Former TO dive bar overhauled..restores its roots from the Tavern EraPosted by in Uncategorized
Former TO dive bar overhauled..restores its roots from the Tavern Era
Maple Leaf Tavern, Gerrard Street East, Toronto
Taste & Travel Magazine caught up with Todd Morgan, Owner and Operations Director of the Maple Leaf Tavern in Toronto, as well as the PORT Restaurant in Port Hope.
Article by Diane Penwill
Maple Leaf Tavern has been a dive bar for decades. What made you choose to buy it?
I saw the potential immediately. I liked the vintage of the building (1910) - freestanding, with curb appeal and walk-by traffic. It has a fascinating history; it’s been both a tavern and hotel – and once had a skating rink in back. It was apparently called the “Kick and Stab” because of the number of fights that would break out inside.
What about your background brought you to this point in your career?
I grew up in Pickering. Instead of going into Civil Engineering, as my father thought I would, I took a year off university and drove to B.C.. I worked in Whistler and the experience I had there led me to Ryerson where I did a B. Comm in Hospitality and Tourism.
I worked as a concierge at the Marriott Eaton Centre and valet at the Royal York. I moved on to Earls, becoming Bar, then Night Manager and also did a stint at Milestones, before I started working at PORT. My father, a contractor, had purchased the land around PORT, originally a marina and we worked together on the design. I was looking for an entrepreneurial opportunity in Toronto when I discovered Maple Leaf Tavern.
You’ve recently appointed Jesse Vallins as Executive Chef. Can you tell me about that choice?
Jesse is well-respected in the Toronto hospitality community as a hard-working, hands-on chef and his vision of the guest experience is aligned with ours. He is certified as both a sommelier and a cicerone (a guide) and will be bringing his approachable, yet refined cooking style from Toronto’s The Saint Tavern and Trevor Kitchen.
And the menu? Any similarities to PORT?
Yes and no. We’ll carry over some of our favorite dishes, such as the Albacore Crudo, our signature Brussel Sprouts and Pickled Eggs. We’ll have a wood-burning grill and we’re re-introducing mutton, a traditional tavern food on menus. We plan to have as much organic, seasonal sourcing as possible, and will work with direct trade and craft producers from around the world. We’re also going to have the best Caesar salad in the city.
Our 120-seat tavern will offer both local and international craft beer, along with IPA and Pilsener on tap. The wine list will include Ontario and international wines, with top-notch cocktails inspired by a NYC bartender.
Our goal is to make the tavern a Michelin 1-Star restaurant – upscale, in line with what people in Leslieville and area are looking for. The service will be top calibre, but approachable, in keeping with the tavern tradition of the era and restaurants such as New York’s Minetta Tavern and Balthazar.
What was involved in the renovation? Any major surprises?
The 6,000 square foot building will be consistent with the style of the era, preserving the Art Deco features, such as brass railings and millwork paneling. We uncovered the original brick and long-forgotten windows and we’re keeping the sign, but adding marquee lighting. We purchased the building in August 2013. That was a very bad winter, so we couldn’t begin construction until March. The cold winters created many problems, with the water and electrical system. We had to rebuild over 30 % of the ground floor and restructure the rooftop, adding 2 ½ feet of ceiling height to the basement, to convert the old boiler room. One surprise was an old cigarette machine we found from the 1980’s that plugs in and lights up – it charged $1.50 a pack! It’s going at the front door.
Have your travels influenced any of your ideas or decisions?
Yes, the road trips I did with my parents. We would drive to Florida every year, but take a different route each time, travelling through many states. My own travels through Europe, Nicaragua and Costa Rica taught me a lot about supporting local culture.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.