Taste of the Danforth cancelled

Taste of the Danforth, the popular east-side street festival that has boosted the bottom line of many shops and restaurants in the neighbourhood, has been cancelled over an impasse involving CaféTO and street space, leaving local pandemic-hit businesses without a much-needed windfall.

In a Wednesday media release, the GreekTown on the Danforth BIA, which runs the annual festival, wrote it “has determined the best way to ensure the long-term success of the festival is to postpone restarting it until 2023.”

Taste of the Danforth was initially scheduled for Aug. 5 to 7, but planning was mired in logistical issues for months. Festival organizers cited road infrastructure from CaféTO and other pandemic-era city projects as too great an impediment.

“The short timeline available to adapt the event to the changes in the street meant that Taste of the Danforth in 2022 was at too great a risk of not being as successful as in the past,” said the release. “Our membership and the broader community have high expectations for a great event.”

For businesses along the Danforth, the festival cancellation is a “huge blow” for those who have barely survived the past two years. Restaurants hammered by the pandemic are now grappling with rising interest rates and soaring inflation, and Chris Christodoulou was counting on the festival, which brought in $106 million in 2018, to help recoup some of his restaurant’s losses.

“Sometimes you sleep at night and you wonder if you’re going to be able to continue,” said Christodoulou, general manager at Soulas Modern Greek Cuisine. “We’ll have to find different avenues to create the lost income … I don’t know how many blows we can get before we collapse.”

Erin Gamelin, owner of the gastropub Louis Cifer near Chester and Danforth Avenues, said she was caught by surprise Wednesday morning when she found out Taste 2022 would be cancelled.

“In conversations I had previously with the BIA, they said, ‘We’ll figure it out, we’ll figure it out,’ ” said Gamelin. “But I don’t blame them. I know it was a very tough decision for the BIA because it affects so many businesses.”

Leonidas Halaris, owner of Christina’s on the Danforth, said he doesn’t blame any one side but finds it “unacceptable” that the festival had to be cancelled over issues that everyone should have anticipated.

“You don’t leave to the last minute in order to organize such a big event,” he said. “The BIA, CaféTO, the city — they should’ve known this in advance. They knew the situation they would face.”

Organizers of the festival said they were concerned CaféTO’s presence would take up room needed for advertisers. They asked the city to temporarily relocate extended patios and curbs but were denied.

The city instead offered to pay for an event planner to reroute the event, pushing it further east and westward, but organizers didn’t want the festival to take place outside the BIA it was meant to bring business into.

City officials, however, said that CaféTO had not hindered other Toronto street festivals, and therefore should not have posed as great a challenge to the event’s success as organizers claimed.

One such festival is Taste of Kingsway in Etobicoke, which runs Sept. 9 to 11 and is certain to happen, an organizer told the Star Wednesday. The event spans six CaféTO installations along an 800-metre stretch of Bloor Street West.

“(CaféTO) really impacted planning, but we decided to go ahead regardless,” said Sasha Perera, a spokesperson for the Kingsway BIA. “So much of the sidewalk has been taken up by the extensions, which makes it difficult to put up vendor tents and manage foot traffic. But we decided we would figure it out.”

In a statement Wednesday, Mayor John Tory wrote that he supports GreekTown BIA’s decision “because they have built the event up into the success that it is and they will know best how to continue that success.”

“I encourage people to get out this weekend and support businesses along the Danforth and across the city — summer is here, patios are open and it’s time to dine out and dine often,” said Tory.

But Gamelin said that while CaféTO patios could mitigate some of the loss of business incurred by Taste’s cancellation, many Danforth restaurants don’t have them.

“They count on Taste of the Danforth every year for the influx of revenue — three weeks’ worth in one weekend,” she said. “I think a lot of business owners that don’t have the CaféTO program are going to be very disappointed.”

Coun. Paula Fletcher (Ward 14 Toronto—Danforth) told the Star in an interview last month the city believes it’s “very possible” to host street festivals around CaféTO installations and would “move heaven and earth” to make Taste 2022 a success.

“There are CaféTO installations on every major street in the city of Toronto and many festivals taking place this summer,” said Fletcher. “They’re all working with those installations.”

Asked why an event planner couldn’t save the festival, a spokesperson said the city had “no information to add at this time.” In a statement to the Star, the city pledged continued support for the BIA in hopes of bringing other events to the Danforth this summer.

“The City will assist the BIA in any way it can as it brings localized events to the Danforth this summer, where music, food, and the vibrant community the Danforth is known for can be enjoyed by all,” the statement said.

In an interview with the Star last month, GreekTown BIA executive director Mary Fragedakis said she felt a planner would distort the festival, and push it partially into another BIA, which would defeat the purpose of Taste.

“We don’t want to take people off the Danforth,” said Fragedakis. “An event planner would reimagine the festival, have it go east and west and into parking lots.”

Fragedakis did not return a request for comment Wednesday. In an email to the Star, GreekTown BIA declined to provide details beyond the statement provided, writing that it “speaks for itself.”

Fletcher was not available for interviews on Taste of the Danforth on Wednesday, instead sending a short statement where she said her understanding is that the festival was cancelled in order to allow for an additional year of planning to reimagine the event.

“Like so many residents in Toronto-Danforth, I will be celebrating the vibrant business community and street atmosphere in GreekTown this summer with their 32 CaféTO patios and live music on the street, and welcome residents from across the city to join us and to keep strongly supporting our local businesses,” said Fletcher.

“I am confident that when Taste returns to the Danforth it will be well worth the wait.”

With files by Jennifer Yang

Ben Cohen is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn

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