The Bloordale Pantry

07/28/10 – By GURPREET GHAG

Rose Guarnieri and Anthony Menna have added some much need flavor to 1285 Bloor St. W. PHOTO By GURPREET GHAG

I remember walking past 1285 Bloor Street West as a kid and desperately trying to avoid eye contact with any of the old men or drug pushers who smoked cigarette after cigarette in its doorway. I remember a few fights breaking out on the sidewalk in front of the building and cops telling me to be on my way home. I remember a few glances of old linoleum floors and dirty-looking table tops, all of which contributed to me never stepping a foot inside.

But recently, just a month or so ago, under new management and a new name, I walk past the spot with my eyes off the sidewalk, allowing my nose to be grabbed by the smell of peameal bacon and dragged across the shiny new floors and to a very comfy 60’s diner booth overlooking the eclectic corner of Bloor Street and Lansdowne Avenue.

Very 60's and very diner is very good. PHOTO By GURPREET GHAG

As I admire the prints and paintings hung on the wall and drift off while listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rendition of Little Wing, I am brought a menu by one half of the new ownership team. Rose Guarnieri, one of the owners, is quick to let me know that she is in as much love with her new home as I am.

Guarnieri, along with her partner and head Chef, Anthony Menna had been planning to get married when they found that Dale’s restaurant was planning to close shop. Having both been from the area, and also looking for a place to open up their own restaurant, the two took all their wedding savings and secured the then haggard spot.

It was an opportunity she says that they could not give up.

“I remember living here and having to travel all the way to College to get a latte,” she said, also adding that the way the neighborhood was growing also made the decision easier.

And then after almost a year of prep, says Guarnieri, most of which consisted of the couple putting in a new floor, new table-tops, re-upholstering the booths and refurbishing whatever they could salvage, the doors were open to the public, and so far the response has been a great one.

“People are thanking us for moving in,” Guarnieri says and the brunch turnout has also been positive.

“We had thirty people in for our first brunch, and our last one we had seventy-nine.”

The Bloordale Pantry is located at the South-East corner of Bloor and Lansdowne and is open from Tuesday to Sunday serving a daily 5 dollar lunch special and a great dinner selection with nothing over $14.

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15 responses to “The Bloordale Pantry

  1. This is an example of “gentrification”. It was an establishment with a very long history that provided low cost meals for low income people and a place for them to gether an talk. Old men should not be feared, neither should poor people. I know the owners had the police remove criminal elements regularly. Now what do poor people do for a low cost meal? Guess it’s more important to ‘move ’em out’ and ‘clean the streets’ of unwanted people. Sad.

    • rose guarnieri

      Dear Ken,

      I’m sorry that you are offended that we removed criminal activity form our
      door step. I’m sorry that I don’t tolerate drug trafficing and child
      prostitutuion on my property.

      We grew up in this area. My partner & I had to work 3 jobs, and use the
      local food banks to support our families. That is why we took the name of
      the neighbourhood for our restaurant.We are the poor people you speak of
      in your comments about our restaurant and the evils of gentrification.

      We still offer cheap meals and offer a SAFE, CLEAN environment for our
      community to meet and have a good time. Please tell me where you can find
      a full home made lunch for $5, because I would like to eat there.

      Don’t be afraid of young people, a little gentrification is good. Change
      happens. If you had become city councillor, you would have tried to change
      things in some way or another.

      Hope you come by for a cheap lunch, and a comforting place to relax.

      Rose Guarnieri
      Bloordale Resident
      & Owner, The Bloordale Pantry Ltd.

    • JS (6 yr Bloordale Resident)

      Shame on you Mr. Ken Wood.

      I work in the medical/disability field and I must say your choice of words is quite…sad. “Poor people”, how politically incorrect. Our small stretch, Bloordale, was plagued with not only, “old men”, but also drug dealers, bike thief’s (the WORST!), and the mentally ill. The Kiss Cup Bar, Coffee Time and Dale’s were enabling spots. “Poor people” don’t need enabling spots, they need support groups, positive reinforcement and if you really do care about, “modest income earners”, why don’t you push for more Social Benefits and Housing?

      Did you even ever attend Dale’s? Did you tell all your friends about it and support their business? Or are you just jumping on the fake, Gent-hate-train? I tried to give Dale’s a chance…a few times, but the overwhelming smell of urine always entered my nose as soon as I walked inside and my fiancé was ogled.

      Do you live in the neighborhood Mr. Ken Wood? Do you rent or own? I rent, my rent went up recently, I bet you own, did you know that gentrification typically raises the value of residential properties. OH-OH! You must be angry about that as well; you better sell before the value of your home goes up!

      On a lighter note, I am STOKED about The Bloordale Pantry! It smells of fresh baked goods and espresso. The lavatories are the cleanest in the neighborhood and the friendly staff make me feel welcome.

      Accepting change is a hard life skill to learn Mr. Wood, but I urge you to practice. You don’t want to end up an old grumpy….oh…too late?

  2. Thank you for the comment Dear prospective council rep,

    Despite the well known and long-lived history of the said establishment, I was under the impression that the old owners could no longer care for it… thus the change. I also believe that the new owners have done as much as they could to keep as much of the previous feeling alive, as well as provide pretty decently priced meals ($5 lunches).

    And also – who wants unwanted people anyway? Isn’t there a reason they aren’t wanted to begin with?

    – Gurpreet Ghag

  3. Erica

    I don’t know – I think the mix of the old (often occupying the seats out front of the diner) with the new is a refreshing icon to how much us gentry appreciate the character and the residents of the area .

  4. JS – You jump to erroneous conclusions that satisfy your own bias.
    ““Poor people”, how politically incorrect…the mentally ill” …That is who I am and how I describe myself.
    “why don’t you push for more Social Benefits and Housing?” I have and do. I was on the board of Mainstay Supportive Housing and the board of Daily Bread Food Bank. I was running for city council in this ward until I realized I could not compete with the big money people supported by bigf party machines. I also march in protests to bring attention to this. Do you?
    “Did you even ever attend Dale’s? Did you tell all your friends about it and support their business?” Yes. I was a regular. I spoke to the urine smelly people like they were humans not annoyances.
    “you better sell before the value of your home goes up” Well, I don’t own a house, but rent a tiny basement apartment which eats up most of my money as I am on disability. I have to use food banks to survive.
    “Accepting change is a hard life skill to learn” Nothing new to me. I was upper middle income until my illness brought me crashing down, along with deaths in my family, existed on welfare until my disability came in. I live the life of poverty, so perhaps I know more about it than you… but then I shouldn’t be as quick to judge as you.
    “You don’t want to end up an old grumpy….oh…too late?” Yes I am an old guy, 61 actually, grumpiness comes with illness, aches, pains, arthritis and experience. But you’ll learn that in time too.
    What I do is advocate for change to make things better. For everyone, even the smelly homeless or poor.

  5. Reply to Gurpreet:
    “who wants unwanted people anyway? Isn’t there a reason they aren’t wanted to begin with?”
    You must be so proud of yourself – mistakenly so.
    These are not “untouchables” except in your mind. The old guys who were there had genuine stories based on real human experience. Every one of us is just one slip, one unexpected external event, one paycheque away from poverty. Money is the god in our society and many let it define and distinguish the worthy from the unworthy. Such a sad, narrow minded way to look at life, don’t you think?

    • Oh, narrow-minded you,

      I’m sorry that you have obviously never had the privilege of waking up to a backyard used as a hostel by overworked, sweaty and insulting street workers.

      The reality is that there are children in very close proximity to these areas in question and how in the world will this benefit them in any way?

      I can honestly say that I wish I had never seen half the things I did while growing up in this area.

      AND YES!!! I am damn proud that children in this area will one day be rid of this.

      Thank you for trying to be something that you think is right.

      Thank you for trying to win a fight that makes very little sense.

  6. PS – it is so refreshing to know that you are so down to earth that you don’t mind the smell of urine while you eat/socialize.

    If only more people were like you.

    • Thank you Gupreet for proving you are an idiot.
      “PS – it is so refreshing to know that ” there are people like you that while needing change, never will. bye

      • Change to PROgress not DIgress.

        Good riddance to you.

      • Chris

        Dear Ken Wood,

        Only those who have to resort to insults are of lower intelligence. Next time, instead on insulting your debating opponent, try continuing your argument like an adult with something to prove rather than a child who got upset that not everyone agrees with your opinion.

        Besides, you are wrong, and the pantry is one of the finest, cleanest and most affordable establishments I have ever frequented.

        Personally, I am glad to have such a reputable restaurant in MY neighborhood. By the sounds of it, maybe the neighborhood has out grown you and you should consider relocating. 🙂

        Cheers Ken, and try to relax. Bloordale’s gentrification isn’t that bad, there are still crappy areas of Toronto if you want to live in one so much.
        – Impartial reader

  7. It’s upsetting to see the launch of such a charming establishment marred by this kind of negativity. I visited Bloordale Pantry this morning, and enjoyed a great breakfast and welcoming atmosphere as I got my notes together for a review. Not only were the owners very pleasant, making me feel right at home in what was to me an unfamiliar neighbourhood (that we can all agree, without being too judgemental, is a little rough around the edges), but the food was delicious, and quite reasonably priced.

    While there is something to be said for the fact that gentrification can have negative effects in some communities, I don’t think that this particular establishment has done anything to justify such suspicion or criticism. This is not a Starbucks moving in, hoping to establish a monopoly in the neighborhood with its $8 lattes. The owners of this restaurant are long-time residents of the area, who reclaimed a run-down location, and made it into something they knew the community would appreciate, because it’s what they themselves would appreciate. They’ve even gone out of their way to feature local artists, and help promote and organize community events in order to ensure that they are making a worthwhile contribution to the neighbourhood. And the fact that they so genuinely believe in what they are doing, and care about it, is as apparent when they are serving up fresh cookies as when they are informing the police about threats and crime.

    I’m sure there’s a consensus here that “modest income workers” deserve our support and respect as much as anybody else. However, I don’t think that it’s at all reasonable to say that the owners of this restaurant should be admonished for having replaced an establishment best known for it’s $2 beers and drug deals. After being so critical of the owners, Ken, I also don’t think it’s particularly philanthropic of you to suggest that low-wage earners need such an environment in order to socialize with one another. Personally, I don’t understand how it could be construed as a bad thing were these people to be drinking $2 coffees all day instead.

    As far as I can tell, whichever way you look at it, it seems as if these owners have done a great job making a contribution to their community, and have painstakingly renewed a location with a long and colourful history. They’ve done their best to redefine it as a place that everyone in the community has the opportunity to enjoy, rather than one that makes residents uncomfortable, and perpetuates a lifestyle that does little more than reinforce damaging patterns of complacency, criminality, and drug and alcohol abuse in (not exclusively) the lower-income members of the community. If we really do care about the well-being of the neighbourhood, we should all be following the example set by Rose and Anthony, and doing whatever we can to make sure that nobody, regardless of income, age, or background, has to be condemned to such a life.

    P.S. Ken, I felt that for such a staunch moralist as yourself, the reference to the Indian caste system was in very poor taste. Were I in Gurpreet’s shoes (nice review by the way) I would have been quick to point that out, and would be expecting an apology.

  8. Brooke

    Ken – As someone who also lives in the neighborhood and in close proximity to the bloordale pantry, my boyfriend and I were ecstatic when it opened. Walking past Dales every single day was scary, and as a woman, it was a brisk walk with eyes on the ground and a fast pace to avoid the eye gawking and rants that carried on. Maybe one day, years ago, Dale’s was a great little Diner but in the last 3 years it was known to be the place where the crack heads hung out and drug deals went on. Who wants to live in a neighborhood like that? How is it fair for other people to live in the neighborhood and have to deal with that and be almost ‘afraid’ to walk on the street or enter a store?! Ken, I understand, to some degree where you are coming from. Yes, lower income people, who need help and have no where else to go should have a safe place of some sorts to go, but these are not people who mind their business. They yell and carry on, break beer bottles, and throw their trash everywhere. I have witnessed one of these people punch an innocent person on the street. You obviously have no idea what it is like when you get woken up in the middle of the night to beer bottles smashing and yelling going on, drug deals happening and prostitution outside your window. And yet it sounds like you are OK with that? It is not ok! The fact that you wanted to run for council and you condone this behavior is laughable, these people need help so that they can have a better life which they do deserve as does everyone. Everyone wishes they had more money and everyone lives on a budget, don’t be so quick to judge and think that all these other reviews are bashing you for the fact that you live on disability. I bet all these other people who wrote reviews in response to yours have struggled in some way or another. No one’s life or financial situation is sweet and rosy. It sickens me that you actually used that as a statement in your review, as that is no excuse for criminal behavior.

    Another clarification from your first review, they are not pushing out ‘old men’. I’m sure ‘old men’ are welcome at Bloordale – criminal drug dealers are not.

    I am loving the fact that gentrification is happening, it has happened in many neighborhoods in Toronto, and I hope more establishments like Bloordale Pantry open up.

    We are a huge fan of Bloordale Pantry and I wish them all the success they achieve!

  9. Matt

    Screw all the other comments. About the restaurant: It has good food at good prices, and if you can get a booth on a weekend morning, you’ll be a truly happy person. They’re busy for a reason. They’re good. Very good. Good eggs benedict, and good specials. However, if you had read the other comments left here, you’d think that good was a bad thing. I love Bloordale Pantry and I go there whenever I need to feel good again. Where else in Bloordale can I say this? The wait staff are also very friendly. Why should I expect worse? To keep the neighbourhood the way it is? Screw that. I want, nay, I demand better and so should you.

    Lansdowne was once a posh neighbourhood (seriously!). It’s why there are grand houses along it. Have you ever wondered how poor people could afford to build them? They can’t! People of means wanted to move there. So, it seems to me that to get back to the original neighbourhood, you’d have to polish it up a bit. Those who feel entitled to keep it poor (I don’t want to mince words because ‘modest’ really means poor), are not helping that neighbourhood. The aspiration of that neighbourhood would be to have places like the Bloordale Pantry come in by the truckload. As for your rent, why should I care? Life sucks a tonne. I’m not going to drone on about how life has screwed me royally to the point that I washed my nuts everyday at the Y (it’s true). Why should I? I also have medical problems that kept me from working, but I found ways — difficult ways — to work around them. I don’t whine any more. I built myself up so that I have plenty of money should I lose my job. Pay cheque to pay cheque? I know that feeling and I abandoned it for better. I didn’t just expect opportunities to land in front of me, I pursued them and worked hard to get more opportunities. Never again in poverty. Not if I have anything to say about it.

    Bravo to the owners of The Bloordale Pantry for helping make that neighbourhood better. And making my mouth water. I have been back, and will continue to return. (By the way, the owners of that restaurant probably work f’ing hard to make the area a bit nicer. Shame on anyone who would want to shame them.)

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