For more than two decades, the shades-wearing sun on the side of The Real Jerk has smiled out over the east end, inviting customers into one of the city's most popular Caribbean restaurants. But the business's future hangs in the balance after a new landlord ordered it out by the end of the month.
Ed Pottinger, who owns the eatery with his wife Lily, said he only learned of the eviction last week, while in Jamaica visiting relatives.
"We weren't given the chance to look for another place. Being thrown to the side of the road like this is really devastating," he said.
The new property owner, William (Bill) Mandelbaum, has been buying up buildings at the southeast corner of Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue since April, 2010, using two numbered companies.
In an e-mail to reporters, Mr. Mandelbaum wrote that he "regret[s] the short notice" to The Real Jerk and would not say what he was looking to do with the land. There are no development or planning applications registered at city hall concerning any of the properties.
Mr. Mandelbaum appears to manage several rental properties, including a flea market.
The Pottingers first opened their restaurant in 1984 at a different location further east on Queen. They moved into the current spot five years later. Foods like jerk chicken, roti and oxtail stew were novelties for Toronto palates at the time. Passersby used to gawk at the restaurant's humorous name and zany red-and-yellow colour scheme.
"In the early days, people would stop and point and laugh at us, but I knew, deep down, that they would be back," Mr. Pottinger recalled.
Sure enough, the customer base grew quickly. It came to include several celebrities, including hip-hop artists Maestro and DMX, Raptors player Alvin Williams and late NDP leader Jack Layton, the local MP.
Since word spread among the place's regulars, many of them have been pitching in to try to find it a new home.
"People have been offering to help us pack up," said manager Natalie Williams, herself an 18-year veteran of the business. "The response has been overwhelming."