stelvio toronto

BQM Diner to be replaced by Italian eatery on Queen St.

Queen West, the burger epicentre of Toronto, is short one establishment thanks to soaring rents and heavy competition in the area. BQM Diner, the first gourmet burger shop to open in the neighbourhood (it replaced the iconic Stem Diner), closed its doors back in February. The reasons behind the closure will ring familiar for many restaurant and small business owners.

"The main reason for our [departure] is that we found the market at Queen and Spadina to be too expensive rental-wise," explains BQM owner Saeed Mohamed. "Over the five years we were there our rent went up by 30 per cent, and it was already pretty expensive rent at the start of our lease. If it wasn't for the high rent escalations we would have stayed."

BQM was also navigating an explosion of burger joints in the area when ownership decided to leave the nighbourhood. "When we first opened we were the only burger joint other than McDonald's. Within a year Letteri Coffee was converted to Hero Burger, then A&W arrived, a year later Gangster Burger, then Burger's Priest, and P&L Burger opened," Mohamed notes.

With the arrival of US chains like Carl's Jr., it seemed like a good time to look for greener pastures. "In the end I think only the big chains will be left [on Queen West]," Mohamed offers by way of a prophecy for the increasingly corporate stretch.

As BQM looks for another location with lower rent and less competition, the future of the space at 354 Queen St. West is starting to come into focus. Come mid-May, a Northern Italian restaurant named Stelvio will open its doors. That should be a welcome addition to a neighbourhood that reached peak burger saturation a while ago.


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