Building Toronto's next great food district won't happen over night, but a handful of eager restaurateurs hope that by summer's end Market Street is as synonymous with the city's foodie culture as The Distillery District or King West.
The heritage buildings that occupy the street to the west of Toronto's historic St. Lawrence Market have sat dormant for a number of years, plagued by construction and revitalization projects, but as the dust settles a new generation of first-time restaurant owners are hoping to bring a new identity to the narrow brick paved street.
What bind these hopefuls together are their relative inexperience and the diversity of their offerings, which have helped establish a sense of community among the street's culinary entrepreneurs.
"None of them are corporations, and we're all very complementary, so there's no clashing concepts," said Aras Azadian, president and partner of Barsa Taberna, a Barcelona-inspired tapas and sangria restaurant, whose traditional flavours seem right at home between the brick-exposed walls of its recently restored home on Market Street.
Mr. Azadian adds that he and his partners were attracted to the idea of opening up their first restaurant on a street dedicated to quality cuisine from independent owners.
"I can easily go to my neighbour to get advice or a dozen eggs if I want to," said Tom Antonarakis, the owner of Market Street Catch, a fresh fish restaurant and sister to Buster's Sea Cove, Mr. Antonarakis' food truck and seafood counter inside St. Lawrence Market. He says that having his own, permanent establishment allows him to operate beyond the limited hours of the market, while having access to its freshest ingredients.
Mr. Antonarakis adds that the restaurateurs that occupy the block meet as frequently as business will allow, and unfortunately they've had a lot of time to spend together this winter, but there is renewed hope that patio season, along with the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games, will draw crowds to Market Street this summer.
"We have to create a lot of awareness of where Market Street is, and build on the identity," said Dimitri Petropoulos, who operates Pastizza, an elegant Italian bistro at the corner of Market Street and the Esplanade, in partnership with Thomas George Estates winery. "The Distillery wasn't built in a day, it took quite a few years to gain the following it has, and that's the goal we have with Market Street."
Michael Kapil was the first resident of the newly revitalized street in October of 2013, where he and his family established Bindia, a modern, northern Indian restaurant named after his daughter.
Mr. Kapil and his family have survived two very slow winters on Market Street, but they remain confident that the team of restaurateurs assembled along the block will serve as a mutually beneficial resource moving forward.
Rounding out the new batch of tenants is Evolution Food Co., built by owner and founder Ian Paech, who left his job in financial management to mix fresh salads and squeezes fresh fruit juices.
"A lot of my banking friends said I was taking on more risk than I should have," he said. "I wanted to do something that was a pleasure to me and meant something to me."
Like his neighbouring tenants, Mr. Paech is betting it all on Market Street, hoping that with fresh ingredients sourced from the market across the street, combined with culinary diversity and perhaps, with a little luck, an early patio season, the crowds will soon follow.