Couple strikes gold after exchanging grilled cheese sandwich for a painting worth $280K
That might've been the most expensive grilled cheese sandwich in history.
Elijah Chan

What is the most expensive grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever eaten?

The simple dish won’t fetch as high as five digits even at 5-star hotels. But for a couple living in Ontario, their grilled cheese sandwich investment became a C$35,000 windfall.

The trade came out of generosity and the things they traded came from goodwill. And now, after all those years, their act of mutual support resulted in a boon.

Irene and Tony Demas once had a small restaurant in Ontario in the 1970s.

From their restaurant, they participated in a web of trades that earned them their place in the community while also enjoying simple benefits from these exchanges.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene Demas said to The Guardian. She shared that they’d get fresh flowers from the florist next door in exchange for a serving of soup and a sandwich.

It is through these exchanges of craft that they met an English painter.

John Kinnear and his wife Audrey were regular patrons of the Villa, the restaurant that Irene and Tony Demas ran.

Quite interestingly, Kinnear was rather predictable when it comes to food. Each day, the artist would only order one thing – a grilled cheese sandwich.

Irene clarified, however, that this isn’t just slices of bread toasted together with cheese between them. It’s made from locally sourced bread and a five-year-old cheddar.

And so a deal was struck.

Irene and Tony, much like with the florist next door, exchanged the sandwiches for Kinnear’s collection of paintings. The first piece they received was a watercolor painting of Jumbo, a famous elephant in Ontario.

Then, one day, Kinnear came with a new and rather curious selection of paintings. Irene remembered looking at the paintings in silence as she contemplated on the works. She thought Kinnear was playing a trick on her because the paintings were excruciatingly simple as if a kid did them.

Kinnear said that he bought the painting from a woman in Nova Scotia.

He described her as “so poor she didn’t have the right things to paint on”. Feeling sorry for her, Kinnear bought some of her works.

Irene took the painting of a black truck. She was pregnant at that time and thought to decorate her son’s room with it. Little did they know, the painting would fetch thousands of dollars in the future.

The truck was painted by renowned folk artists Maud Lewis.

Lewis was known for her idyllic paintings portraying the rural life in Nova Scotia. Despite living in poverty, she channeled nostalgia and cheerfulness in her colorful works.

She sold her works by the roadside and has painted on a variety of unorthodox surfaces because she couldn’t buy proper materials – discarded boards, scraps of wood, and even sea shells.

Her works enjoyed contemporary fame which the Demases thought was bittersweet.

“It’s just too bad she didn’t live long enough to really reap the benefits of her art,” said Demas to The Guardian.

Through the encouragement of their children, Irene and Tony decided to put the work up for sale together with the letters exchanged between Lewis and Kinnear.

“My husband’s 90 and I don’t think I have another 50 years to hang on to it,” she said to the news outlet. “The kids are saying, use the money and travel and just enjoy life.”

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By Elijah Chan
Elijah Chan is a contributor at SBLY Media.