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Coronavirus: Some restaurants call for more flexibility in Toronto’s new outdoor patio plan

Coronavirus: Toronto business calls for more flexibility with CafeTO program
WATCH ABOVE: The City of Toronto’s plan to help bars and restaurants expand their patio space is being heralded by many. But on the city’s west side, a business owner says it needs to be less rigid in its approach. Matthew Bingley reports.

Toronto Mayor John Tory says there have been about 250 completed applications for the City’s CafeTO plan to allow for more outdoor dining space for local businesses, but some are calling for the program to be more flexible.

The program, if approved by Toronto city council, will expedite the process for bars and restaurants to move into sidewalks, roads, and other space to expand patio space. CafeTO is being heralded by some as a way make up for losses due to physical distancing standards, which will reduce the number of tables.

With an existing patio, Breakwall BBQ and Smokehouse in the Beaches is able to open only three of its tables. But its manager Shane Ryan said he’s crossing his fingers to be approved for CafeTO.

Ryan said the program could allow his business add up to 10 tables if approved, which would make it worth it to resume dine-in service.

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Read more: Toronto launches CaféTO to help restaurants, bars create expanded patios

“Hopefully that will give us the big push to be able to get everybody in all working and get us the sales we need to survive down here,” he said.

But on the other side of the city in Roncesvalles, David Neinstein said he’s already been told his business will not qualify for the program. Neinstein owns the Barque Smokehouse and said he thinks the program is well-intentioned but too narrow-focused.

He said because his business is on a corner of Roncesvalles Avenue, it doesn’t allow for pedestrians under the program. Neinstein suggested using a side street to allow him to recoup some of his losses.

“[The] municipal licensing and standards office has been given very little ability to adjust to the unique scenarios of independent businesses like myself,” he said.
Coronavirus: Toronto starts preparations for the return of patios
Coronavirus: Toronto starts preparations for the return of patios

Neinstein said he was told that the engineering firm helping the City with the program would come up with recommendations for the city.

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“They wouldn’t commit to any foreseeable deviation to the program in any meaningful way that would give us the hope that this might actually happen,” he said.

But Neinstein said he still plans to file for that deviation with the hope that the strict parameters will be bent to allow him some patio space.

“So it’s a bit of a wish and a prayer,” he said.

READ MORE: Danforth cafes, restaurants prepare to reopen as Toronto moves into Stage 2

Urban planner and architect Naama Blonder said the CafeTO program is a great first step for the city, but needs to be much bolder.

“Close some streets that the city will identify as main street businesses and close them for cars,” said Blonder.

She said the city needs to let businesses spread out more to allow pedestrians have free-reign of some streets for access.

Mayor John Tory said the priority for the program is to ensure the health and safety of patrons and staff.

And while some businesses won’t qualify for the program, Tory said he’s willing to have staff take a second look at Neinstein’s application.

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