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Toronto restaurant locked out by landlord before it even opens

A Toronto restaurant has been locked out of their new second location by their landlord before even getting the chance to open the doors.

Fat Lamb Kouzina has had a location near Yonge and Bloor for a while now, but this February they took on a new location in Leslieville where Brooklyn Tavern once was.

Fat Lamb is known for their homestyle takes on Greek classics like gryos and spanokopita, and has been feeding frontline workers during the pandemic.

"After opening FLK at 874 Yonge Street in March 2017, we were busy from the beginning," says Vera Tzoulas of Fat Lamb.

"We knew that we wanted to expand our brand, to reach and feed more people, and were waiting for the right time and place. We found what we thought to be the perfect space. 1097 Queen Street East, in Leslieville."

She says when after they got the keys on February 20, they "immediately began a great big clean up and cosmetic renovation. We ordered some tavern chairs from Greece and a gorgeous Cretan tile to cover the bar," with the goal to open April 1. COVID-19 hit three weeks later.

"Construction ceased due to safety concerns for their tradespeople on Queen Street, and we had to close the doors of our Yonge Street location on March 17," says Tzoulas. "We were closed on Yonge for nine days and reopened with a new business model on March 27."

They began providing free delivery and also offered the service to the new Leslieville neighbourhood they would have been serving if they had opened, and Tzoulas also notes that they began supporting local Leslieville shelters at this time.

"As we could see we were in some trouble with our Queen location, we reached out to our landlord immediately and advised of cash flow issues and requested we meet to discuss the situation and come up with solutions that would work for us both," says Tzoulas.

"He ceased communication with us. Hired a litigation lawyer and all our communication was to now happen though the lawyers. We had to hire a Litigation lawyer too. Creating more anxiety and more costs. We made proposals, there was only ever one reply, 'pay full rent.' Dealing with him was an absolute nightmare."

She says their landlord threatened to sue "almost from the first time we asked him to talk about rent."

"After missing our May rent payment, he continued to send threatening letters, 'Pay full rent or else,' and, well, on May 22 he locked us out and on June 1 he re-listed our space. $500 less than what we were paying.  Note that this 'discount' wasn’t even offered to us as tenants," says Tzoulas.

"We spent a lot of money to purchase the space, new equipment and for the renovation, and now, that's all gone. It's a lot of money."

Tzoulas says the landlord did not reply to texts offering a free dinner for him and his family or requesting to let in a local tradesperson who left tools inside the location.

"We will hold our head up high, continue to work very hard, and keep doing what we do best: make delicious food and create lasting relationships with our customers who we consider family," says Tzoulas. 

"Who knows, perhaps there is a better spot for us in Leslieville in the future, just waiting to be found."

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