As It Happens

Why this Toronto restaurateur is giving city hall a big, icy middle finger

Al Carbone, owner of the Kit Kat Italian Bar & Grill, is erected middle-finger ice sculptures outside businesses on King Street.
Kit Kat owner Al Carbone flips the bird next to an ice sculpture of a raised middle finger outside his King Street restaurant. (Samantha Lui/As It Happens)

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Ice sculptures of raised middle fingers have been erected outside some businesses on Toronto's King Street to protest a pilot project that's rerouting cars in favour of streetcars.

The year-long pilot aims to speed up public transit on the frequently congested downtown Toronto street by giving priority to streetcars travelling between two major intersections.

The Toronto Transit Commission says streetcar ridership is up 25 per cent since the pilot began, but reaction from businesses has been mixed.

Some are reporting increased business, while others say the reduced traffic is hurting their bottom line. The sculptures have been seen outside restaurants such as The Office Pub, Portland Variety and Kit Kat Italian Bar & Grill. 

Kit Kat owner Al Carbone is responsible for putting up the sculptures. He says he is sending an icy cold message to Toronto City Hall. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

What do you think you're accomplishing by having this middle finger and this gesture — this frozen gesture —outside your restaurant?

I took a bold step. I'm sorry if I offended someone. But people are throwing the finger out every day — whether it's road rage, whether it's a cyclist, whether it's a pedestrian, whether it's another car-on-car. Anyway, it's out of control.

The ice sculpture says 'Fuddle Duddle' — a reference to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who famously claimed that's when he said when he was caught cursing in 1971. (Samantha Lui/As It Happens)

You know, I've looked at some of the Twitter traffic about your gesture and ... lots of people are saying they're offended by it, saying why would you think that a couple strolling down King Street looking for a place to eat are going to go into a restaurant that has a frozen finger put out?

Let me keep it simple. I'm offended with what city hall is telling everyone. And I'm offended for the media that's saying everything's accurate. And these people are all working together as one. 

By the way, I've been here for 30 years, and we have a good following and a good base. But as Nov. 12, they disappeared because no one wants to come to downtown Toronto. First of all, they were giving tickets like crazy. There was a woman who came by yesterday. She had five tickets. 

You know, you can't go through there. You can't make a right. You can't make a left.  People from out of town, they don't know the area. They're getting dinged, and they don't want to come back.

A police car is stopped as traffic moves along the street during the second day of the King Street pilot project on Nov. 13, 2017. (Doug Ives/Canadian Press)

At the same time, you also had people who wrote on your Twitter account. They said they have gone to your restaurant before and they took the streetcar there, and they're not going to come back because of your gesture.

Listen, I have nothing against streetcar riders. I have nothing against Toronto transit. But the whole system — underground or above ground — is broken.

The street was active. It was animated. It was vibrant. All that disappeared overnight, Carol. And people coming from out of town don't understand these crazy mazes and rules and tickets.

From the city's point of view, they're saying that yeah, it's flawed, there are problems, they've got to work them out. But the King Street pilot project of the streetcars having priority has meant tremendous good for the people who take it. They say there are huge increases in the number of people taking it and they're getting to work faster than they have before. So from that point of view, it seems to be working.

Carol, let me interrupt you if you don't mind, please. The point is it's all fake news they're giving us.

The other day I got up early, I went to King and Jefferson and Atlantic Avenue, 8 a.m, and I wanted to see for myself is there was an improvement. People were waiting for streetcars. And the first streetcar to come along was a can of sardines.

Carbone has been operating his restaurant on King Street for more than three decades. (Samantha Lui/As It Happens)

[Former Toronto mayor] Rob Ford always said there was a war on cars. Is that your view? That this is an extension of that war on cars?

I believe so, because the cars are going to come. People like myself or people from the suburbs have to come and do business, and if they don't know how to get around, they're going to get dinged. And it's a tax grab.

What will do you when your finger melts?

Well, I'll get another one when it's colder.

What will you do in the summer?

I'll put a plastic one up.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.