ZenKitchen to reopen this month after tax trouble closure
Longtime customer comes forward to settle old debts, take ownership, run business end
On July 31, celebrated vegan restaurant ZenKitchen is reopening for dinner service after shutting down abruptly this spring when it fell behind on tax payments.
It'll be the same ZenKitchen location on Somerset Street West with the same man at the helm, though he'll have a different title and the restaurant will be updated somewhat.
Loan's former business and life partner, chef Caroline Ishii, left ZenKitchen last year but will be returning to oversee menu development and train new kitchen staff, many of whom have found other work in the two months since the restaurant closed.
Michael Gazier, a longtime ZenKitchen customer and fan, is the new owner and business head of the new company behind the restaurant.
Gazier is rather an unlikely restaurateur — he's an engineer with a full-time job at a telecommunications firm, after all — but he says he isn't worried. With Loan handling day-to-day restaurant operations, Gazier says he's confident he can handle the business end on evenings and weekends.
So far, Gazier says he has put up "a substantial" amount of money to help settle some of the old ZenKitchen's debts to the Canada Revenue Agency, as well as to some suppliers and creditors, though he won't be able to satisfy them all and is under no legal obligation to do so.
The restaurant is also being fixed up with new coats of paint, and there are plans to outfit the unused second floor to accommodate more customers and generate more revenue, he says.
For now it'll be dinner service only, with lunch and brunch service being phased back in later on.
'By the time we came up with a plan ... it was already too late'
Gazier and Loan will not say how much money Gazier has put up so far, and they also won't say exactly how much the old ZenKitchen owed (and still owes) to CRA, creditors and suppliers.
The restaurant closed suddenly in May, the same week that decades-old foodie institution Domus Cafe shut down for good, leading to much hand-wringing about the state of the city's restaurant scene. The old ZenKitchen fell behind in making tax payments, and Loan admits he and his team should have handled the situation differently.
"We kept thinking, well, this was a bad week, or these were two bad weeks, but it'll pick up," Loan says. "And we should have, at that point, already been approaching our creditors ... and saying look, we're going through a bit of a bad spell here and we're going to need to negotiate something.
"And at the same time, don't wait to find ways to pump up your business," Loan advises. "By the time we came up with a plan to address the shortfalls, it was already too late."
Gazier and Loan say that won't happen again.