How hard is it to open a restaurant in Toronto?
Toronto's restaurant scene is an impressive one thanks to the various chefs and restauranteurs who constantly bring us new places to try. But, what does it take to open up an eatery in Toronto? I spoke to three restaurant owners, each with unique challenges, to find out.
Chef Dave Mottershall made headlines earlier this year after he and Ayngelina Brogan started a Kickstarter campaign to turn Loka Snack into a full-scale restaurant. After securing Paul Campbell (of Aft Kitchen and Bar) as an investor, he used the crowd funding platform to raise $45,000. However, many derided him for not turning to a bank first.
"People were like, 'Fuck this guy, get a job. Why don't you go to the bank?' I'll tell you what the bank tells you: to get out. That's not even an option for sure." Mottershall says that a space alone will you back around $100,000. And, most of the places he looked at were in pretty bad shape.
"I probably looked at 20 restaurants and I would say six of them were labeled turnkey," he says. "And I don't know what key they were turning or what they were hoping to open, but these restaurants were in dire straights."
Eventually, he locked up a lease at 620 Queen St. W., and now, he's finally open for business. Though, the process was fraught with unexpected costs (like broken windows and a leaky roof) and bureaucratic procedures when dealing with the Province and the City of Toronto. "It would be a lot easier if there was a user guide," he says.
Mark Kupfert, the Kupfert in Kupfert & Kim, knows all about these types of surprises. He and his business partner Daniel Suss snagged the old Quiznos space at Richmond and Spadina in January. They expected it to be a relatively simple process considering their location was previously a fast-food joint. Their project, however, dragged on much longer than expected.
"In the end, what happened was the building itself, or the location itself, wasn't fire rated, wasn't to code," says Kupfert. "And we only found this out when we started construction."
They estimated a three month build. However, once they found out about the problems, they had to change their building plans.
"We've been in a situation where we've been paying rent for a long time and it's stressful and it has to open" says Kupfert in mid-November. "We're at that point where it's obviously over budget, all restaurants really are."
Finally, after months of having paper-covered window, Kupfert & Kim opened its first street facing restaurant on November 27. Unlike its PATH locations, this one features some table service instead of just takeout.
Matt Park and his business partner opened Burdock, a restaurant, music venue and brewery, this past spring. Their project also took more time than they first anticipated. "You kind of have to have an adapting timeline," says Park.
Like Kupfert, Park says the restaurant they moved into wasn't to code. They also had to build three separate components into the existing space, along with securing the necessary requirement to open both an eatery and a brewery. Dealing with the city, he says, wasn't always easy.
"There's no department of restaurant opening in city hall, you kind of have to figure it out for yourself or you ask other restaurateurs who have done it before," he says.
And these other restauranteurs were generous, in terms of sharing both information and support. That's something Mottershall iterated as well.
And despite the inherent struggle in getting a restaurant off the ground, Mottershall thinks it's worth it. "If anyone wants to open a restaurant, it's definitely a pile of work for sure," he says. "And as long as they're willing to invest a lot of time and have a pretty solid support team around them to help them out, then go for it and follow your dreams."
Photo of Burdoch by Jesse Milns.
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