Dining in the dark

It’s sounds just like how you would imagine a bustling restaurant would on a Friday night: a cacophony of clinking glasses, clattering dishes, shuffling chairs and animated chatter punctuated by occasional bursts of laughter.

Diners place hands on their companion's shoulders before being led into the dining room at O.Noir restaurant in Toronto.

TORONTO — It’s sounds just like how you would imagine a bustling restaurant would on a Friday night: a cacophony of clinking glasses, clattering dishes, shuffling chairs and animated chatter punctuated by occasional bursts of laughter.

The look of the place, however, is a different story.

Visitors of this downtown eatery will leave not knowing the decor of the dining area, what the food looked like, and in some cases, even what they ate.

It’s a feast for the senses at O.Noir — all except the eyes.

No burning candles on the tables, not even the LCD glow of a cellphone. Diners are enveloped in total, utter darkness.

The idea was pioneered by Jorge Spielmann, a blind Swiss pastor who would blindfold dinner guests visiting his home in an effort to mirror for his own mealtime experience.

He expanded his unique concept in 1999 with the opening of “Blindekuh” (“blind cow” in German), a Zurich-based restaurant where patrons eat their meals in the dark.

In addition to inviting sighted individuals to experience a world without vision, the project also employed individuals with vision loss as wait staff.

The concept has since spread to such international destinations as Australia, London and Los Angeles.

O.Noir owner and founder Moe Alameddine, who launched his first dining-in-the-dark eatery in Montreal three years ago, recently opened his latest in Toronto.

“It’s really a sensorial experience,” he said in an interview at the new restaurant, housed on the lower level of a hotel.

“People now, they eat with their eyes more…. You see a piece of cake ‘Wow,’ you say. ‘They’ve decorated the plate, it’s really nice.’ But you can eat the same thing without your eyes and it’s the same piece of cake.”

“We’re making a very nice plate, but we don’t have to spend half an hour to decorate the dessert plate,” he added.

“We’d rather spend on the quality and the herbs and the freshness so people can smell more, they can taste better.”

Diners select dishes from a set menu and also have the choice of picking a “surprise” option for one or all of their courses to truly put their taste buds to the test.

In addition to the creativity behind the concept, Alameddine said was also drawn to the idea of creating jobs for people with vision loss.

In a report released last month on the cost of vision loss in Canada commissioned by CNIB and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, it was noted that the employment rate among working-age people with vision loss is only 32 per cent.

Among the 30 employees at O.Noir, Alameddine said 10 are blind.

Individuals with vision loss act as servers, also referred to as “guides.” They’re tasked not just with bringing food and drink to diners but with leading them in and out of one of O.Noir’s three darkened dining rooms, capable of seating a total of 100 people.

Patrons line up behind one another, placing their left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front of them with the guide leading the way into and out of the dining rooms.

Amidst the constant hum of chatter, servers can be heard calling out “Careful, careful,” in booming voices throughout the room as they move about, carrying dishes and assisting guests.

Server and guide Gavin Boylan had no previous experience prior to joining the O.Noir staff.

The 35-year-old had worked in construction and had been learning to be a plasterer.

Then he said he woke up one morning with big “floaties” or blockages clouding out his vision.

“I woke up on a Monday morning and thought ‘Was it a hangover? What’s going on?’ And then bam! My vision’s gone, that’s it,” said Boylan, a diabetic with blood behind his eyes.

He was unemployed for two years and couldn’t find work.

Boylan found out about O.Noir through CNIB and thought it was a neat concept.

After just a few weeks on the job, he is relishing the experience.

On The Net:

O.Noir: www.onoir.com

Just Posted

Parenting: Every woman will have a different pregnancy experience

Wife whose hormones are unbalanced can be unpleasant experience

Men posing as repo men attempt to steal vehicle in Red Deer County

Two men attempted to steal a utility vehicle from a Red Deer… Continue reading

Red Deerian spreads kindness with one card at a time

One Red Deerian wants to combat bullying by spreading kindness in the… Continue reading

Bowden baby in need of surgery

“Help for Alexis” Go Fund Me account

PHOTO: First Rider bus safety in Red Deer

Central Alberta students learned bus safety in the Notre Dame High School… Continue reading

WATCH: Annual Family Picnic at Central Spray and Play

Blue Grass Sod Farms Ltd. held the Annual Family Picnic at the… Continue reading

Woman has finger ripped off at West Edmonton Mall waterslide

SASKATOON — A Saskatchewan woman says she lost a finger after her… Continue reading

Uncertainty looms over Canada’s cannabis tourism, but ambitions are high

TORONTO — Longtime marijuana advocate Neev Tapiero is ready for the cannabis-driven… Continue reading

Feds mulling safeguards to prevent ‘surge’ of cheap steel imports into Canada

OTTAWA — The federal government extended an olive branch of sorts to… Continue reading

Ontario govt caps off summer session by passing bill to cut Toronto council size

TORONTO — The Ontario government passed a controversial bill to slash the… Continue reading

Updated:Italian bridge collapse sends cars plunging, killing 26

MILAN — A 51-year-old highway bridge in the Italian port city of… Continue reading

Saudi Arabia spat affecting Canadians embarking on hajj, community members say

TORONTO — Members of Canada’s Muslim community say recent tensions between Ottawa… Continue reading

Tug carrying up to 22,000 litres of fuel capsizes in Fraser River off Vancouver

VANCOUVER — The smell of diesel filled the air as crews worked… Continue reading

Nebraska executes first inmate using fentanyl

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska carried out its first execution in more than… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month