Toronto terraces appreciated by some, decried by others

On the street Dundas in the neighborhood Beaconsfield Village west of downtown, the storefront of the wine shop Grape Witches stands out from the crowd.

The owners have built a terrace on the street, enclosed by a wooden structure and protected by large parasols. Planters and mood lights complete the decor.

The owners of the Grape Witches wine shop decided to spruce up their CaféTO terrace.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Yanick Lepage

This development is made possible thanks to the CaféTO program, created two years ago to allow restaurateurs to increase their capacity while respecting social distancing measures. More than 1,200 Toronto businesses took advantage of the program to build a terrace last year.

Grape Witches participates in the initiative for the first time this year. Homeowners want to welcome more customers, seeing the success of their back patio.

It’s a new terrace every year, explains manager Nicole Raufeisen enthusiastically. She highlights her clientele’s enthusiasm for these outdoor tasting areas. That’s wonderful. People are very excitedshe says.

A few kilometers further to the cafe moonbean in the neighborhood Kensington Marketthe terrace that has been fitted out Allen Edstein, the owner, is more modest. A few plastic tables, some covered with umbrellas, allow customers to take advantage of the good weather. The space is protected by orange cones and imposing concrete blocks provided by the city for security reasons.

The Terrace of the Moonbean Café is protected by cones and concrete blocks provided by the city.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Yanick Lepage

The industrial style of these terraces, found everywhere across the city, does not appeal to everyone. On social media, the city councilor Josh Matlow asked for more inspiring layouts earlier this month.

For the cafe owner moonbeanthese criticisms are misplaced. Do you have restaurant owners trying to recover from two years of a pandemic and do you have people complaining that they don’t have nice terraces?he asks himself.

A question of money and bureaucracy

The terrace of the wine shop Grape Witches cost the business $4,000, estimates co-owner Nicole Campbell. That’s not counting the additional few hundred dollars per month spent to rent the wooden structure.

Part of these expenses could have been financed by a new improvement program for outdoor commercial spaces built through CaféTO. This funding made possible by the federal government covers half of the cost of developing a terrace up to $5,000. An additional amount of $2,500 is available to make the facilities more accessible to people with reduced mobility.

Grape Witches did not apply for funding this year. Owners are waiting to make more substantial investments to do so.

For Mr. Edstein, it was the bureaucracy that prompted him to build his terrace on his own. It’s too painful. There are too many regulations and it’s not worth ithe said.

Councilor Matlow is understanding of these criticisms of the restaurateur. I believe the City should make the process [pour obtenir du financement] much simpler he argues.

Still, he’s not ready to give up his desire to see more attractive patios in Toronto.

On June 15, he presented a motion accepted by the City of Toronto Council to frame the design of the CaféTO facilities. Transportation Services Division Director Barbara Gray is due to make recommendations and deliver them in early 2023.

A windfall for a Toronto company

Just like the owners of Grape Witches, many restaurateurs who have decided to spruce up their patios do business with GRIPBlock. This rents them for the summer season a structure made of wooden blocks held by small aluminum teeth.

We offer a solution that is visually beautiful and at the same time acts as a safety barriersays sales manager Mark Lavelle.

According to the company, more than 300 Toronto restaurateurs are using their product to date. According to Mr. Lavelle, they pay between 400 and 500 dollars per month for the structure of a conventional terrace.

Josh Matlow mentions the example of GRIPBlock as a solution that the City could encourage merchants to use to make CaféTO facilities more attractive.

An urban planner calls for patience

For the planner Ken Greenbergthe arrival of CaféTO during the pandemic has profoundly changed the way Torontonians occupy public space. It’s the ability to sit down, have a drink with friends or co-workers on the street and that was not the way we used to live in Toronto at allhe explains.

Councilor Matlow agrees, reporting the joy of many residents to discover in Toronto a terrace cultivation that they envied certain cities of the world.

Not all are of this opinion. Andy Scrimshawa neighborhood resident Kensington Market, says he hates the new patios, which he says make it harder to get around by car in Toronto. He is one of the only customers to drink his coffee inside during Radio-Canada’s visit to moonbean where he is a regular.

In the eyes of Ken Greenbergthese irritants are to be expected and will for some lessen as the terrace cultivation will develop. In five years, when we go for a walk in Toronto, we will see a CaféTO experience that will be much better than what we see today, he argues. He envisions the emergence of a decking products industry in Toronto, and potentially the prolonged pedestrianization of certain thoroughfares.

The CaféTO terraces will remain on the streets until November 7 this year. Last fall, the City of Toronto made CaféTO permanent, a measure that will allow restaurateurs to set up patios year-round, starting in 2023.

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