Toronto coffee shop gets ready to compete against former landlord
When the rent for Volta Espresso's 150-square-foot cafe shot up nearly 400 per cent a few months ago, owner Omar Makhlouf picked up and moved all his coffee equipment down the street and created a new cafe under a different name, Mallo.
It was to Makhlouf's surpise, then, when he found an ad on Kijiji posted by his former landlord a few days ago looking for a temporary barista to "help train the owner of a small cafe owner" at 866 Bathurst St.—Volta's old space.
The ad used an old photograph of Volta's fully-stocked interior and offered minimum wage for the temporary position, which would require teaching the owner "the ins and outs of the commercial espresso machine."
"Its just weird and sketchy," says Makhlouf.
The Kijiji ad has since been taken down, but an ad on Royal LePage remains, listing the two-bedroom space in the same building for $2,596 a month.
At best, the situation seems strange—at worst, maliciously misleading. When Makhlouf and his team left for their new space at 785 Bathurst St., so went all their equipment, meaning at one point, the landlord was hiring for a cafe which no longer existed.
And Makhlouf says that the last time he walked by the old Volta space, he saw a new grinder and a coffee machine, which begs the question: why force out a cafe which, since its inception, has been considered a community staple, only to replace it with another one?
It's been nearly three years since Makhlouf and co-owner Raf Whebe took over the old jewelry shop in Seaton Village and turned it into a local pit stop for strong coffee, where they operated on a two year lease with an option to renew.
But they never got that renewal option, says Makhlouf. He alleges the landlord informed him they'd be selling the building in September—which never ended up happening—and later hiked up rent to $4,400 from $1,200 for a space barely bigger than many walk-in closets.
Volta tried to negotiate but to no avail, and closed down officially on August 26, re-emerging the very next day less than 100 metres away as Mallo, which by all means is an upgrade with a larger space and a license to serve alcohol.
"We got lucky because I'm a contractor and I was able to quickly react and build out this new space," says Makhlouf. "But that’s generally not the case with small businesses."
The most confusing sequence of events came a few weeks before Volta was slated to move out, when the landlord backtracked and asked Makhlouf to stay, despite the fact that construction on Mallo was already well under way.
Not only that, the landlord had allegedly told customers that Volta would be back in operations in the same building. And a few days into Mallo's opening, Makhlouf says they asked him if he would teach them how to operate an espresso machine.
Whether or not the landlord still intends on leasing out 866 Bathurst St. as a cafe has yet to be seen—the landlord did not make themselves available for comment.
"They don't take into consideration the humanity that revolves around a small business," says Makhlouf. "That's what really pissed me off about it."
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