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Businesses rush to Church Wellesley Village

Overwhelming prosperity grips neighbourhood in midst of death throes

CHURCH LIVES! Server Christine Munns offers a glorious plate of breakfast num-nums, Feb 23, at Church Street Diner. Credit: Matt Mills

After a year of significant change, the Church Wellesley Village seems on the verge of commercial renaissance.

Last May, the much-loved Crews/Tango bar closed mysteriously. In October, Zelda’s, citing an unbearable rent increase, hauled its silver trailer to 692 Yonge St after years as a Church St staple. Il Fornello, Lettieri Café, Pita Pan, Statler’s and Bigliardi’s all closed up shop, leaving a conspicuous number of vacant storefronts along Church St.

The Toronto Star, National Post and Now Magazine are among mainstream media that heralded the slow and painful death of the Church Wellesley Village. But now, new businesses seem to be opening in the village almost daily. In only a few weeks, a redevelopment deal for Maple Leaf Gardens was announced, Lettieri Café was rechristened as Hero Burger, the Il Fornello space reopened as Chi-Ko-Roo, Crews/Tango seems on the verge of reopening, and there is a steady flow of interest in the former Zelda’s space.

Richard Groom, who runs the Church Street Diner with business- and life-partner Alfredo, says trade is booming and feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Groom says plans for expansion into the upstairs space are already in the works.

Gilmar Oprisan, co-owner of Chi-Ko Roo says the restaurant has had an “amazing start” and “great feedback” since its Mar 3 opening. Oprisan, who has been in the Toronto restaurant business for more than 10 years, says he is “110 percent confident” the venture will succeed.

“Fabulous taste, great portions, reasonable prices; this is what Church Street needs,” he says. “They need us, and we need them.”

Earl Oliver, who worked for Lettieri for seven years, now works in franchise operations at Hero Burger. He says café culture just became too competitive. Hero Burger, which he says is “growing like crazy,” is an ideal choice for the space at the corner of Church and Wellesley.

Since opening, Oliver says the place has been “backed up” with customers. He hopes the late-night hours (open until 3am Thursday through Saturday) will keep it that way. And Xtra noted a lineup to the street on the evening of Mar 5.

The location’s franchisees are Carlo Carlucci, his brother and father. Carlucci says his joint will sponsor the gay Toronto Spartan Volleyball League (TSVL) and plans to host fundraiser barbecues throughout the summer in support of various other community organizations. Oliver says Hero Burger will also do cross-promotion work with Woody’s.

“Just look for the bull” he says, referring to the restaurant’s gargantuan mascot.

The proprietors of Crews/Tango have been tight lipped and incognito, but now an AGCO liquor licence application notice adorns the bar’s dark front window. There have been a handful of false starts over the past months, with facebook pages of uncertain authorship heralding the pending rebirth of the place. But the Crews /Tango facebook-net-o-sphere twitched to life once again on Mar 6, this time with a call for bar staff applications.

Lisa Murray, media relations officer for the AGCO, tells Xtra that a liquor licence application was submitted for the location in February under the name “Crews/Tango Restaurant and Bar.”

Murray would not reveal if or when the licence will be approved, but she says no objections have been submitted.

“I can confirm that Crews/Tango Restaurant and Bar at 508-510 Church Street has submitted an application to have compliance letters sent to the AGCO as a part of its liquor licence application,” says Andrew Kerr, supervisor of registry services at Toronto City Hall.

Kerr says the application was filed in January under the name Parasram Prasshad. The city’s role is to ensure businesses meet the minimum fire code, building code and public health regulations.

So, perhaps to the chagrin of various picklepusses, it seems rumours of Church St’s untimely demise have been greatly exaggerated.