herself in these paintings and she just painted pleased matters simply because she had these types of a these kinds of a unfortunate everyday living that she wished to she set every thing in her artwork. She was abused, all her lifetime, and her partner was very abusive to her,” Demas defined, noting her gratitude for her husband, who she suggests has addressed her properly in their 50 many years with each other, and whom she’s continue to extremely a great deal in enjoy with.

And to assume that this story of really like, friendship and artwork all started with a very simple sandwich.

“If it weren’t for the grilled cheese, it just would have been yet another Maud Lewis portray coming up for auction,” Demas mentioned. “I know it would have gone it would have broken all information mainly because it is such a unique and exceptional portray and with the letters, but I consider it was the grilled cheese tale that seriously permit everyone in the entire world know was there.”

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