The managers of the new Church Street Garage at the corner of Church and Maitland streets say they had no idea another eatery a couple doors up the street has the same name.
That was until Randy Filby, from the Garage Sandwich Company, strolled in while renovations were underway to ask if the new owners of the former Big Johnson’s had heard about his popular sandwich shop, located at the back of Pusateri Fruit Market.
“I started getting asked by customers in late December, so I went to talk to them about it,” Filby says. “[The new managers] said that they saw no evidence that we existed.”
So management at Pusateri fired back by putting up a sign outside the market clarifying that they’d had the name first: “The one and only original Garage,” it reads.
Filby says some of his loyal customers began demanding that the Church Street Garage change its name.
“All hell broke loose,” he says. “It has really taken a lot of energy out of me . . . I’ve always thought of this place as my legacy. Now, I guess, I’m sharing that.”
Clayton DuQuene, co-manager of the Church Street Garage, says no other Toronto restaurants or bars were registered with the name Garage. Co-manager Tyler Oliveira admits he’d never heard of the Garage Sandwich Company.
“When we registered the name, we looked at every combination of this name to make sure we weren’t stepping on anyone’s toes, honestly,” DuQuene assures. “Apparently, the Garage Sandwich Company is only registered as Pusateri’s.
“So, it seems to have been an accident, unfortunately.”
Filby worries that all the confusion could ultimately harm his business. “They have the legal right to use the name, so there’s nothing I can do. I wish them well, but I think it was a very poor decision on their part to name it that.
“It’s not like this is a place that people don’t know about. I’ve been in the neighbourhood for 18 years.”
The Church Street Garage opened on March 20. DuQuene and Oliveira say they chose the name for an obvious reason: the big glass garage doors along the south side that open up to a corner patio.
“Look at those garage doors,” Oliveira says. “We decided to go with a whole garage theme. It was just perfect.”
The garage theme is employed throughout the space — toolboxes serve as waiter stations, the bar has a chrome surface and the entire venue has industrial fixtures. In addition, the restaurant has grease-monkey-themed menu items for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Still, Filby says, some locals continue to express concern and confusion, as well as support, about the name. Even Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, when asked by Xtra, offered her congratulations to Filby, assuming the sandwich shop had moved into bigger digs.
DuQuene says he has no plans to change the name at this point. The new owners hope the community sees there’s room for two garages on Church Street.
DuQuene says the Church Street Garage can best be described as a “friendly neighbourhood queer bar,” and they want to attract a diverse crowd. “We really want to be inclusive to women. We want everyone to feel welcome and comfortable.”
Oliveira says he plans to install a stage for drag shows, standup comedy and other performances. In the evening, tables and chairs are cleared to make room for dancing.
This is the third time in less than two years that the bar, considered prime Church Street real estate, has changed hands. Big Johnson’s, which opened just in time for 2012 Pride, closed abruptly in December when the owner “failed to pay the rent.” DuQuene, who was a manager under the previous owners, made it very clear that all ties with Big Johnson’s have been severed.
Prior to Big Johnson’s, the Village Rainbow restaurant occupied the space until it closed in January 2012. The space then sat vacant for five months.
The new owner is Oliveira’s mother, Fatima Oliveira, who has a background in the restaurant industry. He says his mom saw a great opportunity and took it. “She just saw this as such a prime location. The patio is incredible. She will be here socializing, but that’s all we really expect from her. We’ll take care of the work.”