As It Happens

Posh dome restaurant opens under Toronto expressway weeks after nearby homeless camp eviction

The city tore down a homeless encampment at another location under the Gardiner in March.

Anti-poverty activists organizing protest meal next door dubbed 'Dinner With a View — of the Rich'

Dinner With A View allows patrons to rent heated glass domes at the Bentway in Toronto and eat from a menu prepared by chef Rene Rodriguez. (dinnerwithaview.ca)
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A pop-up restaurant where diners enjoy three-course meals inside heated glass domes has opened beneath Toronto's Gardiner Expressway less than a month after the city tore down a homeless encampment at another location under the same highway. 

Called Dinner With a View, people can pay $149 to rent a life-sized terrarium at the Bentway, a public space under the Gardiner in the city's west end. For an additional $99 per patron, guests get a dinner by Top Chef season 4 winner Rene Rodriguez.

The company bills it as "a luxurious dining experience in a highly unexpected setting." But anti-poverty activist Yogi Acharya calls it "an obscene spectacle."

The installation is two kilometres from where city crews demolished a homeless camp under the Gardiner at Lake Shore Boulevard West and Lower Simcoe Street on March 13. Eviction notices have also been delivered to six other camps at different locations under the expressway. 

In a statement, Dinner With A View emphasized that the pop-up is in a public space "about 2 km east" from where the dismantled homeless camp was located, and that it has no affiliation with the city or its decision to evict the camp.

"We are sympathetic to those impacted by the City's actions and were in no way involved with the decision making process. No encampments were removed to make way for Dinner With A View," its public relations firm told As It Happens.

'The brazenness of the wealthy'

"The city cleared out homeless people who are living under the Gardiner with no heat. They were evicted. Meanwhile, pop-up restaurants serving ritzy dinners in heated domes under that same highway are granted permits," Acharya, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"Such brazenness, from my perspective, begs a challenge and we're happy to oblige." 

Brad Ross, the city of Toronto's chief communications officer, said there was a lot of debris in the encampment under the Gardiner Expressway. (Paul Smith/CBC)

That's why OCAP is organizing its own three-course meal right next to the installation in full view of the domed diners. 

The food will be prepared by volunteers and served for free. They're calling it "Dinner With a View — of the Rich."

"Our chefs haven't won any TV shows, but they do win at human decency," Acharya said.

 "We're going to eat, we're going to be lively and we're going to take in the view of the brazenness of the wealthy and the brutality of our city."

A brutal winter 

Acharya says Dinner With a View's timing is particularly offensive after what he describes as a brutal winter for the city's homeless, with a shortage of shelter spaces forcing folks to sleep on the streets in frigid weather. 

Crystal Papineau died in January after becoming pinned inside a clothing donation bin. That same month, Hang Vo was struck and killed by a garbage truck while sleeping in a laneway.

"These are tragic circumstances under which people are dying and wholly preventable circumstances under which people are dying," Acharya said.

Yogi Acharya is an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. (Alan Pike/Submitted by Yogi Acharya)

He said it also adds insult to injury that the installation is a stone's throw from the Fort York Armoury — a space that homeless advocates have long begged the city to turn into a shelter. 

"While the city refuses to open up the armouries, it is willing to put up spectacles such as this — and that is not something that we're willing to be desensitized to," Acharya said.

Acharya says he welcomes any of the people inside the terrariums on Friday night to come join OCAP's meal instead.

"Instead of partaking in these ostentatious displays of wealth, come join the fight for housing and shelter," he said.

"The food may not be as luxurious, but it will taste better being among people who are willing to fight for all of us to have housing."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Yogi Acharya produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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