Last week i wrote a post about the blocking of the opening of Ici Bistro, based on a Toronto Star article which discussed how Joe Pantalone was actively blocking the opening of a restaurant by one of the top chefs in the city, J. P. Challet.
At the same time I wrote him an email asking him why he had become such an active participant in blocking entrepreneurs growing new restaurants around the city. His response (and email response, unfortunately), posted below, is patently absurd and provides no explanation apart from vague mentions of ‘community concern’. These concerns, he points out, are not actual, but inferred.
In the interest of transparency, I thought it would be best to respond in-line and on-line.
Good morning Brian,
Thank you for getting in touch with me as the local City of Toronto Councillor about the liquor license application for 538 Manning Avenue, ICI Bistro. Approximately two months ago, I responded to community concern about this liquor license application with a letter to the Alcohol & Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) as the elected representative of the neighbourhood.
I have, in the past, worked with Harbord Collegiate Institute and the community, especially the Palmerston Area Residents’ Association (PARA), to successfully oppose liquor licenses at both 538 and 536 Manning Avenue (on the southwest corner of Manning Avenue and Harbord Street) on numerous occasions. In 1992, under the name of Mimmo’s, the owner of the business at 538 Manning Avenue applied for a liquor license. Public opposition and a request from my office led to an evening hearing in the community and the applicant’s application was denied by the AGCO.
1992?! Is he kidding?! – That’s 17 years ago! How exactly is that relevant today?
That same year, at 536 Manning Avenue, an establishment named Twins applied and then withdrew in the face of public outcry. Twins applied again in 1998. At my request on behalf of the community, an AGCO evening hearing in the community was held on August 13, 1998. The AGCO decided, once again, that it was not in the public interest to grant Twins a liquor license.
Again Mr. Pantalone refers to a neighbourhood 10 years ago.
On May 26, 2006, another AGCO hearing was held regarding 536 Manning Avenue, for a business named Aftermath Café. Again, the AGCO concurred with us, that a liquor license in this area is not within the public interest. In fact, the corner of Manning Avenue and Harbord Street is in the heart of a relatively quiet residential neighbourhood that includes the over 1000 teenaged students at Harbord Collegiate Institute. As well, this neighbourhood is well-served by two vibrant commercial areas that host many liquor-licensed establishments along College Street (“Little Italy”) and Bloor Street West.
It seems that in this case Mr. Pantalone’s actions not only slowed the growth of a business, but actually bankrupted a small business owner. And the fact that is is in a quiet neighbourhood, it was clear that the space was already zoned commercial – so it’s not clear why forbid a businessman from operating a business on this street.
Next he points out that over 1000 teenaged students are at Harbord Collegiate Institute. Last time I checked it is illegal to serve to minors, no matter whether you run a little cafe, or a high end restaurant. So that point is absolutely moot.
With respect to this current liquor license application, it is my understanding from community leaders, including the Palmerston Area Residents’ Association and the administrative staff at Harbord Collegiate Institute, that the community does not support either of these locations obtaining a liquor license. I have yet to receive any official communication from those same community leaders indicating that they are no longer concerned.
Let me get this straight. It’s your understanding even though you have yet to receive any official communication from them? Is that the response? I suggest you get in touch with them – perhaps here, and ask them what they think. It seems their last communication was about the noise on College St.
So, based on the advice given to me by the professionals at the AGCO and the serious concern voiced by the community leaders in the area, I maintain that it is not within the public interest to grant a liquor license to ICI Bistro at 538 Manning Avenue. If there has been a change in the minds of leading community members, especially PARA, I would be pleased to be informed about it.
I understand that there is some concern from local residents about changes in the neighbourhood, it is not up to you, individually, to decide for the community, and outside the community – for entrepreneurs trying to grow businesses in these challenging times. It was done without notice on Ossington, and it seems you are, again deciding for the community without letting the community decide.
Thank you for again for contacting me and for your comment on this matter. I will continue to keep you informed as this matter progresses.
City of Toronto
As Mark Evans has rightly pointed out, it’s time to have this discussion online. And, more importantly we need a vibrant restaurant community in Toronto, serving the cuisine and educating the residents of the city on the many ethnicities and cultures of the city. Stifling growth based on complaints because current laws aren’t enforced is not the way to create a growing, vibrant Toronto.
I live in the Ossington area, a little far from the location although Ici Bistro would be a place I would go, if it had a license.