A popular outdoor patio at a Toronto restaurant in Little Italy is closed for business after the owner of Café Diplomatico said he received “eight different infractions.”
“You need to have two sides open, fully open, or if you have a retractable roof like ours, the roof has to be open and one side has to be left open, instead of two. You can’t do that in minus 20. And what I’ve been asking the City is that this should be the standard for temporary enclosures,” said restaurant co-owner Rocco Mastrangelo.
He said his patio was never meant for winter weather but given the COVID-19 restrictions and financial toll of the pandemic, it’s been a way to pay the bills, on top of takeout and delivery.
“What I actually got as a summons from the municipal licensing standards is basically remove everything that I’ve done even for 2014, which is absolutely ridiculous,” said Mastrangelo.
“I’m not sure what I’ve done to them to deserve this kind of treatment.”
He said this began early last month with a complaint about a blocked fire hydrant within his patio enclosure. Since then, the notices to comply and notices of violation have piled up.
Café Diplomatico’s patio is not the only one recently targeted for violations.
“There’s 30 to 32 restaurants that have outdoor cafés and patios that are more akin to indoor,” said Carleton Grant, executive director of municipal licensing and standards at the City of Toronto.
He said it is a small percentage of the 1,200 patios in the city — “only two per cent” — and noted this is not a blitz.
“We’re responding to complaints and concerns as they come in and that we become aware of through social media or other media outlets,” he said.
Grant pointed out the City’s top concern is “outdoor dining masquerading as indoor dining,” given that the province currently prohibits indoor dining.
He also noted the structures require certain building permits.
“The building code, the fire code, a number of different codes need to be followed before investing in these types of outdoor patios,” said Grant.
In addition, Ontario has laid out rules in the Reopening Act, which include: “If an outdoor dining area at the establishment is covered by a roof, canopy, tent, awning or other element, at least two full sides of the entire outdoor dining area must be open to the outdoors and must not be substantially blocked by any walls or other impermeable physical barriers.”
In the case of a restaurant like Café Diplomatico, “If an outdoor dining area at the establishment is equipped with a retractable roof and the roof is retracted, at least one full side of the outdoor dining area must be open to the outdoors and must not be substantially blocked by any walls or other impermeable physical barriers.”
“If the health department comes back with the two sides being closed and my roof being closed, I’ll be fined,” said Mastrangelo.
“All this is destroying us. I had to lay off my staff. I’m open for takeout and delivery, which is not very busy. The fees for delivery are outrageous,” he added.
Owner of nearby ice cream shop The Big Chill, Sam Santino, said restaurants have been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions and Little Italy in particular.
“It’s been terrible, absolutely terrible, the capacities, the closures,” said Santino. “This street is dying.”
COVID-19 restrictions are scheduled to ease on Jan. 31, at which point restaurants will be able to open to indoor dining at 50-per cent capacity.
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