Popular bar shut down after 19 years in Toronto
Two Toronto businesses are taking legal action against their former landlord after their businesses shut down in a building on King West last month.
Rock 'n' roll dive bar Underground Garage, which has operated out of 365 King West for 19 years and adjoining restaurant Tokyo Hot Fried Chicken are no longer neighbourhood staples.
The former, opened by Rob Picken in 2001, has operated on multiple floors of the five-storey building over the years, and is considered an affordable mainstay on the inflated strip of King West by Blue Jays Way.
In 2017, Picken opened up the UG Loft, which spanned from the fourth floor up to the rooftop, and in May 2019, began contracting out the Loft's kitchen to Jordan Harasinski Gillis and his new business, Tokyo Hot Fried Chicken.
But on March 27, both Picken and Harasinski Gillis say they were devastated to learn the building's locks had been changed on them, effectively removing Underground Garage, The UG Loft, and Tokyo Hot from the premises.
"I couldn't believe it was real, to be honest with you,” said Harasinski Gillis. "Having our dreams crushed right in front of us, it was a lot."
The monthly rent for Underground Garage and The Loft totals $53,000, an amount that Picken admits he wasn't able to make his portion of last month.
Picken says the forced closure of UG and all other bars in Toronto in mid-March made it impossible for the business to meet its rent obligations.
But despite not being able to make March rent, both Picken and Harasinski Gillis say they weren't given the impression that their landlord would lock the doors at the end of the month.
"I was banking on kindness in the wake of this pandemic, and that was not entertained," he says.
Regarding Picken's allegation that the landlord has been lacking in kindness, the landlord's lawyer, Paul Dollak, says that he has, in fact, "... invited Picken’s lawyer to work together with me to restore the relationship with the help of the recently-announced government aid package for commercial tenancies but have not yet received a response to my invitation.”
He adds: “Mr. Vescio and I are not acting for some kind of evil Dickensian landlord. If we were, this tenancy would not have lasted 19 years.”
The two business owners are now seeking legal action, including demanding the return of more than $10,000-worth of Tokyo Hot Fried Chicken's leased kitchen equipment, which Harasinski Gillis alleges the landlord has withheld over the past month.
Picken, who removed his leased Long & McQuade sound system before getting locked out, is also demanding the return of the rest of his belongings, along with his security deposit and two months-worth of rent, which totals somewhere around $114,000.
According to 365 King West's Sal Vescio, nothing illegal has been done, and the matter is "in the lawyers' hands".
In regards to Tokyo Hot Fried Chicken's withheld equipment, Vescio says that Harasinski Gillis will have to prove his claims in court.
In a statement sent to blogTO, Dollak says "the landlord's position is that the tenants had abandoned the tenancy, having indicated by their conduct, confirmed by a position taken later by their lawyer, that they did not intend to continue the tenancy."
A listing for the main floor at 365 King Street West has since been put up by Right at Home Realty Inc. for $60,000 a month. Two other listings for additional floors have also been posted for $75,000 a month each.
The building, which has been owned by a numbered corporation since 1979, has been home to a number of night destinations, as well as a controversial cannabis dispensary.
In the meantime, Tokyo Hot Fried Chicken is running out of Folly Brewing at 928 College Street. As for Underground Garage, Picken says re-opening isn't likely — not in Toronto, anyway.
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