building the dream: one cafe at a time. the new ka space vibe. will be created farther east. chef Kevin Allwood intends to keep the good vibes growing with his new location.

” The first step of the process is creating the space on paper, and usually the longest part of the process and this is where we are presently.

The dream. build it, make it beautiful and create a strong team and community. “


raise your vibration, know there is only one a life of levity

“Fashion and food is not different. It’s just different sides of the same coin. Or different sides of a wall, but you’re in the same room.”

silent and still: Kevin Allwood opens up in a rare interview.

tatse of toronto : written by michael sommers

Before meeting Kevin Allwood, owner and creator of the KA SPACE Cafe, I read about him. How could I not? Over the last 35 years, he’s had his fingers in so many (literal and figurative) pies.

I read about Kevin Allwood, the designer, who started out in 1986, selling his women’s clothing at Ottawa’s Byward Market, before moving to Montreal where his fashion career took off. I’ve stumbled upon Kevin Allwood, the founder of his own creative consulting agency (ALLWOOD AGENCY), the curator of his own art gallery (AGOMA) and the editor-in-chief of his own magazine (KA MAGAZINE), a photo-laden, coffee table-sized tome devoted to all things art, design and fashion. I’ve seen images by Kevin Allwood, the photographer and plates of vegan-Jamaican-Afro-Soul-fusion food prepared by Kevin Allwood, the chef.

All this reading leaves me daunted, inspired and curious as hell. Kevin Allwood is seemingly a jack-of-all-trades, a man-of-all-seasons, a multi-hyphenate way before multi-hyphenates were even a thing. Then again, maybe I’m thinking too small. Perhaps Kevin Allwood is a universe unto himself.

Across the (KA) Universe

As a consequence of my deep dive into all things Allwood, I’m almost prepared when I walk into the ALLWOOD MRKT + KA SPACE Cafe at 1183 Queen Street East. Although an entire wall of glass reminds me I’m in Leslieville, it feels as if I’m entering another dimension.

My first encounter when I step inside is with an orange tree, festooned with plump tangerine orbs (I can’t resist squeezing one and they’re real). The scent of citrus wafts through the air. I think it’s the tree, but it’s actually a large jar of floating lemons. Beyond the lemons, a futuristic chandelier — imagine the frozen explosion of a giant raindrop — dangles above a gallery wall hung with black-and-white photographs by artist Ted Witek. I realize that I’ve only just stepped inside.

I turn and the ALLWOOD MRKT stretches before me. Burnished wooden tables and luxuriously wide white windowsills display a bazaar’s worth of intriguing items handpicked to make customers healthy, holistic, and/or, perhaps most importantly, happy.

In the ALLWOOD MRKT, the definition of happiness is very generous. It embraces healing crystals and energy bracelets. Bars of organic chocolate and birds’ nests filled with hand-crafted Easter eggs. Glittering olives oils and vanilla syrups. Coconut wax-scented candles. Plantain chips. Enough all-natural balms, body butters, bath salts and foot rubs to make you feel as if you’ve died and gone, instead of Heaven, to a spa.
On the outer fringes of the market is an immaculately white coffee bar with an espresso machine and a pastry counter lined with the tempting vegan likes of raspberry white chocolate ganache brownies and matcha cookies. KEVIN ALLWOOD jackets, tees and hoodies hang languidly from a shiny garment rack. Seemingly digging the ambiance, potted plants flex their branches up towards sky-high ceilings.

Gliding through the loft-like space, I can make out the kitchen. Behind a shelf stacked with Blind Barber beauty products and a copy of Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld’s The Little Black Jacket, a bearded man dressed in casual black is hovering over a trio of pans.

“I’m Michael.” I announce.

“I know,” replies Kevin Allwood, without missing a beat.

In person, and in the kitchen, Kevin Allwood seems like someone who never misses a beat.

Fashioning Food

Kevin Allwood swears he knows me from somewhere.

I tell him it’s not me, but my sister, who used to have astounding dresses made by him in the late 1980s, in Montreal. Back then, Allwood designed under the name NEVIK (Kevin spelled backwards) and worked at a single atelier which gradually blossomed into multiple boutiques.

The dresses (ready-to-wear, couture) became more astounding, as did the lifestyle. Allwood recalls a time when he was working out of a 4,000 square-foot studio, which he describes as a “gilded cage.” Increasingly, he felt uncomfortable with so much attention being directed towards him. He didn’t want to take; he wanted to give.

In 2008, he quit fashion and Montreal. He migrated to Toronto, where he nourished a growing commitment to environmental and social causes while delving more deeply into Buddhism and vegetarianism. It wasn’t until 2015 that he returned to fashion with the launch of KEVIN ALLWOOD, a brand as much about ethical sourcing and sustainability as it is about innovative style.

Allwood only opened the KA SPACE Cafe, in 2019. But he confesses that, for him, it’s always been about the food.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Allwood’s family migrated to Ottawa when he was nine. His first-ever job was as a dishwasher at the Keg Mansion. “I was 14, but lied and said I was 17,” he laughs. “In a couple of months, I became head of prep, and then head of the front line.”

While still a teenager, Allwood studied Computer Hardware Engineering at the University of Ottawa before taking a sharp swerve into fashion. And yet, fashion too, was always about food.

“Fashion and food is not different, bro. It’s just different sides of the same coin. Or different sides of a wall, but you’re in the same room.”

“For me, food has always been even more important than clothing. With the girls that I was dressing in Montreal, they can tell you that I was always bugging them about how they ate, how they took care of themselves. I always wanted the fashion to have a food component because I didn’t feel like dressing unhealthy people made any sense.”

Allwood observes that clothes cover the body’s largest organ – our skin. “Skin does eat and it needs to be nourished. The only problem is we’re not feeding it.”

Instead, too often, we’re feeding ourselves poison. Which is why, despite his reluctance to categorize food, or anything else for that matter, KA SPACE Cafe’s menu offerings are described as “vegan Jamaican Afro-SoulFood Fusion.”

This is food that wants you to feel good.

Allwood defines soul food as “that feeling you get that pulls you out of your misery, that pulls you out of what’s coming at you from a white reality.” He acknowledges that while Jamaican food tastes divine, as sustenance that was originally reserved for slaves, it also relies heavily on unhealthy ingredients ranging from fatty cuts of meat to perilous amounts of sodium. In order to offer Jamaican food with its soul intact, minus the poison, he had to resort to some stealthy, and healthy, culinary engineering.
He started by getting rid of all meat and fish. KA SPACE Cafe’s take on the classic oxtail, for example, features eggplant. Another classic, salt fish, is revamped and reinvigorated with the clever use of sauteed and organic palm hearts. Pride of place is given to Jamaica’s signature and super-healthy ackee fruit, which makes prominent appearances in several dishes. In the Rasta Bowl, the voluptuous fruit, a cousin of the lychee with West African origins, memorably teams up with salted tofu, curried chickpeas, and creamy slices of avocado.

“This is food that wants you to feel good,” declares Allwood.

More good vibes stem from the use of quality organic and ethically-sourced ingredients. Even the salt is hand-harvested sea salt from B.C. Then there’s the seasoning, which is subtle, but complex. Fundamental are scotch bonnet peppers, with their bright, fruity Caribbean blast of warm heat (to turn up the temperature, try ALLWOOD Happy Hot Sauce).

Like fashion, it’s about layering. Like engineering, it’s about precise calculation.

The only thing it’s not about is tasting.

A Chef-less Kitchen

When he’s cooking, Kevin Allwood doesn’t taste; he smells.

Allwood draws a parallel between his process as a designer, in which he relies less on sight than on sensing a woman’s body language, with his cooking process, which is guided by scent. 

“My sense of smell is extremely strong so I can smell all of the ingredients that are in the food. I know whether they’re balanced or not.” 

After designing the menu for KA SPACE Cafe, months, and even years, went by before Allwood sampled many of the dishes. 

“I didn’t have to taste anything, because I knew what it felt like,” he confesses. “I knew what was missing or not missing.”

Interestingly, what’s missing at KA SPACE Cafe is a chef.

As Allwood explains, many of the ingredients are prepped so that they’re 80 per cent ready to go. From there, anyone can take over and dish up a beautifully presented meal.

“The whole idea behind how we cook here is that we get away from the whole egoistic aspect of being a chef and understand how the food seasons itself, how it marinates itself. We just let the food do the work.” 


Good Vibrations

Although the food does the work, Kevin Allwood, and those he invites into the KA SPACE, supply the vibes. If you scroll through KA websites and Instagram feeds, scouring comments from both diners and Allwood himself, two words resurface again and again: “energy” and “vibes.” 

Admittedly, these days, both terms are bandied about to the point of exhaustion. However, at the KA SPACE, in Kevin Allwood’s presence, they crystallize, and become quite real. 

Two KA mantras serve as guiding principles: “The vibe is the most important ingredient in the kitchen” and “Vibes speak louder than words.” When asked if and how one can control the energy within an environment, Allwood riffs quite eloquently on higher vibrations, wavelengths and resistance. But ultimately, as he acknowledges, you can’t really try to pin down vibes with words. They just are. 

What’s undeniable is that good vibes and energy suffuse the food, space and universe that Kevin Allwood has created, which, for the record, he does recognize as a universe, albeit one that’s not really his. 

“I think there’s a universe that exists that has that philosophy. In a way, I would love it if it comes through me because a lot of my decisions are based on that reality. And if it does, I don’t personalize it. It’s organic. It’s an awareness of a flow… Like any question — and it doesn’t matter what the question is — the answer is love.” 

Kevin Allwood X Africa


Lately, a lot of the energy of the KA universe has been flowing to and from Africa. From the outset of his career in fashion, Allwood had a strong desire to engage with the continent and the needs of its people. He remembers getting in touch with a friend in Ottawa who laughed and told him that Africa needed doctors, not designers. But that was 20 years ago.

Recently, Allwood has entered into various collaborations with African partners that have a social impact. As part of KEVIN ALLWOOD X AFRICA, the ALLWOOD MRKT carries richly textured elephant grass baskets handwoven by a community of Ghanaian women artisans. In a partnership with Bôhten, it carries a line of very cool ALLWOOD EYEWEAR; for each pair of glasses purchased, a school child in Ghana receives a pair of free prescription pair.

“If you’re a child and you have good shoes on, even if you have the most ripped-up jeans and shirt, you feel great. And if you need glasses, but don’t have them, the world is foggy, your thought processes slower. You’ve got millions of kids that need glasses, young black kids especially. And they think they’re not as smart as they are. So find them, screen them and give them glasses.”

I point out that it’s interesting that Allwood is juggling a focus on feet (foundation) and eyes (vision) while already tending to people’s bellies (nourishment). 

“It’s true,” he concedes. “And did you know that the fastest growing demographics for plant-based and vegan food are black people?… We’re very affected by food. And there’s a shift going on.”

And the shift goes on

The shift has had an impact on the Allwood universe, at least in terms of its physical incarnation. Until recently, Allwood’s concept store/fashion showroom/gallery occupied a large hybrid space at 185 Carlaw Avenue while KA SPACE Cafe’s tables sprawled throughout the present location at 1183 Queen Street East. Despite the luxury of so much space, “believe it or not,” Allwood says, “I really, really wanted everything to be together.” 

Covid provided the catalyst for such a fusion. When the lease at 185 Carlaw expired, instead of renewing, Allwood decided to listen to the universe. “Because the universe was pushing it all to be together.” 

The subsequent coming together means less space, but more possibilities:

Now, you can wash down a patty with sea moss-infused soursop juice, at a marble table overlooking Queen Street, while browsing the ALLWOOD MRKT wares on display. 

You can host a private ackee brunch in the basement atelier/gallery/studio, tricked out with mannequins and artists’ photographs.

You can even wander into the open kitchen and chat with Kevin Allwood while waiting for your takeout order of jerk lentils, served with a whopping side of good vibes. 

Words by Michael Sommers

Livity is the Rastafari concept of righteous, everliving living. Its essence is the realization that an energy, or life force, conferred by Jah (God), exists within, and flows through, all people and all living things.