Terry Tsianos was returning home from playing in a baseball game in June of 1995 at Coronation Park near Toronto's waterfront when he noticed a For Sale sign on a vacant property at the corner of Bathurst and King streets.
The former accountant with Deloitte & Touche stopped to get details from the real estate sign and found out the fabled Wheat Sheaf Tavern was up for grabs.
"I was surprised that it was closed," he said. "I checked it out with my partners [John Georgopoulos and Danny Tsakiris] One thing led to another, and we put in an offer." Their $780,000 offer was accepted, the deal closed that October and Mr. Tsianos and his partners in Pegasus Inc. began the process of renovating the wings-and-burgers eatery. The previous owner, Gerry Borinn, had closed the tavern because of financial difficulties a month before Mr. Tsianos noticed it was for sale.
The demise of the Wheat Sheaf that summer and fall had led to speculation that the oldest watering hole in Toronto would never open again.
Toronto Life magazine, in its annual year-end issue devoted to special events that took place in 1995, exclaimed on its front cover: Wheat Sheaf Gone Forever. The magazine had presumed the Wheat Sheaf's gig was up because it had been closed for the better part of that year. But the new owners resuscitated the area landmark, no doubt saying, "The Wheat Sheaf's demise has been greatly exaggerated."
"I had to call up Toronto Life and tell them to issue a retraction," said Maria Tsakiris, who is day-time operations manager at the Wheat Sheaf for her husband, Danny.
"We gutted the place and put in new drywall, floors, ceiling and so on, and we opened up Jan. 6, 1996, just before the Super Bowl," Mr. Tsianos recollected. "We spent about $400,000 in renovations."
For 152 years since 1849, the Wheat Sheaf has stood the test of time, except for those eight months in 1995.
A young Irishman named Bernard Short constructed the Wheat Sheaf as a two-storey hotel. It was expanded to three storeys in 1905, with Second Empire architecture so rare that the building is protected as an historical site by the City of Toronto's Heritage Preservation Services.
The architecture is French-style Napoleon III, consisting of brick-and-stone construction, deep dormer windows and door mouldings, heavy brackets and a distinct bellcast, mansard roof containing an attic. Some public buildings and high Victorian residential properties in Toronto also employ the same architecture.
"Any time we want to do work on the exterior, we have to consult the heritage people," Mr. Tsianos said.
"After they apply for a work permit from the city, we need to be consulted when they are doing work on the property," said Marisa Williams of Heritage Preservation Services. "For example, we would not want them to do any sandblasting. We review what is being proposed and advise whether it's an appropriate development."
Her department and the owners got together when Mr. Tsianos and his partners overhauled the building in 1995, and restored the outside to its natural brick.
They did the same last year when a patio was constructed. The next jobs will come soon -- new windows throughout, an extension behind the building, and restoration of the third floor, where for many years 21 rooms were rented out to lodgers.
A few months ago, the Pegasus partners emptied the upper floor, and the group is now in the process of converting the rooms into four or six bachelor or one-bedroom apartments.
"We'll spend between $400,000 and $500,000 to do the extension and turn the rooms into apartments," Mr. Tsianos said.
"There was a gentleman [Ken Taylor]who came to stay here for two weeks in one of the rooms, and he stayed for 22 years. He died in 1999," said Beth Richardson, a waitress at the Wheat Sheaf and its quasi-historian.
The Short family owned the tavern for nearly 65 years until 1913, when it was acquired by the Furlongs, who passed it on to the Hammalls, who held it until 1959.
The Wheat Sheaf has been used for movie shoots and commercials, and has gained legendary status in connection with a tunnel that allegedly ran from the property south to the Fort York barracks. It's said that soldiers long ago would wander off through the tunnel to the Wheat Sheaf for a quick brew or two.
Such an underground passageway would have been a gem of engineering brilliance in those days. Although its whereabouts has not been discovered, the legend remains.
The Pegasus Group owns other Toronto area eateries, including O'Grady's, Whiskey Saigon and the 15-restaurant chain Fox and Fiddle, but the Wheat Sheaf holds a special place in the owners' hearts because of its longevity.
"We're very happy with the investment," Mr. Tsianos said.