Roncy restaurateurs feel 'left behind' as they struggle to secure CaféTO patio spaces

After a long winter, David Neinstein's hope for a successful patio season came to a grinding halt after his CafeTO application was denied. And he's not alone. A number of other restaurants on the Roncesvalles strip are also struggling to nail down outdoor dining space.

One-size-fits-all model causing some area eateries to slip through the cracks, owners warn

Barque Smokehouse applied for an outdoor dining space on Geoffrey Street, a side street hugging the north side of the corner lot, but was denied. (Submitted by David Neinstein)

After a long winter, David Neinstein's hope for a successful patio season came to a halt after his CaféTO application for an outdoor space on a side street was denied — two years in a row. 

"This year was doubly disappointing," said Neinstein, the owner of Barque Smokehouse, located on the main Roncesvalles strip. 

The popular restaurant doesn't have a designated parking curb on the main street where a patio could be placed. So, Neinstein proposed a spot on Geoffrey Street, a small side street that hugs the north side of the eatery's corner lot. 

But he was denied. 

We all feel like we're just being left behind in a standardized governmental checklist. ​​​​​​- David Neinstein, owner of Barque Smokehouse

"We were … frustrated by the denial of our application, simply, because it made sense," he said. 

"It made sense because we could prevent a lot of bottlenecking on the sidewalks… [Customers] could be dining safely distanced, as well as for our staff who are nervous about being in the crowded area as well."

The CaféTO program was implemented last summer and it allowed main street restaurants and bars to open expanded curb-side patios to serve more customers, while giving them enough room to follow physical distancing guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. More than 600 restaurants city-wide registered for the program last year and it was considered a huge success in helping businesses extend and expand their outdoor patio season. 

CaféTO did approve a space in an adjacent parking curb on Roncesvalles Avenue for Barque last year. But Neinstein said it was too far from the restaurant and blocked a number of storefronts. 

"Not only did we not want to impede their ability to do business, but the spaces that were allotted to us were so far away that it was difficult for our staff to manage," he said. 

CafeTO has approved an outdoor dining space for Barque Smokehouse in a parking curb on Roncesvalles Avenue. Owner David Neinstein says the patio is too far from his restaurant and blocks a number of storefronts. (Google Maps)

In the end, Neinstein wasn't able to keep the patio running and a year later, he's dealing with the same problem. 

He's not alone. 

A number of other restaurants in the area that applied for the CaféTO program were also denied. 

One of them is The Dizzy Gastro Sports Pub. 

Outside The Dizzy, a restaurant on the Roncesvalles strip, a sidewalk planter box occupies space that could've been used as an outdoor dining area. Owner Christopher Murie applied for the CafeTO program proposing a spot just beside the planter but was denied. (Submitted by Christopher Murie)

It's another staple restaurant with a unique outdoor layout. The space outside the pub is impeded by a large sidewalk planter box.

"It's beautiful," said Christopher Murie, the owner and chef. "But what we really needed is a little bit of space for a few café tables."

Murie applied for a patio space just north of the planter box — a small sidewalk bump out where they could could set up one to two tables. But he was also denied.

"Just one table makes all the difference in the world," Murie said. "That table out there on the weekends, one two-tops, could pay your rent."

This is a mock-up of The Dizzy owner Christopher Murie's proposal for an outdoor dining space under the city's CafeTO program. His application was denied due to the placement of the planter and a nearby streetcar stop. (Submitted by Christopher Murie)

In a statement, city officials said they were not able to approve the application for The Dizzy due to the placement of the planter and a nearby streetcar stop.

As for the Barque, the city said the offered space on Roncesvalles Avenue meets the program's requirements and "better considers the needs of the local community."

Residents support the patio on Geoffrey Street

Ali Abbass has lived in the area for more than a decade and was one of several residents to send emails and letters to the area's city councillor in support of the Geoffrey Street patio. 

"I just want to add to the voices that are supporting our small businesses," he said.

"I can't imagine anybody disputing having a patio [on Geoffrey Street] and bringing life back to our neighbourhoods this summer."

Both Neinstein and Murie say they understand that city officials need to stick to the regulations of the program, but also feel the stringent rules let establishments like theirs slip through the cracks. 

"Not all square pegs meet square holes in every case, every street is different. Geographically speaking, the buildings aren't all laid out evenly," Neinstein said. 

'They haven't been denied,' councillor says

Coun. Gord Perks said city staff did go out to the Barque Smokehouse restaurant to evaluate the site. 

Barque Smokehouse set up a patio in the city allotted space last year. But owner David Neinstein said it was unmanageable for staff to monitor their customers. (Submitted by David Neinstein)

"No, they haven't been denied," he said. "We've just said [the Roncesvalles Avenue] site is better and creates fewer conflicts than the side street space that [they] want."

He added that the Geoffrey Street patio would affect permit street parking for those who need access. 

"While it would be great if we could just do exactly what each business owner would prefer, instead, what we've done is come up with something that gets everybody some curbside space on the main street," Perks said.

In the meantime, Neinstein and Murie are hoping they will be able to operate outdoors this patio season and make it through the pandemic.

"We all feel like we're just being left behind in a standardized governmental checklist," Neinstein said.