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China House closes its dining room after 53 years

Posted by Rick McGinnis / July 6, 2011

China House neon signChina House, the iconic midtown eatery with the signature retro interior and neon sign, is closing its dining room after over 53 years in business. When the repaired neon sign was re-lit last April, after it was reopened by new owner Jonathan Wise, he told me that he just considered himself the "custodian" of China House, its history, menu and memories. Now he's going to have to pack all that up and find a new place to put it.

In an interview earlier this week, Wise said that he'd known that the owner of the building had closed a deal to sell the property last August, and that the business had been living on borrowed time since then, despite his success with the refreshed menu, the restored restaurant and his weekly jazz nights. "We knew about it, and it was just a question of just how fast development would happen in Toronto, so you never really knew whether it's going to be six months or six years — that's just the nature of development."

Wise says he's been looking at all kinds of spaces, but with the success of his takeout and delivery business, he needs to find a place with enough room to reassemble the dining room and make room for a stage for jazz shows, with additional parking outside for takeout customers and delivery drivers. He's also managed a rare and probably unprecedented agreement with the developer who bought the site to let him keep his kitchen open for takeout and delivery, while the dining room will be transformed into a condo presentation centre after they serve their final meal in the restaurant on July 18.

China House interiorsOn the morning of the 19th they'll begin packing everything up - the classic mid-century chinoiserie artwork, the bonsai tree sculpture that's presided over the main dining room for decades, and the neon sign, which will likely disappear from this stretch of Eglinton West forever, unless Wise can find something suitable to his needs in the area.

"People have invited us to a whole bunch of different places," Wise tells me. "It's a well-established business and a well-respected name, and we think that we're pretty well operated, so we could go a lot of places. But it might be more important for us to stay close to our constituents, and midtown is really where they are."



Khristopher / July 6, 2011 at 03:02 pm
Personally, I say good riddance. I went to this place for my birthday this past April, and it was one of my worst restaurant experiences ever.
Awful awful food. The only thing I actually enjoyed was their rice.
They sat some guy beside our group who had such bad body odour, everyone in the vicinity of his table was covering their noses. They could have refused the guy service, but instead, they wanted his money.
anne / July 6, 2011 at 03:08 pm
this was our family chinese restaurant (my paternal g-ma and g-pa lived nearby) my entire childhood (and, less frequently, until just a couple years back).

i threw many (many!) a penny in that pond, and have many (many!) great memories there.

Rico / July 6, 2011 at 03:15 pm
Retired on pennies then?
anne replying to a comment from Khristopher / July 6, 2011 at 03:16 pm
i guess it helped that we knew the owners (china connection) and they'd always make our food to order. ;) i've been going there since i was knee-high to a g-hopper.
Neil / July 6, 2011 at 03:30 pm
My one and only experience there was quite awful too. It was stuck in a time warp. The food was goopy sweet sauce on everything, which reminded me of my youth growing up in Barrie with their super Western style faux Chinese places.
anne replying to a comment from Neil / July 6, 2011 at 03:37 pm
ya, from what i hear from others, the typical food was bad. we always ordered our own dishes (not on the menu) so i never had the goopy experience. ;)

still, one friend hit it bang-on re: the decor/ambiance -- it was like a chinese restaurant themepark. as a child, quite enjoyable...
jess / July 6, 2011 at 04:08 pm
Like anne, this was my childhood Chinese restaurant when I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are of that little bridge and the pond (and I now live down the street from the restaurant after many years abroad). The food isn't the greatest but the memories!!! This makes me so sad.
anne replying to a comment from jess / July 6, 2011 at 04:44 pm
jess, i've already organized a goodbye dinner there with my mom and sisters. let's hope our stomachs survive! regardless, i'm happy to contribute one more penny to the cause. ;)
Parker / July 6, 2011 at 09:53 pm
Count me among kids throwing wishes into the pond and clomping across the bridge. I liked the noodles and egg rolls.
Sad / July 6, 2011 at 10:45 pm
Sad :(
Fin / July 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm
Love this spot and hope it finds a new home!
Nancy / July 9, 2011 at 02:45 pm
So sorry to hear about China House closing. We had our Toronto wedding reception there is 1969 and had many family celebrations over the years. Loved the deep fried shrimp and the whole sweet & sour fish.
Hal / April 3, 2012 at 01:33 pm
Loved the place, been going there since I moved to Toronto in 85! My 11 old son also loved it! Have they reopened anywhere?
benda / January 7, 2013 at 04:53 pm
hey i was wounding if you guys are ever going to open a new china house we miss the food and the people and no one can make ribs like you guys can so please please open a new china house let us know where and when thank you
Alexander / April 27, 2014 at 07:33 am
I am sad too(: my dad is Jonathan wise and the whole family is devistaded that it closed. Most of the comments and the artical where touching. My dad has not retired and he is working in another place. I miss china house
Ida / August 3, 2015 at 01:53 pm
My Dad is Alex Chen, the original owner and manager of China House in 1958. He is in great health and is planning a reunion of all the employees who have ever worked for him at China House.
We have virtually no photos of the restaurant or menus as that was before digital photos and any photos he had have been lost.
If anyone knows of someone who has photos of the restaurant and maybe even a menu, please post here.
Thanks for any leads.
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