Owners of Mile End's Cagibi say 'substantial' rent increase is forcing them out

The building that houses the eclectic Mile End vegetarian restaurant and event venue Le Cagibi has been bought, and the owners say rent is going up by almost double.

Café calls on customers, venue attendees, supporters to donate to a crowdfunding campaign

Jess Lee is one of the owners of Cagibi, a restaurant and venue on Saint-Laurent Boulevard. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

The eclectic Mile End vegetarian restaurant and event venue Le Cagibi is moving onward and upward — into Little Italy if it can afford to — now that owners say a rent increase is forcing it out of its current location.

Its building on St-Laurent Boulevard at St-Viateur Street has been bought by new owners who want to increase rent by almost double, said Cagibi's Jess Lee. 

Lee is one of Cagibi's owners and said over the past five years, the neighbourhood has been hard hit by gentrification.

"We've been trying to keep this place going as…a stronghold in the neighbourhood for as long as possible," Lee said. 

"Now we're feeling the effects of money coming into the neighbourhood."

The new owner of the building said the proposed rent wouldn't have necessarily doubled, adding that the two parties had not yet negotiated the finer details of a new lease.

"We started but did not get deep into rental rate renewal discussions as it was clear that the co-operative business model was not able to afford even a discounted rate relative to market," building owner Jeremy Kornbluth said.

The café is in the process of converting into a co-op, a process it expects to be complete in April.

The eclectic Mile End vegetarian restaurant and event venue Le Cagibi is moving onward and upward — into Little Italy. 0:30

A new space has been found five blocks north on St-Laurent, at St-Zotique Street in Little Italy. 

But the decade-old business with the thrift shop esthetic doesn't have the money to make the leap into its new location without asking for financial support.

The owners started a crowdfunding campaign seeking to raise $35,000. 

"For all of those who have been regular customers, show attendees, promoters, or community supports over the years, we need your help. Some of you wrote your essays, poems, or first novels at our tables," Cagibi owners state on the crowdfunding page.

In 13 days, just under $5,000 has been raised toward the goal.

Cagibi needs about $85,000 to make the move work and the rest of the money will come from private loans, co-op memberships, fundraising and private donations. 

The move is expected to happen in the spring. 

Fewer music venues 

Lee said the government should help support these neighbourhood institutions.

In Cagibi's new location, there won't be live music — eliminating one more music venue from the area.

"I do feel like the government could be stepping in, for places like Divan Orange, or like Cagibi, [that] have been cultural institutions for a really long time [and] have created a community from small venue spaces," Lee said.

Last fall, Divan Orange, a similar space to Cagibi that is also on on St-Laurent, announced it would close in the spring.

Owners said rent and tax increases were contributing factors to the closure.

With files from Sarah Leavitt