Diary of a Restaurant – Ch. 4: The Following SundayJul 21, 2020
A Story By Kevin Gallagher
Our second Sunday brunch was no busier than the first. While we were confident that it could work, we worried about covering our costs until things picked up. As always, our cash flow was tight and wages alone were greater than our total sales for the day. The only solution seemed to be to work the shifts ourselves for the time being. We trusted our luck. We had been lucky so far.
When our catering business, Avant-goût outgrew the kitchen we had at 1087 Queen West, we looked for a larger space where we could install some basic equipment, have ample work space and easy access to the roads. We looked first at spaces in the bleak area south of King Street in what is now Liberty Village, but it was a sign offering space at 99 Sudbury that caught our attention. Donna called to ask about it. “You’re caterers?” asked the agent, Chris Kelos, “You’d be interested in the kitchen. “There’s a kitchen?” said Donna, incredulous. “Yes, we’d like to have a look.”
We weren’t expecting much. What kind of kitchen would you find in an old warehouse building? We had been operating with some pretty tired equipment and hoped that there would be some basic infrastructure to work with. We were stunned to find a newly renovated space outfitted with more equipment than we could have imagined – hoods, a convection oven and Garland stoves, a tilting soup kettle, a walk-in fridge – a dishwasher (in a dish room!) and on and on. Having qualified for a substantial government grant, someone had installed, not only a commercial kitchen but washrooms, a bar, seating for two hundred and were in the process of setting up a day care centre when they disappeared without paying for the equipment or rent.
In fact, there was too much space and too much equipment for both our budget and our needs, but the opportunity was too good to pass up without trying to negotiate a deal. As luck would have it, the landlord and the kitchen outfitter were deadlocked. The landlord, SC Entertainment wouldn’t allow the outfitter in to pull out the equipment, holding it in lieu of unpaid rent. We presented an obvious solution – the landlord was anxious to fill the space; the kitchen outfitter wanted to be paid and the place suited us. We just didn’t have the money for the equipment.
Our luck held. Syd and Nick who owned SC Entertainment and were intent on building a Cine Village West felt that having a caterer in the building was a good fit. They agreed to pay for the equipment we wanted, adding the cost incrementally to our monthly rent. We agreed to look after their film catering needs. In addition to the kitchen, we were confident enough to take about five hundred square feet of the previous tenant’s space that we hoped we might use for private parties.
Superfluous equipment removed, the space defined by fresh new drywall, we looked around at our new home. It was a warehouse space, with unpolished concrete floors and industrial florescent light fixtures. We needed decorators. And we still had no money.
Enter Ted Whelan and Ivan Lynch.