Cheese Sandwich Serves Up Windfall

Working out of the kitchen of their small restaurant in Ontario in the 1970s, Irene Demas and her husband Tony later learned the value of trading their dishes for the talents of local bakers, craftspeople and artisans.


Irene and Tony Demas holding the painting that, in good news for them, is now worth a lot of money
Irene and Tony Demas with the Maud Lewis painting which they acquired in exchange for lunch at their restaurant in the 1970s. Photograph: Jon Dunford/Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” said Irene, at the time a bright-eyed chef in her 20s. In exchange for daily fresh flowers, for example, the couple would take soup and a sandwich to the florist next door. And for an English painter with a predictable palate, the couple struck a deal: they would get a selection of paintings from him and his friends in exchange for grilled cheese sandwiches.


By chance, that deal unwittingly netted them a painting by the acclaimed Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis – a work that nearly five decades later is expected to net more than C$35,000 (US$27,000) when it goes to auction this month.


With the encouragement of their children, the couple have decided to put the work up for sale. “My husband’s 90 and I don’t think I have another 50 years to hang on to it,” she said. “The kids are saying, use the money and travel and just enjoy life.”