CHANGE IS INEVITABLE.
GROWTH IS INTENTIONAL.
tABLE OF cONTENTS
- LUXURY REDEFINED:
Yorkville’s look to the future with a careful eye on the past
- A CITY ON THE RISE:
How Oshawa is transforming itself
- THE FUTURE OF FRESH FOOD RETAILING:
Mike Longo on the innovations and disruptors driving change in the industry
- MOCA ON THE MOVE:
Awakening a new modern era of Canadian art
- THE JUNCTION’S CREATIVE COUPLE:
Mjölk’s John Baker & Juli Daoust
- LIVE DIFFERENT:
How Property Markets Group is making its mark on South Florida
- PASSIVE HEALTHCARE INTERVENTION THROUGH SMART BUILDING DESIGN:
The International WELL Building Institute and the WELL Building Standard
- OUR BEST SELF:
Ken Tanenbaum on how Toronto the Good can become Toronto the Great
- EATING TORONTO:
Food writer James Chatto looks back at Toronto’s culinary evolution
- GETTING IT RIGHT:
How Smart City technology will change the game for Canada’s largest metropolis
- INCOMING: EATALY:
A uniquely Italian marketplace comes to Toronto
- FROM BAY STREET TO MIAMI COCKTAILS:
Shaking things up with Simon Benstead
WELCOME TO THE PREMIERE ISSUE
We are excited to see Toronto continue to grow and flourish into “its best self,” a diverse cultural mecca and the economic engine at the centre of Canada’s economy. Like our city, our organization has grown and prospered over the past two decades – fuelled by the ingenuity, enthusiasm, and hard work of talented professionals who are inspired by the opportunity to contribute to the growth and future of great cities.
As investors and asset managers in real estate development, we are actively involved in the creation of more than 50 residential and mixed-use developments – transforming neighbourhoods across the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Miami Metro Area. Our work puts us at the centre of a powerful eco-system, connecting some of the brightest and most talented individuals across several industries. These great minds and revolutionary thinkers are at the forefront of change, pioneering innovations, and partnering with us to create vibrant communities for generations to come.
It is this rich “eco-system” of thought-leadership, ideas, and perspectives that has inspired us to create the premiere edition of Greybrook magazine. Through a series of refreshing and thought-provoking interviews with our respected peers, investors, and partners who are leading change in their respective industries, we hope to provide you with a glimpse into the future. In Luxury Redefined (page 20), First Capital Realty CEO, Adam Paul, describes his firm’s carefully crafted vision and plans to transform Canada’s most-coveted neighbourhood, Yorkville, into a cultural hub and luxury locale. In MOCA on the Move (page 44) David Liss and Alfredo Romano give us a sneak peek into the move and reimagination of the highly anticipated Museum of Contemporary Arts opening in the up-and-coming Lower Junction neighbourhood.
Like Toronto, Miami is experiencing tremendous growth and change, and our developer partner Property Markets Group (PMG) is in the heart of the action. In Live Different (page 62), PMG Principal, Ryan Shear describes the wave of change redefining Miami and explains how PMG is taking a different approach to development – creating forward-thinking social living communities for awesome people to thrive in. With an eye on cutting-edge innovation, we examine how the game-changing WELL Building Standard™ pioneered by former Wall Street executive and partner Paul Scialla of Delos Living (page 74) is revolutionizing the way buildings are constructed by putting human wellness at the centre of the discussion.
We truly enjoyed our chat with Ken Tanenbaum, Vice Chairman, Kilmer Group (page 80), on how we should all be thinking about our great city – Ken tells us why we should not aspire to be the next New York, London, or Hong Kong and shared what he believes we need to do to unleash our incredible untapped potential.
Of course, a magazine on the transformation of cities would not be complete without the mention of food. Food is at the centre of social living and something that connects us all. It’s the restaurants, cafes, artisanal shops, and food halls that bring us together and help define distinct neighbourhoods. Find out about the long-awaited arrival of Eataly (page 108), and take a journey through Toronto’s culinary evolution with James Chatto, award-winning writer and food critic in Eating Toronto (page 92).
We hope you enjoy the premiere edition of Greybrook Magazine.
Elias Vamvakas, Peter Politis & Sasha Cucuz
Partners, Greybrook Capital
YORKVILLE’S LOOK TO THE FUTURE WITH A CAREFUL EYE ON THE PAST
STORY BY BEN KAPLAN & SARAH MANSOUR
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEREK SHAPTON
Synonymous with luxury, art, bohemia, and couture, Yorkville has evolved continually over the decades and experienced a wide range of cultural movements. The centre of Canada’s hippie movement and the birthplace of the Toronto International Film Festival, Yorkville is where Margaret Atwood first scribbled dystopian fiction as an underground writer, and Colin Farrell closed down the bar night after night at the Hazelton Hotel. Connected by laneways and legends, Yorkville has been home to Gordon Lightfoot, Paramount Pictures, Hazelton Lanes, and Neil Young. Everything Yorkville has done, it’s done in an impressive manner. It’s a place with an identity, a rich history, and the most valuable real estate in the country. It’s a place that developer and landlord First Capital Realty sees as brimming with opportunity.
And with good reason. One of Toronto’s most dynamic and sought-after neighbourhoods, Yorkville attracts the country’s most affluent residents and clientele who frequent its collection of cafés, restaurants, galleries, and premium retail shops. Unique and luxury brands line the streets, and pedestrian laneways bustle with activity. People are drawn to the area simply for the Yorkville experience.
With more than $600 million invested in the redevelopment of assets across Yorkville, First Capital is the firm behind the transformation of the former Hazelton Lanes mall and credited for many of the current changes that continue to enrich this neighbourhood.
Under the leadership of CEO Adam Paul, First Capital is in the process of executing a grand vision set to elevate Yorkville to the next level. “Yorkville is really a one-of-a-kind place,” states Paul. “There’s nothing else like it in Canada and nothing like it anywhere in the world. It’s vibrant. It’s got deep soul. It’s got roots in arts, fashion, and culture and what we’re doing is trying to guide its evolution.” But how do you guide the evolution of an area already known for its rich history and constant change?
“YORKVILLE IS REALLY A ONE-OF-A-KIND PLACE. THERE’S NOTHING ELSE LIKE IT IN CANADA AND NOTHING LIKE IT ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.”
First Capital believes their role in Yorkville is to respect its past and nurture the characteristics that make it unique while evolving the country’s premiere luxury shopping destination—enriching an upscale community with art and culture for both local residents and international guests alike. “I’d like to think our mission—based on our capabilities and what we can bring to neighbourhoods and properties through redeveloping them and making them better—is to give something to the city and its residents that they can be proud of, that they can love,” says Paul.
First Capital’s Yorkville story began with the acquisition of Hazelton Lanes mall in 2011. Paul explains that what initially drew First Capital to Yorkville was the above-average population growth and the unique combination of high density and strong household income in the area. “Usually you have one or the other. Yorkville is one of the very few areas in the country that has both.” According to Paul, Bloor-Yorkville has approximately 10,000 occupied condominium units with another 9,000 units either approved for development, in the planning stages, or under construction.
“We also like the demographic profile of the neighbourhood,” says Paul, referring to the growing population of young professionals moving into the area—a demographic change that influences the type of retail appropriate for the community. While their focus may be on the upper luxury market, Paul is quick to explain that First Capital’s work must also appeal to the residents who call Yorkville home. “At the end of the day, what we do is local. We want to provide something that will maximize the benefit for the neighbourhood and the local population.”
In its heyday, Hazelton Lanes was a popular shopping destination home to top luxury brands, including Hermes, Gianni Versace, Valentino, Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent. First Capital saw the property as an opportunity to revive and transform the mall into a destination, providing more to residents and the growing population of people that live and work in the area. Their vision for Yorkville Village? A completely modernized retail experience offering a carefully curated mix of unique fashion, health and wellness, art, and, of course, good food, and internationally recognized brands.
Working with globally renowned brand-building agency Sid Lee to articulate and formalize plans for Yorkville Village and its broader assets, Paul explains how First Capital’s vision for the mall was to maintain a high degree of uniqueness with their selection of retailers. “Curating the mall is fascinatingly unique—the opposite of cookie-cutter,” he states. “Everything we’re doing in Yorkville will get tied back uniquely and distinctly to fashion, art, food, or lifestyle—this is what it means to stick to a vision. “If a retailer doesn’t fit the vision, the discussion ends there.” First Capital has turned down some options to lease space because of their commitment to the vision and not steering away from that. “Obviously making the economics work is where the magic comes in, but we’re not just going to focus on financial pro formas in isolation. The numbers have to work but beyond that, it’s about the qualitative elements.” This unapologetic focus on what’s best for the community may seem idealistic to some, but it is a necessity according to First Capital. “For some developers in Canada, it can be too much about economics, while our approach has to be to make something that makes the city and local residents feel proud.”
It’s difficult to feel anything but pride when experiencing the transformed Yorkville Village. More visible, accessible, and integrated with the community at street level, the new two-storey entrance from Yorkville Avenue (dubbed “the Lane”), is a bright and inviting entryway to a sophisticated food hall and state-of-the-art facilities. Anchored by eco-minded, clean-living grocery guru, Whole Foods; temple of well-being, Equinox Fitness; and everyday health services provider, Rexall Pharma Plus, the mall continually expands its impressive list of retailers and services.
Contemporary and international brands who have found a home in Yorkville Village include Italian designer Eleventy, Québécois footwear giant Jean-Paul Fortin, and the first Canadian location of the British-based leather goods giant Belstaff, which Paul cites as a prime example of the kind of first-to-market unique retail brand that is a natural fit in the mall. The opening of Palm Lane, a stunning 2,100 square feet full-service restaurant by the Chase Group (legendary restaurateurs behind Kasa Moto, Colette Grand Café, and The Chase), will expand the culinary options available and add another premium tenant to Yorkville Village.
Stepping outside the mall, First Capital is the single largest owner of retail storefronts on Yorkville Avenue. With several properties on the sunny north side of the street to their name, the firm had originally envisioned restaurants with large patios attracting patrons looking for good food and great people watching. Upon further consideration, an idea was hatched, and the vision of a high-end shopping locale home to the most luxurious and sought-after brands was born. Following a distinctly European model, Yorkville Avenue would offer luxury retailers the opportunity to create bespoke locations nestled off the mainstream area, enriching the experience of walking through the neighbourhood. In Paul’s words, “We wanted to expand the options for luxury retailers and create a compelling and viable alternative that did not compete with Bloor Street but offered something different.”
For the vision to succeed, First Capital needed to attract a coveted luxury brand with one of the strongest followings to validate the area and ascribe to the vision, and they knew exactly who they wanted, Paris-based luxury icon, Chanel. According to Paul, the feeling was mutual as the executives at Chanel immediately recognized the fit. “Chanel pioneered the evolution of luxury retail going to a new area, and right away they got our vision. It was not a difficult sell,” says Paul, who describes a luxury “ripple effect” following the Chanel announcement. “Chanel was a huge deal from our perspective. If it wasn’t the catalyst for Yorkville moving to the next level, it certainly shaved many years off that evolution.” No luxury retailer wants to be an island, and having a neighbour like Chanel guarantees a certain crowd.
The terms of the deal between First Capital and Chanel were simple; it wasn’t about dollars, it was about the future, the environment, and the promise of what could be built and achieved together. “Very little time was spent on the financial terms; it was all about the vision for the area and how we’d execute it over the long term,” says Paul. “We made a commitment to Yorkville that the brand understood and we’re pleased Chanel responded. It was a clear indication that our vision was true.”
The new Chanel flagship boutique will open its doors to the public in the fall of 2017, taking over 8,500 square feet in the building at 98 Yorkville Avenue, which bears a remarkable resemblance to one of Chanel’s boutiques in France. The first Canadian freestanding Christian Louboutin boutique opened across the street at 99 Yorkville Avenue in 2016, and First Capital is building a three-storey development at 102-108 Yorkville Avenue that will be home to the first standalone Jimmy Choo boutique in Toronto.
“I’D LIKE TO THINK OUR MISSION IS TO GIVE SOMETHING TO THE CITY AND ITS RESIDENTS THAT THEY CAN BE PROUD OF, THAT THEY CAN LOVE.”
Drawing inspiration from European architecture, these upcoming luxury retail developments demonstrate the firm’s continued focus on its vision for the area. “We are trying to create space that can be enjoyed and is accessible by everyone. It’s about designing the right space that fits in the area and that works for the types of retailers we are bringing in. What we are building are buildings that have a high degree of architectural character that fit in the neighbourhood and have the functionality and accessibility that is required today.” First Capital has worked with both Canadian and international architects that have experience preserving and improving older buildings to ensure mindful integration with legacy architecture, which they believe is critical to preserving Yorkville’s history throughout its continuing evolution. “If you don’t maintain the soul of the area, then you can take it in the wrong direction,” explains Paul.
Across the street from Chanel’s boutique is 101 Yorkville, one of First Capital’s latest acquisitions jointly acquired with asset manager, Greybrook Realty Partners. Plans are to develop an architecturally stunning commercial building that aligns with the strategy for the neighbourhood. “In my view, 101 Yorkville is going to be the best piece of real estate in the area,” Paul states. “It is a half acre of land in the heart of Yorkville with lane connectivity in various spots. One of the things that people really like about the neighbourhood is the pedestrian lane network and the ability to move through streets and buildings off the busy areas. We’re going to enhance that with 101 Yorkville and create new laneways and amazing [open] public space the public will really enjoy.”
“The structure itself is going to be an attraction of its own from an architectural perspective,” says Paul. 101 Yorkville is being designed by NEUF architect(e)s, the talented Montréal-based firm responsible for such landmark buildings as Mont-Tremblant, the CBC headquarters in Ottawa, and the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal. Promising to build on the rich architectural history of Yorkville, 101 Yorkville will add a modern shopping experience to the overall revitalized rush of the neighbourhood, in addition to public art, music, food, and festivals.
It’s impossible to discuss Yorkville without discussing the role art and its storytellers have played. Art speaks to each of us on different levels, through many varied mediums. Art is an indelible aspect of the area’s history, and an integral part of its future. “The vision for the mall is that it evolves as the culture house of Yorkville. It’s so much more than a collection of shops. Galerie de Bellefeuille was a really important part of the vision,” Paul states with pride, referring to the arrival of one of the most well-respected galleries in Canada and internationally. The Montréal-based Galerie de Bellefeuille will occupy 5,000 square feet and bring artistic works and experiences to Yorkville, adding to the distinctive mix of retail, shops, and art unseen anywhere else in the world. The gallery’s strong international following and First Capital’s creative programming are expected to fuel events and activity in and around the neighbourhood.
“We have a very active experience and events program,” explains Paul, referring to the 65+ events planned in 2017. “Yorkville Village is becoming a place of culture and experience, discovery, and learning,” asserts Paul, adding that “The Lane,” will become one of the two event spaces in the mall and host such events as the Jazz Fest, culinary experiences, and the Wednesday Summer MRKT. “What we want to do is create a sense of discovery for local residents, so they know there’s always something new going on related to the area’s foundation and core. People know that the area is vibrant and exciting and we’re already seeing them drop in regularly, in part from our big social media presence. What we’re seeing now are little pockets of action as you explore Yorkville at various times—these cool, interesting things that are going on and are attracting more and more people. It makes Yorkville feel alive.”
First Capital has strong connections with the arts, including a major programming partnership with art schools across Canada. This includes the Ontario College of Art and Design, which facilitates an annual competition to bring unique works to many of its properties. “We have had 24 major pieces of art installed across First Capital properties, and over time you’ll see some pretty area-defining works displayed in the neighbourhood.” It is initiatives like these that infuse communities like Yorkville with culture and aesthetic value, enhance visitor’s experiences, and demonstrate the company’s commitment to building enriched neighbourhoods.
The evolution of Yorkville will continue long after First Capital’s developments open to the public, but the firm’s influence and impact has just begun. “We will continue to invest in Yorkville,” Paul asserts. First Capital believes in their vision to take the area to the next level and create something very special for the residents, Toronto, and the world. Yorkville has everything people want in a livable, vibrant community: food, fashion, art, luxury, and most importantly, something uniquely and authentically Toronto. “We’re working in the most luxurious area in the country, and what we’ve already created is only the tip of the iceberg. Truly exciting times.” The best is yet to come.
A CITY ON THE RISE
HOW OSHAWA IS TRANSFORMING ITSELF
STORY BY TIFFY THOMPSON
When Kyle Benham first learned of an opportunity to become the new Director of Economic Development in Oshawa, he was curious - but skeptical. With nearly twenty-five years of experience in economic development, he was always game for a new challenge - but he had his doubts. Wasn’t Oshawa just another blue-collar, one-industry town?
After some research, however, he began to change his mind. What he found instead was a thriving city in its ascendancy. “By the time I started to look into it in preparation for putting in an application, I [thought], you know what? There are some really interesting, dynamic things going on in this community. It’s on this trajectory of ongoing, sustainable, impactful growth and change. That’s a great train to jump on.”
When the Canadian auto industry took a hit fifteen years ago, Oshawa saw an opportunity to reinvent itself. Once known as the Automotive Capital of Canada (and the original home of General Motors Canada), it faced rapid changes happening to the manufacturing industry. Rather than lamenting the dismal economic downturn, Oshawa turned inward to its own rich legacy of innovation, borne of the automotive sector. Diversification was the best road ahead, and the city set its sights on becoming a hub for healthcare, education, and technology.
With all the amenities of a large urban centre, it may be surprising to drive ten minutes out of Oshawa and wind up in the serene countryside. Boasting a bustling downtown, art galleries, a well-connected transit system, an expansive executive airport, a deepwater seaport, a live music scene, and twenty-seven kilometres of trails, Oshawa is—in all respects—a flourishing community.
The sprawling Parkwood Estate (once home to Robert Samuel McLaughlin, former president of GM Canada) has served as the set for Hollywood blockbusters like Billy Madison and X-Men; meanwhile, tony homes, lush tree canopies, and artsy cafes have earned the north end of the city the nickname “Poshawa.” Far from being a bedroom community, people don’t want to just sleep here—they want to live here.
“This is becoming a renaissance community,” says Benham. He points to the linchpin pieces of this transformation: the growth of Lakeridge Health (including its leading-edge research and teaching facility LHEARN), the expansion of Durham College (and the addition of their new 75,000 square foot Centre for Collaborative Education) and the introduction of University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). These unique segments - and the unique synergies that are created by this concentration of assets - are fuelling the transformation of Oshawa into a thriving hub of education, innovation and medicine.
At the crux of this transformation is education. As opportunities in higher education expand within Oshawa, the student population is expected to climb from 20,000 to 38,000 over the next decade. This welcome influx of students gives the city new energy and refocuses its purpose, evidenced by Oshawa’s recent donation of 1.8 acres of land to Trent University to expand its Oshawa campus. “The people, the mix of ages and the mix of opportunities, gives this community a lot more energy that you would find in other comparable GTA municipalities.”
Most recently, Oshawa has partnered with various educational institutions (Durham College, UOIT, University of Toronto and the Canadian Urban Institute) to launch their Teaching City initiative in order to establish the city as a ‘living laboratory’ focused on experiential learning, applied research and innovative teaching partnerships to address urban issues. “Five years from now, we’d like to see ourselves being a world leader in the development of urban solutions,” Benham says. “There’s a lot of private-sector spin-off, product development and technology development to go with that. It’s an area with huge global growth needs.”
By partnering with the province and the federal government, and by utilizing investments from Ontario’s Places to Grow initiative, the city was able to pull in the key infrastructure pieces that make Oshawa shine. “They reinforce each other,” explains Benham. “We are going to have the university, but how are we going to get there? The most recent announcement was last year about the expansion of the GO [Transit] system into the central core. That’s going to be the next game changer. It creates a new southern end for our downtown and will fill in and expand that.” By 2020, Highway 407 East will connect Oshawa to the 35/115 and Peterborough. “It just completes the transportation system.”
“THIS IS BECOMING A RENAISSANCE COMMUNITY. IT’S ON THIS TRAJECTORY OF ONGOING, SUSTAINABLE, IMPACTFUL GROWTH AND CHANGE.”
With this infrastructure in place, Oshawa is also attracting a steady stream of information technology companies, start-ups and young professionals. “Young talent is looking for interesting work and the ability to have urban amenities,” Benham says. “[They’re looking for] a place where you can find after-work entertainment, a bar or a restaurant to go to; mobility—not having to own a car or be completely car-reliant; and the ability to have that pedestrian environment. Oshawa is almost the only place in Durham Region where we actually have those attributes.”
Benham notes that those launching start-ups aren’t exactly twenty-somethings fresh out of school. “They’ve had a job or two, they’re thirty years old, in a stable relationship, they’ve just gotten married. They’re moving into that job creation and business formation piece but also moving into that family formation part of their lives. Having a community like Oshawa that’s a little bit more affordable is a huge draw.”
Currently, there are 9,564 companies in Oshawa, and that number is growing. “At any given time, 8% of your labour force will be entrepreneurial—self-employed to a certain extent. When we start adding 20,000 new people to the labour force over the next number of years, that’s 800-1,000 new companies that will be forming.”
Benham says that Oshawa is closing the gap “in terms of great places for foreign investment, housing growth, the price of housing values going up, high rate of growth, and one of the best job creation rates. It’s a growing market,” he says. “People are always looking for business and customers, so you want to go into a growing community. Because our housing prices at this point are a little bit more affordable, people have more disposable income. If your business is focused on the consumer market, our people here have more cash in their pockets to go out to a restaurant. You can actually start it here with some sense that you’re going to make a go of it, be profitable, and get yourself established. Then take your asset value and have some sense that it’s going to appreciate over time.”
Oshawa is primed and ready for this influx of new development. Benham points to the $4 billion in new investments and projects either currently under construction or set to move forward. According to Benham, when you factor in the residential growth, the population could increase 17%-20% over the next six or seven years.
From the residential projects currently in the final stages of planning approval, about 6,000 additional people will be moving within walking distance of the downtown core. “It’s an interesting mix of people: students, people that, quite frankly, have been forced out of the Toronto market, older people that are cashing out of their typical homes, you know, taking an apartment, a condo downtown,” he says. All of these newcomers will attract retailers, further fuelling the robustness of the community.
Oshawa is attracting developers, thanks in no small part to the municipality’s grand vision for the community. And with a growing boom of people who need housing, coupled with the affordability factor, its proximity to Toronto, and the city’s positive vision for the city - Oshawa hits all the things that matter from a development standpoint.
Benham thinks that the visibility of Oshawa has suffered in the past due to land use patterns that put the 401 at the south end “as our front door,” he says. “It’s a problem with any sort of major highway. You put your heavy industrial stuff right off the main road, so that’s what people see.” If you were to come in from the 407, you’d experience a much more scenic route through the countryside, and “all of a sudden you’re in this nice community. It’s got a great natural heritage system in terms of parks, ravines, bike trails, and botanical gardens. That’s the piece you don’t see unless you get off the bloody road,” he says. “You’ve got to see it to believe it.”
THE FUTURE OF FRESH FOOD RETAILING
MIKE LONGO ON THE INNOVATIONS AND DISRUPTORS DRIVING CHANGE IN THE INDUSTRY
STORY BY NIKKI BAYLEY
“Grocery stores are at a tipping point right now,” says Mike Longo, Longo’s VP of Business Transformation. “As millennials establish families and become primary shoppers, I think they will change the way we know grocery shopping as it is today — they grew up purchasing online and are very comfortable doing so”
Buying groceries with the click of a mouse has been one of the last segments of the market to go online, and with Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods Market in a $13.7 billion takeover deal, that grocery tipping point just got a whole lot closer. The future of the traditional grocery store experience is set for the same disruptive change driven by Amazon that bookstores, electronic retailers, and other businesses have experienced over the past decade.
“It’s scary and exciting,” admits Longo. “We’re definitely keeping a close eye on what they do.” But as an early online adopter, Longo’s has a wealth of food delivery experience that should keep them ahead of the pack. Longo’s purchased online grocery delivery company Grocery Gateway in 2004. “We thought it was a great opportunity to get into the market early,” says Longo. “We made a big bet on it and it’s worked out, it’s profitable, so we’re happy with it.” The learning curve was sharp; Longo ruefully recalls the biggest lesson they learned in the first few weeks of operation was not to use a third-party delivery company. “That last person is in the most important position with your customer. They’re almost like the cashier at the store, they leave the last impression with the customer, and we want to own that relationship.”
It’s owning and maintaining those customer relationships—with the help of new technology—that Longo sees as key to growing their business in the future. For the company, that means rethinking the traditional grocery store model and making a more personal connection to customers. For instance, a new app creates a personalized flyer for each shopper. “Gone are the days of the newspaper flyer,” says Longo. “Now it’s all about the blurring of channels to add more value. We have lots of things happening in-store: cooking classes in our Loft Cooking Schools, food experts coming in to talk about trends and educate customers on new products, and in-store restaurants for customers to enjoy as a gathering place.”
Cooking schools and restaurants are all part of Longo’s vision to take the traditional grocery store as just somewhere to buy food and flip it into a “third space” where customers come to hang out and socialize. Longo says, “If they shop, great, but we want them to come and meet here, have a meal, or have a coffee, we want to be the ’it’ place to be.”
This new approach to grocery retail isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, and Longo’s is paying close attention to the customer demographics of an area and creating what they believe is the ideal atmosphere for a particular area. “It makes sense to have the kind of store that offers a unique customer experience in an urban market, but we’ve seen success with it in the suburbs too. When we go into the design process, we think like a customer and create the best experience for them. For instance, in the suburbs it’s all about families, so we need space for strollers, larger parking spaces and so on.”
Longo believes that understanding how customers shop, and more importantly, how they want to shop informs what kind of store will be needed. Eating and shopping habits have changed over generations, driven by growth in condo living, which offers up less storage space and changing lifestyles with people no longer having firm plans for the week. “We now see customers coming in not just every day but multiple times a day to pick up breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.” he says. Taking those customer decisions into account is a crucial factor when looking at new real estate opportunities too. “There’s a great opportunity for us to penetrate that downtown market and find new locations to fill the demand.”
New consumer eating habits mean that the grocery retailer has to be agile when it comes to meeting those customer demands. “For the most part, we like to think we’re proactive,” says Longo. “We travel the globe to see what’s going on, we go to different shows, we listen to our customers, and we constantly evolve our assortment to fill those demands.” Hot trends still include gluten free foods, organic, and local produce. “We’ve always had a ‘local first’ philosophy,” Longo says proudly, “We have relationships with Ontario growers that span three generations and we have over 1,000 organic products in-store at any time.”
“WE TRAVEL THE GLOBE TO SEE WHAT’S GOING ON, WE GO TO DIFFERENT SHOWS, WE LISTEN TO CUSTOMERS AND WE CONSTANTLY EVOLVE OUR ASSORTMENT TO FILL THOSE DEMANDS.”
Housing and lifestyle changes may be fuelling consumer habit changes, but new technology with food delivery apps and services, such as Meal Kits, UberEats and InstaBuggy, are also driving change at a rapid pace. Longo sees these companies as both a threat and an opportunity. “Anyone who sells food is a potential competitor,” he says. “But we constantly try new things; we like to fail fast if we need to.” Currently experimenting with meal kits, Longo says this trend of pre-prepared food that customers just need to cook is on the rise. “People want the accomplishment of cooking [without] having to buy all of the ingredients in bulk. It’s so much less waste for the customer; they get portion control and they eliminate waste and eat clean fresh foods”
The meal kit market is likely to be put under pressure from Amazon, who began selling food kits in cities where they operate their Amazon Fresh grocery delivery service. Branded with the motto, “We do the prep, you be the chef,” it’s too early to say if Amazon will wipe out their competitors, but Longo has a healthy respect for the company. “They’re very aggressive and they’ve proved they won’t waste time executing a plan, but we’re well positioned and have a good online presence with Grocery Gateway in the GTA. We’ll continue to invest in our online business and intend to grow market share.”
Looking ahead to the future, where does this online delivery model leave the traditional brick and mortar store? Does this mean its days are numbered like the local record store? Longo doesn’t think so: “I think there’s always going to be a need for brick and mortar stores, but the design will change; you won’t just see 100,000 square feet grocery stores. Instead, you’ll see stores that evolve to fit customer needs.” Longo believes you will see various types of formats to accommodate different shopping occasions.
Longo’s lengthy experience with online groceries shows that there’s a world of difference between selling books and selling groceries. “It’s difficult to do multi-temperature products, which have to be at different temperatures for food safety and quality, and it’s expensive to execute this well. That last mile—actually getting the products to the consumer’s door—is the most expensive and most difficult to execute consistently.”
Looking ahead to the future, Longo thinks that channels will still blur when it comes to the food experience, and the success of their downtown in-store restaurants certainly backs that up, with customers dropping by for coffee and a meeting, or stopping by after work for a beer. Longo also sees an evolution for QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants) to have more of a place in-store, and an opportunity for more micro-format stores in the GTA. “Longo’s is seen as offering good quality, great service and value. We attract foodie customers who enjoy eating together and sharing that. Our customers are into what we’re doing with the new concept of creating a comfortable space that’s not just a grocery store. Ultimately we want them to think about Longo’s as a solution when they ask themselves ‘what’s for dinner?’”
Longo’s Need To Know
Family-owned Longo’s was launched by brothers Tommy, Joe and Gus in 1956 with a 1,500 square foot fruit market on Yonge Street at Castlefield Avenue. Now in its third generation of family ownership, the company employs over 6,000 team members with 30 stores across the GTA, Ancaster, Guelph, and Ajax that are broken down into 25 conventional stores (between 40,000 and 50,000 square feet) and five ‘Market’ stores (between 7,000 and 12,000 square feet). New stores are opening in Ajax, Guelph, Liberty Village and at Yonge and Sheppard. Longo’s operates GroceryGateway.com, the leader in online sales of home-delivered groceries. In 2010, they launched the first in-store grocery restaurant with an alcohol license in the GTA, and they now have three Corks Beer and Wine Bars.
MOCA ON THE MOVE
AWAKENING A NEW MODERN ERA OF CANADIAN ART
STORY BY JEN MCNEELY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEREK SHAPTON
How does a museum of contemporary art anchor a neighbourhood? Shift it? Direct it? When you revitalize a community with contemporary art as your focal point, what impact will it have on that community or the city at large? We’re about to find out.
In June of 2015, when the news broke that the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) had formed a partnership with Castlepoint Numa Developments to move into the century-old Tower Automotive Building on Sterling Road, it caused a stir of excitement that permeated far beyond Toronto’s art world. Suddenly, we all began looking at this strip of land, which sits equidistant to Roncesvalles Village and the Junction Neighbourhood, with fresh eyes.
The 8-acre Lower Junction development site, under development by Castlepoint Numa and Greybrook Realty Partners, will expand the mixed-use community bringing new employment opportunities, new retail, and commercial spaces and over 650 new residential units, supporting a range of different housing types, and over an acre of new parks and open spaces throughout the site. Beyond bridging two of Toronto’s most sought-after neighbourhoods, the museum will be within walking distance to the UP Express and sits adjacent to the West Toronto Railpath. “Castlepoint and Greybrook don’t represent status quo, we represent change,” says Castlepoint Numa President, Alfredo Romano. It’s a change that will redefine Toronto’s arts community, and attract creatives from all industries. From a cityscape and urban planning perspective, the development will also allow for intuitive connectivity and flow between neighbourhoods.
A common sentiment felt by residents and business owners of the Junction is that while this neighbourhood boasts some of the city’s top coffee shops, juice bars, and design boutiques, it’s isolated from the core. MOCA’s arrival, and the surrounding development projects, will not only form a bridge, connecting the Junction, Roncy Village and Dundas West, it will be a hot destination in and onto itself, for art aficionados, and far beyond.
“Recently, there’s been a gravitational pull of art galleries, artist-run centres, artist live/work spaces and studios to this part of town. Whereas at one point, five years ago, we may have been concerned about the location, today it looks like we’re going to be right in the middle of the action. It’s very exciting,” says MOCA Curator David Liss.
Galleries that have already made the move from Queen West and The Distillery District to the Lower Junction include Analogue Gallery, Daniel Faria, Clint Roenisch, and Joshua-Jensen-Nagle. It’s not a new thing, but MOCA’s announcement is what garnered national media attention, cementing Lower Junction as the city’s hottest major transformation.
So what can we expect when MOCA moves in? “Our mandate of presenting contemporary art with themes and issues that are relevant to the current human condition hasn’t changed,” says Liss. “What’s different is that we now have a bigger stage.”
Audiences can expect to be engaged with programming that will respond to the urgent socio-political and environment conditions of today, with a commitment to nurturing the practice of emerging and mid-career Canadian artists, and positioning their work on an international platform to get noticed. Beyond traditional ways of viewing art, the 55,000 square foot new space will include live activations dispersed throughout the building, as well as workshops, performances, screenings and talks. The 1919 Tower Automotive Building, which has stood quiet for some time, is going to come alive.
The story of MOCA began in 1993 when the Museum first opened its doors as the Art Gallery of North York. After changing the name to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in 1999, they took over an old textile factory on Queen West, a neighbourhood already quite well known for art and design. With just two rooms and approximately 7,000 square feet of exhibition area, they gained impressive nation-wide notoriety. “What we’re able to do here is realize the vision and mandate that we aspired to on Queen Street; we can evolve the ideas that we test-drove,” and now they’ll have the space to do so. “It’s a completely different game,” a game that couldn’t have come together if not for some very big players.
Talk to the movers and shakers in the Toronto real estate world and you’ll get the inside scoop that Castlepoint Numa president, Alfredo Romano, plays a lengthy game when it comes to development, often purchasing land years before he decides what he’s going to do with it. Case in point: the investment of the Sterling Road site has been growing since Romano first purchased the land in 2008. It’s a strategy that has contributed to the evolution of several of Toronto’s points of interest including the Film Studio District in the east end, Backstage on the Esplanade, and more.
“There’s been a gravitational pull of art galleries, artist run centres, artist live/work spaces and studios to this part of town. Whereas at one point we may have been concerned about the location, today it looks like we’re going to be right in the middle of the action. It’s very exciting.”
Observing city development cautiously, and from the ground level, has always been how Romano envisions progress. It’s a methodology to urban planning that he adopted naturally. “As a boy, when I looked at the city, the tallest building was the Royal York Hotel,” Romano recalls. “I used to take the subway down from Eglinton (where the line ended in those days) to get off and watch the Mies van der Rohe TD Tower go up with absolute marvel and astonishment. I’d never been anywhere outside of Toronto.” Watching the TD Tower go up lit a fire in Romano, and after travelling to Montreal for Expo 67 the following year, he realized that Toronto was lacking. “We were a distant second banana to Montreal. It was affectionately called Hogtown because it was a backwater.” So began Romano’s mission to execute change, and art and design were the tools he used to do so.
Sitting in the Castlepoint Numa and Greybrook Lower Junction sales gallery on Sterling Road—where scale models show off what is yet to come—Liss recounts the first conversation he remembers having with Romano. “After introducing himself at a gallery opening, Alfredo said to me, “That’s great what you have going on on Queen Street West, but you people need to be thinking bigger.’”
With MOCA’s ten-year lease coming to a close, Liss began to spend more time hunting for a space than he spent meeting with artists. After 3 years of exploring numerous opportunities, including one of Romano’s properties in the east end, Liss called Alfredo back asking about Sterling Road, and the idea of a partnership was hatched. “I was salivating at the prospect,” says Romano.
For a real estate developer, working with MOCA was attractive: “Philosophically, when you think of what developers do, it is a city-building exercise,” says Romano. “We look at it large scale; we look at projects that are going to make a contribution to a corner, to a neighbourhood, to a city. Every institution becomes a focal point for a city, whether good, bad, or indifferent. It becomes a portal into a city’s soul. MOCA not only falls into the category of very good, but it is also a way for the city to understand itself. It is a way for our burgeoning population in Toronto to have a vehicle and voice for self-understanding. A lot of museums don’t do that; they’re great repositories of history, they’re fantastic custodians of our heritage, but what form of art truly speaks to the current circumstance is contemporary art. It was natural that a real estate developer would want [MOCA] as a significant partner. The new build will have far-reaching implications.”
Beyond affecting change, shifting perspective, and filling space with thought-provoking beauty and intrigue, the business of art is growing. “Contemporary art has become a multibillion-dollar global industry over the past ten years,” says Romano. “I think that the Toronto art world still flies under the radar in terms of the scale and excitement of it and the quality of everything we have going on in this city. I hope we can make contributions to increasing that profile within Toronto, within the region, across the country, and globally. I think there is a lot more to be done.”
Standing on top of the sales gallery, facing south, there’s a lot to look at and a lot to imagine. With the doors to the new MOCA opening next spring, their vision is soon to be realized. I ask Liss and Romano what excites them the most. “The building,” Romano says, looking at the historic Tower Automotive Building. “It has an iconic structure. It’s not just the four walls; when you get inside the space, it’s almost temple-like. It has these massive columns, and if you know anything about architecture, you realize that it’s basically structured like a Greek temple.”
Liss is equally electrified by the rebirth. “There are exciting ways that we can activate this building that we were only able to hint at, mess around with, or aspire to when we lived on Queen Street,” he says, alluding to exhibitions that will engage citizens in a large-scale participatory way.
A site that formerly manufactured kitchen utensils and car parts, the Tower Automotive Building has a unique history. “This has always been a creative place in its own right,” Romano says. Historically, it has also been a mixed-use space, welcoming both manufacturers and dwellers. Gesturing in the direction of the residential homes on Sterling and Perth, he explains that the housing was built to enable the workers to walk to work. “And it’s not a new idea,” he says. “People want to live and work and play in the same neighbourhood.” And that is what will continue; alongside artfully designed residential condominiums and townhouses, several high-profile tech and media companies will share the space with MOCA.
While Romano is busy keeping his team on track with the build, MOCA’s programming team is focusing on lining up exhibits. Waiting for the space to be completed has been a delicate exercise of patience, but once they move in, MOCA will settle into a forty-year lease. “What we did by doing that is restructure the way museums are built, so that [MOCA] doesn’t have this huge burden of capital cost, but they have long-term security and tenure. They can focus their energy on raising capital for programming, which is where it needs to go,” says Romano. While Castlepoint Numa and Greybrook’s support is integral to MOCA’s future, it also comes with benefits: “We’re getting a lot back. It’s not tangible, and you can’t put it on a spreadsheet, but it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”
As we get closer to the museum opening, the buzz continues to grow; in early 2017, CNN listed MOCA as one of the most anticipated upcoming museum openings, citing it in the same list as behemoths like the Louvre Abu Dhabi (which boasts a $2.4 billion build) and the new Exhibition Road addition to London’s Victoria and Albert. For a museum that first launched in 1993, being compared to a century-old, world-class institution and a billion-dollar project is a noteworthy accomplishment.
Much has changed already, and much more change is on the horizon. “I’m unreasonably stoked about the whole situation,” Liss says. It’s a sentiment that most of Toronto would agree with.
HISTORY OF THE TOWER AUTOMOTIVE BUILDING
THE JUNCTION’S CREATIVE COUPLE
MJÖLK’S JOHN BAKER & JULI DAOUST
STORY BY JEN MCNEELY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TITUS CHAN
When John Baker and Juli Daoust planted their roots in The Junction neighbourhood back in 2009, they went in deep, purchasing a three-storey 19th-century building on Dundas Street West, just west of Keele Street. The 3,000 square foot street-level storefront became the birthplace for their interior design boutique, Mjölk (‘Milk’ in Swedish), and the couple took over the top two floors for their private residence. It was a bold move that served them well.
Since the doors first opened, Mjölk instantly became one of the city’s top destinations for home decor, receiving regular ink in Toronto Life. While their stocklist has changed over the years, their design philosophy—that beauty and craftsmanship should be found in everyday objects and tools—has not wavered.
I caught up with the creative husband and wife to find out what first lured them to the neighbourhood and what makes it home.
In 2009, The Junction had a very different feel. What was it that hooked you?
John: The building; it was so special. And there were a few things happening here: The Sweet Potato, The Beet, and SMASH. The neighbourhood had everything we needed, and there was nothing else available in the city. Even Queen Street had lost its lustre. The building got our attention, and the neighbourhood won us over.
What are the biggest changes you've noticed since you first moved into the neighbourhood eight years ago?
Juli: The foot traffic! It was so quiet.
John: Like tumbleweeds.
Juli: We had traffic because we were a destination store, but if you looked outside, there was no one there. Now you run into people all the time.
John: The stock of the buildings were the same–beautiful, big, old storefronts–but they were boarded up. Now there are more stores, more restaurants...it has a Sesame Street vibe.
Where was your passion for design born?
Juli: When you're a creative person, but you're not specifically creative, you dabble all over the place. I was interested in book design, graphic design, and photography.
John: I was more hummed into design, but I wanted to be a musician. That's what I thought I was going to do, and I still do that, but anyone who wants to be interested in [design] can do it. It's a democratic thing. I think people enjoy making a home, and we just explored that further than most people are able to do. We've been doing the store for eight years, but it's been longer than that since we've been working in that world. Ever since we first opened, we've been slowly refining our offerings.
What's your current philosophy when it comes to building a home?
Juli: Natural materials win! And throw out the idea of what you think you need in a house versus what you actually need and love.
John: People want things immediately. They want a home to look like a magazine home. [They] want to look like they're well travelled, but overnight. I don't know what the rush is. That comes with a lifetime of experience. You don't want to fill your shelves today, because there are other memories down the road.
Most of your collection is Scandinavian or Japanese and has a minimalist feel. Do you think a home is more zen when there is less in it?
John: People think there is a right way, and I think that's funny. We're all very different. To think there's only one way is a funny idea.
Juli: Yeah, you think there is this one way to live and you try to replicate it, only to discover that it’s not your way.
What does home mean to you?
John: In its most ideal, it should be a place where you can be yourself. That's the critical thing.
Juli: We shop within our neighbourhood. I'm really spoiled for everything that I want and need here—that's how a neighbourhood should be.
Do you have some favourite spots?
John: Latre (2988 Dundas St. West). Owner Brian Vu has his Indigo fashion label, but he also has a collection of french linen that he makes tailored jackets and trousers out of. There's also African art and First Nations art–it's awesome, he's killing it! I also love Pandemonium (2920 Dundas St. West); all the music we play here is from records I buy there.
Juli: Opticianado (2919 Dundas St. West) has great eye glasses, ARTiculations (2928 Dundas St. West) has great art supplies, and Dirty Food (3070 Dundas St. West) has great brunch; we're very spoiled! Everything that we need is right here.
HOW PROPERTY MARKETS GROUP IS MAKING ITS MARK ON SOUTH FLORIDA
STORY BY JAMIE DRUMMOND“Live Different.” Much more than just a clever catchphrase, it is also the impetus behind New York-based developer Property Markets Group’s (PMG) approach to real estate. Founded in 1991 by Kevin Maloney, PMG has offices in Chicago and Miami in addition to its New York City headquarters, with 85 residential buildings completed in those geographic markets and more than 150 real estate projects throughout the United States.
Innovation is in their DNA; PMG designs buildings with an intense focus on how each resident will use and interact with their space. That means incorporating cutting-edge technologies and amenities that are specifically designed to make their residents’ everyday activities more enjoyable, efficient, and impactful. The developer specializes in ultra-high-end luxury condos and multi-family dwellings (primarily located in New York and South Florida), revitalized apartment assets, and rental units geared to an affluent and mobile global consumer under the “PMGx” brand. Providing residences for a very precise audience that are built to suit the specific locations they are developed in, PMG is undertaking some of their most innovative work in South Florida at RIVERx and 300 Biscayne.
Leading the firm’s southeast portfolio from the Miami office is PMG principal, Ryan Shear. Growing up in the Miami neighbourhood of Coconut Grove, Shear knows the city intimately and has personally observed the positive changes and growth happening recently. “When I grew up, Miami was drastically different,” Shear confides. “Neighbourhoods like Brickell didn’t exist. Sunny Isles didn’t exist. Midtown and Wynwood did not exist.” Referring to some of Miami’s most iconic neighbourhoods today, Shear describes how these areas have been brought to life over the past decade through new infrastructure investment and real estate development.
“WHEN I GREW UP, MIAMI WAS DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT.”
“Being from Coconut Grove, ten years ago we’d maybe go to South Beach if we wanted to get crazy, but that was the extent of it. Now there’s so much happening creating depth, diversity, and growth that makes Miami feel like a real city.” People want to live in Miami and they are coming from all over the globe, driving demand for housing that combines contemporary luxury amenities with a new style of artful living.
Responsible for some of the most forward-thinking developments in South Florida, PMG is bringing enhanced lifestyle amenities and smart-building technology to all its new builds. “I think we’re creating the most technologically advanced buildings on the market in South Florida. All our buildings are run like hotels. It’s a fully automated lifestyle. It’s seamless,” says Shear. From a mobile app that helps residents manage keyless entry, guest lists, and thermostats, to lockers that notify you of deliveries, and a mini market, coffee, and cocktail bar on-site for all your last-minute needs, these are just a few of the impressive amenities PMG’s Vice development—a 32-storey rental building in Downtown Miami—will offer its future residents.
Shear is quick to point out that PMG doesn’t just build apartments. They build social living communities for awesome people to thrive together, with amenities, common areas, and events that bring swagger, culture, and fun to residents’ lives. Every design and technology decision is made with future residents’ lifestyle and convenience in mind. Like the city around it, each of their buildings shifts in countless ways as a reflection of its inhabitants, part of an exciting cultural tapestry that’s comfortable and challenging, relaxed and engaging, free and welcoming. PMG offers residents a home not as a space, but as an experience—a truly modern reimagining of what housing can be.
Another example of PMG’s “Live Different” approach is RIVERx, a two-tower, 1,200-unit luxury apartment community in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale, being jointly developed with Greybrook Realty Partners. Located on the Las Olas riverfront, RIVERx is tailored to the young, modern professional who prioritizes amenities and convenience over home ownership, recognizing the freedom and flexibility that innovative and intelligently designed rental communities can offer. Amenities will include first-class food and beverage on an expansive pool deck with a signature lazy river, modern fitness facilities, a jam room, performance space, and abundant co-working space. Phase One of RIVERx will bring 650 rental units in a 41-storey tower to market by 2020.
Beyond amenities, RIVERx will embody Fort Lauderdale’s cool cultural emergence, where sunny leisure meets metropolitan culture. As the geographic epicentre of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area, Fort Lauderdale is now at the heart of a robust, high-growth region and is quickly becoming a residential hotspot. Infrastructure enhancements like the addition of international flights to Fort Lauderdale International Airport and All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach will continue to attract new residents and visitors as the city grows and flourishes.
Downtown Miami is undergoing a similar transition, but on a larger scale. “It is going to be the hottest spot in Miami in the next few years,” says Shear. A neighbourhood that 20 years ago was thought of as unsafe is now home to an array of ultra-luxury development, mixed-use properties, and urban renewal projects. “There is a lot of development and city work going on. It’s similar to the way other American cities have revitalized by gentrifying downtown. Miami is going through that right now.”
Miami’s biggest—or more accurately, tallest—move is yet to come. Greybrook and PMG have partnered on a striking ultra-luxury residential tower the likes of which Miami has never seen before. Designed by well-respected luxury design and development firm Sieger Suarez Architects and “starchitect” Carlos Ott, it is literally momentous: a 90-storey skyscraper of epic proportions, and even more importantly, epic capabilities that will create a bold new statement in the core of Downtown Miami.
“It will be an iconic building,” said Shear. “The architecture is stunning. And it’s a beautiful piece of real estate. We are very excited about it.”
For the Miami native, who has seen his city evolve and grow in so many positive ways, the pride is apparent. “The Miami skyline is defined by that strip,” Shear states, palpably excited by his new tower. “You’re going to see this tower dominate the strip—in a great way. It’s going to change the dynamic of the Miami skyline. It will be the building in Miami, a landmark that will redefine the skyline just as the CN Tower did for Toronto. People will be drawn to it. It will change the area forever.”
In addition to being an eye-catching work of art, the ultra-luxury tower will stand just four blocks from the new state-of-the-art MiamiCentral train station embedded in the future Miami Worldcenter, a 30-acre mixed-use development that blends retail, hospitality, transit, cultural institutions and entertainment venues. Currently under construction, MiamiCentral will connect current rail service with Tri-Rail and the All Aboard Florida high-speed train, providing residents with seamless transit from Miami to Orlando. The tower will occupy the space across from Bayfront Park, offering unobstructed views of Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach, South Beach, and the Atlantic Ocean.
300 Biscayne aptly encapsulates the PMG ethos and demonstrates how the firm constantly challenges itself to be on the cutting edge. The development team has partnered with Delos Living and the International WELL Building Institute (helmed by Paul Scialla—see article below) to incorporate the tenets of the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™) in the construction and design of the building. Just as LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—defined leadership in the environmental impacts of buildings, Delos and the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI™) are pioneering a fresh approach to building design with biological/human sustainability as the prime criteria through WELL™.
Suites at 300 Biscayne have been specifically designed with the health and wellness of future residents in mind, tailored to enhance the individual’s physical and emotional states. This new level of personal customization will include lighting that conforms to circadian rhythms and state-of-the-art systems that continually monitor and adjust water and air quality as required to support an optimal environment for the building’s inhabitants.
This is revolutionary thinking and it’s right on the cutting edge of the current zeitgeist for lifestyle options that maximize our holistic well-being. 300 Biscayne is genuinely a condo project on the leading edge—and it’s the future of living, as far as PMG is concerned.
Thoughtfully designed inside and out, the architecturally stunning and unparalleled amenities offered at 300 Biscayne will exceed the expectations of the most discerning and globally sophisticated clientele. Miami has long attracted ultra-high-net-worth individuals and Shear expects residents from across the globe will be vying for a chance to call 300 Biscayne home. “When launched, the development and the lifestyle it will offer will have worldwide appeal, and I think the building will sell itself. It’s a global marketing effort, which is a lot of heavy lifting, but I think you’ll see buyers from the four corners of the earth in this building.”
PMG is leading a real-estate evolution in South Florida through a collection of innovative developments that would be radical for any city, and Shear feels they will put Miami near the top of any list of future-thinking, vibrant, and vital cities in the world. “Money is pouring in—in a good way—and helping to drive the revitalization of Miami.” Shear is confident that Miami is ready for its moment—a natural evolution in a city poised for even more greatness.
PASSIVE HEALTHCARE iNTERVENTION THROUGH SMART BUILDING DESIGN
THE INTERNATIONAL WELL BUILDING INSTITUTE AND THE WELL BUILDING STANDARD
STORY BY JAMIE DRUMMOND
Any room that you are sitting in at this moment may have a direct and immediate impact on your cardiovascular health, your respiratory health, your immune health, your cognitive health, and your sleep health. The type of lighting that you are taking in through your circadian optic nerve and the ambient background noise could determine the elevation of your mental acuity and productivity hormones. It can also determine how deeply and restoratively you will sleep this evening.
After spending almost eighteen years on Wall Street, Paul Scialla, Founder of the International WELL Building Institute and Delos, had an epiphany. In 2006 he took note of the ongoing sustainability dialogue and its relation to the green building narrative. “I thought, ‘That makes sense, but what about the people inside of these buildings, their offices, their homes, their schools?’” He wondered if there was a gap in the sustainability conversation. “WELL building and green building go hand in hand. We felt that the green building dialogue was only part of the story, and that we also needed to consider the people inside of these buildings.”
With this in mind, Scialla began bringing doctors and architects together to discuss what could be done to design, build, and operate buildings that took into account the impact of buildings on those who live and work within them, addressing human health in a passive manner.
“We’ve spent 160,000 years of our biological evolution outside. It’s only recently that we’ve started building these boxes around ourselves where we spend 90% of our time, and the effects of those spaces need to be considered.”
Recognizing that the real estate and medical worlds had never converged, Scialla embarked upon a seven-year effort of rigorous research in collaboration with leading physicians, scientists, and industry professionals with an aim to provide a framework for how to incorporate a variety of health and wellness strategies into the heart of building design. Through this research the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™) was born, which today is administered by the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI™).
Scialla has demonstrated just how important the four walls and roof around us really are, and his organization’s research has helped developers understand how to incorporate medical knowledge about the betterment of human physiology and psychology into both new and existing buildings. Through the implementation of particular design, building, and operating practices, the WELL Building Standard looks to enhance the overall health and well-being of the people within buildings.
IWBI’s parent company, Delos, was originally established as a think tank to research, develop, quantify, and put forth a commercial perspective on the link between the built environment and human health and wellness. Looking at factors such as air quality, water quality, appropriate lighting, thermal comfort, and acoustic comfort, Delos discovered that there are profound connections between the built environment, where we spend most of our lives, and the health and wellness of the people inside of these buildings, both near and long term. Leading luminary in preventative lifestyle techniques, Deepak Chopra has been working closely with Delos from early on in the development of the WELL Standard. Chopra works with Delos in both an advisory and ambassadorial role, having served on their board for several years.
“We’ve spent 160,000 years of our biological evolution outside,” says Scialla. “It’s only recently that we’ve started building these boxes around ourselves where we spend 90% of our time, and the effects of those spaces need to be considered.”
Delos has established the WELL Living Lab working collaboratively with the Mayo Clinic, which is adjacent to the campus at Rochester, Minnesota. The first of its kind in the world, it allows researchers to simulate various environments (e.g., a bedroom, office, commercial kitchen, school) and, through a sensor-rich technology platform, conduct complex human-centric studies. Test subjects occupy these spaces as scientists and researchers dial up or down various elements of the indoor environment (e.g., temperature, humidity, lighting, acoustics) while gathering real-time data in the process.
Tens of millions of dollars of this intensive research then finds its application in the design and build of such properties as Miami’s 300 Biscayne. Utilizing best-in-class water filtration, air purification systems, and circadian lighting control, 300 Biscayne is Greybrook Realty Partners first development and developer partner Property Markets Group’s second development that will incorporate this revolutionary wellness standard. Scialla speaks of the property as a truly world-class development in a peerless location, with a demographic that understands the importance of an enhanced wellness IQ.
When Scialla looked at this groundbreaking research through his Wall Street lens, he became fascinated with the potential opportunity of taking the world’s largest asset class, real estate (sitting at $180 trillion), and merging that with the world’s fastest growing industry, health and wellness (a $4 trillion annual spend and growing). He saw that infusing these two sectors represented a profound economic opportunity, coupled with the potential for tremendous societal impact. By introducing prevention into our daily lives, the IWBI™ is looking to utilize real estate as a preventative healthcare tool, and he sees this as particularly exciting.
Scialla is careful to point out that the incremental cost to achieve WELL Certification is not as high as people may think. “Some [developers] may think, ‘Well, that’s all wonderful, but it must cost a fortune,’ but it’s really about more informed and intelligent building practices, not more expensive [ones]. In fact, the first company to achieve WELL Certification in New York City was able to achieve it for an incremental construction cost of less than one dollar per square foot.”
On the flip side of that, we are already seeing premiums upwards of 8% to 25% being paid for any wellness-infused real estate, be it apartment rentals, condo sales, hotel room rates, or commercial leasing rates. This demonstrates significant arbitrage in terms of building according to the principles of the WELL Building Standard, and that arbitrage, for a developer, is something that is extremely attractive.
The IWBI™ currently has over 525 large-scale projects encompassing over 100 million square feet of real estate in thirty-one countries that have been either registered or certified under the WELL Building Standard. WELL v1 is currently optimized for commercial and institutional office buildings and has seen particularly wide adoption in commercial real estate projects (i.e., corporate offices, large core and shell buildings, corporate tenant build-outs, and multi-family residential). This adoption curve is particularly impressive when one considers that the WELL Building Standard was launched into the market a mere three years ago. At this point, there are over 100 million square feet in the registered and certified pipeline for the WELL Building Standard around the world. That’s a lot of people who have the potential to be positively impacted by their buildings.
As the standard has broader implications for the world outside of commercial real estate, we shall witness the first handful of WELL Certified schools, restaurants, and community projects in the near future. IWBI has developed six pilot versions of the standard to test and refine how WELL can be applied to other building sectors. The pilot programs allow IWBI to solicit feedback from participants so that the company can expand the markets that WELL can reach. There are now WELL pilot programs for retail, multi-family residential, education, restaurant, commercial kitchen, and community projects. Scialla is as enthusiastic about developments in affordable housing and schools as he is about those in high-end luxury multi-family residences. “We are looking to put forth this intention to as many people as possible because it’s achievable, and that’s exciting.”
With the 525 developments spread across the globe in China, Europe, Australia, and the US, Scialla is finding that health and wellness is a dialogue everyone cares about. Whether it’s subconsciously or culpably, everyone wants to sleep better, feel more energized, be more mentally attuned, and live longer. That desire is universal. As Scialla states, “There’s no NO here. If I told you that there are two apartment buildings, identical in design with the same street address, but the building on the right has wellness elements built into it that can constantly and passively work to potentially improve your health and well-being, while the building on the left does not, you would intuitively choose the healthy building.”
Delos is also currently in the process of building a WELL Living Lab in Beijing, China. With more real estate being built in China in the next twenty-five years than all the real estate that has been built in the history of the United States, Scialla sees great potential for the WELL Building Standard in this market, making mention of the air pollution issues and other environmental considerations that are becoming increasingly challenging for the country. He feels that branching out to China with the WELL Living Lab will be extremely beneficial for everyone.
With an eye to the future and the evolution and growth of the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard, Scialla is cautiously optimistic: “Much like the green building movement, I hope that in a decade people are saying, ‘Remember when we didn’t consider the human condition?’ Hopefully this [wellness-centered standard and thought process] becomes a normal building practice.”
OUR BEST SELF
KEN TANENBAUM ON HOW TORONTO THE GOOD CAN BECOME TORONTO THE GREAT
STORY BY COURTNEY SHEA
In conversations about Toronto’s bright future, the tendency to compare ourselves can be strong. Our vertical development boom makes us the “next New York,” our thriving culture scene makes us the “next Paris,” our diversity draws comparisons to both London and Hong Kong. Part of this need to measure up may come down to a classic Canadian sense of modesty, and the rest to our relative youth.
Still, Ken Tanenbaum, Vice Chairman of Kilmer Group, says it’s time to put down the proverbial yardstick and stop looking outward for validation. “Global city? I don’t even know what that term means,” he says, from Kilmer’s headquarters in Scotia Plaza in Toronto’s financial district. And don’t even get him started on the “world class” designation, a buzz term that has preoccupied many a misguided city booster over the last few decades, but one that makes Tanenbaum “shudder” when he hears it. He’s all for celebrating Toronto’s strengths. It’s just that dwelling on these markers, he feels, is symptomatic of the comparative, “are we there yet?” thinking that can limit our aspirations.
“It’s like if people say I look a lot like Rob Lowe—I don’t want to have to compare myself or hold myself to that standard,” he says, before quickly qualifying that nobody has ever compared him to the 1980s Brat Pack member and movie star. “My point is that we really need to aspire to be our very best self. Toronto can never be New York or London or Hong Kong. We need to be thinking about our potential. What should we be celebrating that is about us?”
That’s not a hard question to answer these days as Canada’s economic and cultural centre enjoys a period of unprecedented excellence. Our tech and health sectors are thriving, our banks are stable, our Prime Minister is an international rock star, and our reputation as a beacon of tolerance and security stands in stark (and soothing) contrast to what’s going on elsewhere. “I say this to my children all the time,” Tanenbaum says. “You live in a country that is renowned for multiculturalism and pluralism. Peace, order and good governance is everything you’d want it to be, and then you live in Ontario which is the hub of opportunity in the country and then you live in Toronto, which is the engine of Ontario. It’s the hat trick.”
The sports lingo is fitting as Tanenbaum is the eldest son of Lawrence “Larry” Tanenbaum, one of the country’s most respected business leaders and philanthropists and the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (“MLSE”). The Tanenbaum family has been instrumental in Toronto’s development over the last hundred years, starting with Ken’s great-grandfather Abraham who sailed here from Poland in 1911 and launched what would be the family construction empire by collecting scrap metal and continuing through the city’s last major era of civil construction in the 1970s. More recently, Kilmer Group spearheaded several major development ventures: twenty three ONroute “travel plazas” at highway centres across the province (with partners HMS Host and Canadian Tire), and the CIBC Athletes’ Village built for the 2015 Pan Am Games which is now a vibrant mixed-use urban community called The Canary District (with Dream as partner).
Earlier in 2017, Tanenbaum, and his partners (Dream Unlimited, Diamond Corp and Fram + Slokker) announced similar plans for a new neighbourhood waterfront development in Port Credit—one that will include high-rise and townhouse developments for over 5,000 residents and 200,000 square feet of office and retail space. It’s a two billion dollar investment located on a brownfield site that sat idle for twenty-five years, and exactly the sort of public/private project that Tanenbaum hopes to see more of, as Toronto begins to fulfill it’s great and largely untapped potential.
“Toronto is evolving and emerging as its best self and we shouldn’t be shy about telling our story,” says Tanenbaum. “Our headline isn’t ‘Toronto: world class city.’ It’s: ‘Toronto is awesome and here’s why: We’re one of the best places to live and raise a family on the planet. This is a city region with incredible untapped potential and I will be an investor here for the rest of my life. The quality of life is superb, the social fabric is strong. There is an abundance of opportunity here. I’m going long on Toronto.”
“TORONTO IS EVOLVING AND EMERGING AS ITS BEST SELF AND WE SHOULDN’T BE SHY ABOUT TELLING OUR STORY.”
It’s an unequivocal endorsement from one of the city’s most dedicated champions—a sign that Toronto is ready to take off the training wheels and take our place on the world stage. But what do we need to get right to ensure a future worth betting on?
We spoke with Ken Tanenbaum to get his take on Toronto’s defining moment: how we got here, what we need to do to seize it and why our greatest resource can be found by looking in the mirror.
Building neighbourhoods, the rise of midrise, and shaking the shackles of urban sprawl
Like many twentieth century cities, Toronto responded to a post-war population boom by expanding outward. The decentralizing development frenzy went unchecked until the early nineties when planners and politicians began to see the folly of urban sprawl. The method for mitigating three decades of spreading outwards was to look up, hence Toronto’s more recent reputation as the city of “cranes in the sky,” a nod to our aggressive upward trajectory. By 2014, we had 147 high-rise buildings under construction, while NYC came in second with 90. The move towards vertical density, says Tanenbaum, is the right one, though it’s possible in our zeal to reach upwards, we may have initially overshot. “Not everybody wants to live in a high-rise, just like not everybody wants to live in a detached house in the suburbs. The pendulum simply swung too far from one extreme to the other.”
Tanenbaum echoes urban experts, including Toronto’s erstwhile chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, in his assertion that the future of development in Toronto lies, quite literally, in the middle ground—midrise buildings (11 storeys or less) in walkable neighbourhoods with existing transit. Valuing this type of gentle, people-friendly intensification reflects a relatively new mindset wherein the majority of citizens want to live and work in the same environments—a far cry from the pervading attitudes of previous eras when the ideal was to keep commercial and residential separate (and drive back and forth between the two).
“When you are growing outwards, your public realm is a different conversation—you’re in a car based society and you’re driving from subdivision to the local Walmart,” Tanenbaum says. “In a dense, urban environment, the public realm becomes a very important place to live, work, play. You walk to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Where are your jobs? Where is your medical care? Where is your education?”
He points to the potential for meaningful mid-rise based community development along many of the city’s most significant arterial corridors like Bloor Street, College Street, Avenue Road, Lawrence Avenue, Bathurst Street—streets that are presently lined with antiquated two-story retail/residential structures that you’d be hard pressed to find in other modern cities.
Tanenbaum says recent revisions to Ontario’s building code permitting six-storey, wood frame construction, are a step in the right direction. Next, he would like to see the city adopt an “as of right” policy, meaning proposed buildings that comply with existing zoning regulations wouldn’t need to seek additional approval. “If you were to enable any of those transit corridors, all of that should be six storeys as of right,” he says. “If you meet the requirements of building codes and conform to the city’s midrise guidelines—knock yourself out.”
This style of development could go a long way in solving Toronto’s issues with housing scarcity from the supply side. Just as importantly, mid-rise development is good for our social fabric, since it encourages diverse communities and thriving public spaces. “In a midrise building, you have a connection to your neighbourhood that you just don’t get from the 42nd floor of a giant condo tower,” says Tanenbaum, invoking Jane Jacobs’ famous “eyes on the street” philosophy, where the celebrated urban theorist championed a visual connection to a vibrant street life as a key to preventing crime and promoting community living.
Promoting our public spaces, singing our own praises
Jacobs’ sentiments are more relevant today than ever before as public spaces become an essential ingredient in Toronto’s bright future. “We may sleep in our homes, but we don’t live there, we live everywhere,” says Tanenbaum. His sentiment is a long way from the white picket fence mentality, and one that hinges on a commitment to enhancing our shared spaces.
One shining current example is The Bentway—1.75 kilometers of previously derelict land under the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto’s west end, that is currently being transformed into not just a park, but an open-air theatre, a public art facility, a walking trail and a skating rink. Driven by a $25 million dollar private donation from local philanthropists Judy and Wilmot Matthews, and located within a ten minute walk of 70,000 people, the public/private initiative will be a place for Torontonians and visitors to enjoy the city. The venture will likely be a huge draw for tourism dollars, as has certainly been the case with the High Line project in NYC, a public/private initiative that has become one of the Big Apple’s most important attractions. The Bentway will provide a public access point to Greybrook Realty Partners’ Garrison Point development, in addition to the waterfront, where recent success stories like the revitalization of Ontario Place and future plans for the Port Lands only hint at the area’s potential. And, of course, the Port Credit development is another exciting waterfront initiative, one that Tanenbaum says, “will integrate all that is vital in place making for south Mississauga: parks and trails, a YMCA, a mix of housing types and price levels and a dynamic retail environment.”
But while flashy new initiatives are worthy of attention, another important aspect of the public spaces conversation is recognizing our existing assets. Tanenbaum—a major cycling enthusiast—says Toronto’s forty-four thousand acres of parks and ravines are a remarkable and marketable untapped treasure that barely anyone talks about. “We should be shouting this from the rooftops,” he says, expressing his desire to see these signature green spaces land in the top three of a Toronto tourist’s to-do list: “If you’re visiting Toronto, after you go to the CN Tower and the ROM, the next thing should be to get on a bike, visit Michael Van Valkenburgh’s 18-acre masterpiece of a park at Corktown Common and ride the Don River Trail System, and the Martin Goodman trail along Lake Ontario’s edge. It’s magnificent. We’re connecting the inspiring work of Evergreen at the Brickworks and Waterfront Toronto’s master planning genius of the West Don Lands, through a trail activation strategy known as “The Ribbon.” It is one of many steps being taken to celebrate our natural environment, through the visionary leadership of Geoff Cape at Evergreen.”
Moreover he wants Toronto residents to realize this incredible resource connects distant neighbourhoods and disparate populations. “Most people who live in this city don’t even realize you can hop on your bike and ride the trails from Rosedale to Scarborough,” he says, hinting at one of the critical and valuable aspects of an improved public realm, which is a more democratic city—one where citizens of all stripes can engage in what Tanenbaum calls valuable social friction. “Evidence of our success is going to be measured by the social components. To me the question is always how do you treat your most vulnerable?”
Diversity, human capital and attracting the best talent
Toronto is currently the most diverse city in the world, with 230 nationalities speaking 180 languages and a population that is fifty-one percent foreign born. These statistics speak volumes about the city as a welcoming land of opportunity. Moreover, they express what Tanenbaum says is our greatest strength: ourselves. “I think about Toronto’s diversity as an enormous competitive advantage, where you have all of these languages spoken and all of these sinews or strands that connect us to the rest of the world for trade,” he says calling human capital “our principal natural resource” and an advantage that could really differentiate Toronto over the next hundred years.
Thomson Reuters chose Toronto as its global centre of excellence in technology exactly for this reason. “The firm is the global ‘answer company’,” says Tanenbaum, “and to develop, test and implement platforms for providing answers to the world, Toronto was a natural choice given our diversity of talent.”
More than ever, Canada’s economic nucleus is emerging as the Promised Land, both in terms of individual talent and corporations seeking the mix of stability and growth potential that Toronto is eager and able to provide. In June 2017, the federal government introduced a new Global Skills Strategy that will give Canadian employers a faster and less precarious process for attracting top talent in key growth industries including tech and bio-medical. This year has also seen a joint $19.5 million dollar investment between the Toronto region, the province, and the federal government for a new agency—Toronto Global—that will focus on bringing new business and money into Toronto, more accurately the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). “When we look at our growth potential, we need to consider the broader GTA region which is bordered by the Niagara Escarpment to the west, the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine to the north and east and Lake Ontario to the south.” That expansive view, he explains, is certainly how an employer will see Toronto when considering our talent pool, energy and land costs, taxes and other economic factors.
To this end, recent upgrades to GO Transit’s regional express rail service are part of an enormous transformation—from twice-daily trips in the mornings and evenings into all-day, every day, every 15-minutes service on many of its routes. Tanenbaum calls this a complete game changer. “A person living and working in Port Credit will be able to come into a meeting at 10 o’clock downtown and be back home by lunch.” Plans to expand service along the Toronto/Waterloo tech corridor in a similar fashion will be even more revolutionary. “Think about what that means between educational institutions, like University of Waterloo, for people who are recruiting out there,” Tanenbaum says.
“I THINK ABOUT TORONTO’S DIVERSITY AS AN ENORMOUS COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE.”
Leadership and looking forward
What can those of us who don’t work in politics or urban development do to help our city seize its moment? For starters, we can vote for leaders who are embracing the big picture, both in terms of geography and timeline. “We need to look at where we are in twenty years? What investments are we making? What’s been missing for a long time is an extended horizon of vision.” That and systems thinking are the two “magic ingredients” Tanenbaum wants to see more of from elected officials, who tend to operate both within silos and with a mind for four-year election cycles.
Instead, Tanenbaum hopes to see leaders proposing even bolder initiatives. One way to do that successfully, he says is by seeking out defining moments and aligning stakeholders behind them, as was the case with the Canary District, or in finding ways to offer unique propositions. Tanenbaum would like to see the city consider a large-scale convention centre. “Imagine if we build a million square feet [convention facility] and start competing with Las Vegas and New York,” says Tanenbaum. Not that he’s advocating for comparison. Instead, he looks forward to watching Toronto realize its own inherent and learned greatness. To become a city, not so much world class, but in a class of its own.
FOOD WRITER JAMES CHATTO LOOKS BACK AT TORONTO’S CULINARY EVOLUTION
STORY BY JAMIE DRUMMOND
Regarded by many as Canada’s quintessential food writer, James Chatto has been entertaining readers with his personal brand of eloquent erudition since the late 1980s.
With the 2017 relaunch of James’ book The Man Who Ate Toronto (2012 Edition), we thought that there was no better time to catch up with him to hear his take upon the culinary history of our city.
You authored the most informative and amusing The Man Who Ate Toronto way back in 1998, with a reprint in 2012. If you were to do a rewrite to cover the intervening years since the reprint, can you list for me the topics that would perhaps make for additional chapters?
Certainly the rise of butchery and charcuterie in restaurants, which would give me a chance to write about Rob Gentile and Grant van Gameren and what they have achieved; the return of a cocktail culture; the interesting idea of high-end fast food, such as really good pizza, haute burgers, and tacos; and the genuine camaraderie of the current generation of young chefs and the way they are prepared to work together for good causes—so many of them share the same philosophy about food.
I would also want to write about Michael Caballo at Edulis and Patrick Kriss at Alo, and the way they are bringing back the notion of the chef’s tasting menu, missing in action for most of this century.
You first came to Toronto as a budding actor back in 1976. What struck you about the city upon your first visit?
I was here for a month (June) and the sun shone perpetually. It was my first time in North America and I thought Toronto was brilliant. So clean and safe. People were charmingly polite. I spent my days sunbathing on Ward’s Island, my evenings in the theatre. It was odd that the city went to bed so early.
There were only a couple of places to go after the show—both of them were steakhouses. The food scene seemed stuck in meat and potatoes or dreadful fast food, and there was very little wine culture. Ed Mirvish, who had brought our production over from England, gave the entire company dinner at his steakhouse. Steak, peas, and potatoes: That was my introduction to Toronto cuisine.
Why did you fall in love with the city?
I met this gorgeous young woman and somehow found the courage to ask her out. Forty-one years later, she and I are still together. We went for lunch in Hazelton Lanes, which was quite new and glamorous, and she showed me the café culture of Yorkville. Toronto—at its most relaxed and creative in those days—was no longer the hippie haven of a few years earlier.
You returned to Toronto again in the 1980s. How had things changed?
Toronto had taken great leaps forward in culinary terms. Scaramouche had opened, with Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtländer bringing their version of nouvelle cuisine to the city. Fenton’s was very suave and European. There was a marvellous flowering of ethnic restaurants, many of which were moving away from a Canadianized version of their cuisines towards something more authentic. At Pronto and Centro, Franco Prevedello was showing the city what modern Italian could be like with a Californian and New York gloss. The whole scene was much more exciting. People were beginning to dine out for fun rather than for birthdays, and there was a fabulous energy and curiosity among the customer base.
How did you come to find yourself writing about food?
I had intended to be a novelist, but publishers kept turning my manuscripts down. Then one of them suggested I write a cookbook (she had been to dinner in my flat). [The book] achieved certain notoriety.
After my wife and I moved to Greece, I wrote a more serious book about the ways people in our village cooked. Those books were my credentials when we moved to Toronto and I went looking for work. I became Toronto Life’s restaurant columnist. My godfather, the actor Robert Morley, was also the restaurant critic for Punch and Playboy and he gave some pointers.
Many people speak of the 1980s as being halcyon times for the Toronto restaurant industry. Why do you feel they see it in this light?
Because it was all so new—restaurants as pleasure palaces, chefs as stars, dynamic owners instead of disapproving maître d's, and the food was amazingly diverse, interesting, and creative. Having such an energized clientele, who had plenty of cash in the 1980s, allowed chefs to be as imaginative as they wished. Eating out became a favourite pastime and new places were opening all the time, which kept the restaurant critics busy and relevant.
What styles of cooking were predominant in the 1980s?
People were in love with high-end Italian food (though the idea of regional Italian hadn’t really occurred yet). That was the dominant style. Then there was the exoticism of Asian-influenced food through chefs like Susur Lee at Lotus and Greg Couillard at Stelle. Jamie [Kennedy] and Michael [Stadtländer] were still doing their own thing, quietly introducing the idea of local-seasonal food that would catch fire years later [with the farm-to-table movement.]
French cuisine was not doing well. And with only one or two exceptions, people no longer dined in hotels.
This was a decade known for its extravagance and excess; how did this manifest itself in the dining experience in Toronto?
Certainly there was a lot of money flowing through restaurants. People had discovered the idea of entertaining in a restaurant instead of in their homes. Wine appreciation was growing dramatically with places like Prego and Centro building exciting new lists. The Wolfgang Puck idea of a pizza and a bottle of Tignanello was seen as ever so sophisticated.
Oysters? Not yet. There was only Rodney’s. And yes, the old Mad Men ideal of the three-Martini lunch was still in effect (though seen as rather old-fashioned). People wanted to disentangle themselves from the steakhouse/hotel cuisine of the past; things like lobster and foie gras were part of that earlier time (they would return). Now it was more about fabulous olive oil, octopus, chilies, and veal chops.
Are there any other trends that you recall?
The notion of witty presentation (rather than pretentious nouvelle plating) always delighted me. I remember Susur Lee at Lotus presenting what looked like a melting cone of raspberry sorbet, but the sorbet was sliced smoked duck, artfully arranged. Couillard’s presentations were always interesting. At Nekah, Michael [Stadtländer] began plating on flat rocks or driftwood and that was very cool. By then we were getting into chef’s menus, or one might go into Centro and ask Marc Thuet to cook whatever he wanted. Jamie [Kennedy] at Palmerston was always about two years ahead of every evolution.
Who were the big names back in the ‘80s and ‘90s? What were they doing that was different? What were the restaurant names, and which neighbourhoods were they in?
Let’s start with the glamorous Italian places—Centro, Noodles, Pronto, Prego, Cibo, Orso, and Barolo; and the more conventional haute Italian rooms—La Scala, La Fenice, and Trattoria Giancarlo; and the high-end restaurants of genuine stature—Scaramouche, Fenton’s, Truffles, and Chiado. Queen West had Le Bistingo (for ages Claude Bouillet’s cooking was just about the only serious French food in town) and Stelle.
[There were] lone stars like Palmerston and Stadtländer and later Nekah (arguably the most interesting restaurant Toronto has ever seen). Lotus was a destination, and Loons was way out on Queen Street East. In the ’90s, Auberge du Pommier [was] an outlier in the north; Canoe and Avalon and Café Asia downtown; North 44 in north Toronto; Il Posto in that charming piazza off Yorkville; Opus and Zoom on Elm and King, respectively; and Edo and Hiro Sushi introducing us to echt Japanese mid/downtown. Splendido on Harbord Street. And lovely casual places like Grano (midtown) and Mildred Pierce (Liberty Village).
The shakers were Greg Couillard at China Blues (or wherever he happened to be), Stadtländer, The Rubino brothers at Rain, Marc Thuet doing Alsatian cuisine (in my top five hands-on cooks of the decade), The Fifth bringing in the idea of a supper club with Didier Leroy cooking elegant French food, and Chris McDonald at Avalon with his meticulous, always inventive tasting menus.
How much was this boom in fine dining restaurants driven by the decades’ relative prosperity? And how was that made apparent? In what ways was it affected by the economic downturn of the early ‘90s?
In the early ‘90s, after the recession, there was a sudden movement towards comfort food and away from extravagant exotica. Again, as always, Jamie Kennedy was in the forefront of that. People rediscovered the steakhouse. Bistros started using butcher’s paper instead of snow-white linen. Italian cuisine took it all in its stride, equally appropriate as a source of comfortable familiarity as it had been in the avant-garde. A lot of the old dinosaurs became extinct. January and August were deadly months for a small restaurant that had rent to pay.
When did you begin to notice the introduction of serious tasting menus?
The idea of the tasting menu was at its height with Avalon, Nekah, Susur, The Fifth, Splendido (where it lingered longest under Victor Barry), Hiro Sushi, Hashimoto, and Sushi Kaji. I loved it, and so did people who were indecisive or who spent their days making decisions. Oddly, it’s quite an economical way for restaurants to work, provided they can sell enough of them (minimizing waste). There was a time at the turn of the century when people would wander into almost any top-100 restaurant and ask for the chef’s menu. If one didn’t exist, I’d see the kitchen cobble together a series of plates à la carte.
We haven’t touched upon the F word as of yet… fusion. What was and is your take on such endeavours?
There were surprisingly few true fusion engineers: Susur Lee, Greg Couillard, of course, and Bob Bermann at The Avocado Club (and later at Boba). Even from the beginning, the word fusion was seen as a little derogatory. In France, Franco-Japanese fusion had been a fad in the early ‘80s; in Miami, someone was always inventing New Latino notions. Then there were Andrew Chase and Camilo Costales bringing Asian and Filipino together in a brilliant way at Pine & Bamboo and at Café Asia and Youki. In a way, it led to the arrival of molecular gastronomy on Claudio Aprile’s plates—this time science was the compound element.
Fusion is still with us. In multicultural Toronto it has become so commonplace that no one even notices it now. The chefs of the last fifteen years, so interested in local, seasonal, farm-to-table ideas, eschew it, and since they are the chefs people now follow, it has fallen out of favour.
Of course there are exceptions – the Spanish influences on Grant van Gameren’s menus – but no one would call it fusion.
Which brings us neatly to Toronto’s rich multiculturalism and how that impacts the cuisine of the city.
My beat as a critic began to expand into the suburbs in the mid-1990s as news reached us that wealthy Chinese gourmets were dining on Highway 7 rather than on Spadina. I was astonished by the quality and the wealth up there—the fascinating regional Chinese palaces with entire kitchens staffed by people brought over from Asia. It was authentic with no concessions to “Canadian” tastes. It spread across to Markham and now we all had to learn the huge differences between regional Chinese cuisines, or between South Asian regions, by dining in the dives on Gerrard Street East.
Waves of immigration were large enough that a new Keralan restaurant, for example, would have its own Keralan clientele, so for the critics there was always some new adventure to experience. And often the star chef would be poached by a new rival and move on; it was necessary but difficult to keep track.
When did you become aware of a movement away from the traditional restaurant ‘hoods over the decades? What do you feel drives such shifts?
Rent. In the ‘80s, Queen and Spadina was about as far west as anyone went. When that became unaffordable, young chefs with their first kitchens went farther afield, and their customers were also living in the new neighbourhoods. Places like Ossington, Parkdale, Dundas West, and Queen Street East emerged in this century, catering to a generation who didn’t care for glamour or demand impeccable service or want to dress up and make a night of it. And when two or three good spots open, it becomes a destination and other places follow.
A few discover the secret of longevity. But think how bold Prevedello was to open Biffi, Pronto, and Centro so far north! He was right though: North 44 followed. Then Grano. And a hub was born.
It’s all about where people who like to go out to dinner are living. Right now it’s the millennials who don’t yet have children and have some disposable income. I don’t see them travelling very far to some destination restaurant; they seem to stay local.
And of course they are driven – sometimes quite hard – by social media and places that are trending. It’s essentially gossip and it has become a powerful dynamic. Going to these very trendy places in recent years I’ve noticed that some are good, some not – but the wash of social media around them is alarmingly similar.
Torontonians constantly compare their fair city to other global cities, particularly in the world of restaurants. How did (and does) Toronto measure up?
All through my career I heard restaurateurs complain that there were too many restaurants in Toronto and not enough restaurant-goers. Our A-list gourmets used to calculate that Toronto could support no more than ten truly high-end restaurants at any one time and history seemed to bear them out. Luckily we developed a strong second stream of bistros and especially ethnic restaurants.
By the end of the ‘90s, Toronto was one of the most interesting cities in North America for restaurants. Our strengths? Italian and Chinese restaurants, especially in the suburbs. There’s some quite good English food around and we have our share of dedicated young chefs who do their own thing. We have many excellent one-off places that dance to their own beat, like Chiado, Cava, Edulis, and Alo. And we have the best Japanese food on the continent at Sushi Kaji and Hashimoto.
What Toronto has never done very well is Latin American, South Asian (except Amaya and Pukka) or Lebanese. We had Desmond Poon as the great proponent of Mexican food at Duppy’s Original Diner and later at Iguana in the early ‘90s, but I’m not very impressed by most of our Mexican places.
Do we compare to New York? In Manhattan, nobody cooks at home, which is one reason why restaurants do well there. Perhaps these days we are more on the scale of Chicago or San Francisco.
Which of the stars of those formative years weathered the storm, blossoming again in the ‘90s, ‘00s, or where we are today?
Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtländer, who started the whole celebrity chef notion in Toronto, are still going strong, cooking entirely on their own terms in their respective gardens of Eden [outside of the city]. Keith Froggett still keeps Scaramouche among the stars. Susur Lee and Mark McEwan each have their cluster of restaurants and television niches.
[The late] Michael Carlevale created two marvellous restaurants (The Boston Club and Black and Blue—just off Yorkville) and felt somewhat betrayed when the public failed to grasp his vision. Marc Thuet has his bakeries now. Didier Leroy, I believe, cooks for the French Consulate sometimes. Chris Macdonald is a man about town and [cookbook] author. Greg Couillard is having fun on a beach somewhere, I suspect; I still see him occasionally in Kensington Market.
Looking back, what do you miss from previous decades in the Toronto culinary scene?
The backlash against glamour that I saw in the last decade among younger chefs left me feeling a little nostalgic for the ‘90s, but I feel it’s making a small comeback. I have always enjoyed the tasting menu; I feel it’s an opportunity for chefs to give full expression to their creativity in terms of coordinating a series of dishes—the braid of textures and flavours for an entire meal. I miss the pomp of the old-time maître d’, but it has no place in the modern world, no more than flambé carts or dessert trolleys.
Who/what/where is exciting you in the Toronto of 2017?
David Lee at Nota Bene, which is still one of the best restaurants in the city, always perfectly aligned with the season, so sophisticated and assured. Lorenzo Loseto at George is always excellent, his dishes braiding flavours with discreet originality. Any of Doug Penfold’s projects—Cava, Chabrol and now Atlas: I like how he presents his own take on familiar cuisines from Spain, the South of France, and Morocco. I like what’s happening at Antler and Borealis – very contemporary Canadiana in a casual setting. Edulis is fabulous – the place I would take visitors to the city, assuming I could get a table. Jesse Vallins is cooking like a charm at Maple Leaf Tavern; you can see the technical, classical mastery in his work – unexpected in that venue. Anthony Walsh’s new venture, Leña, is high-energy, a sincere homage to Argentina in a city that doesn’t usually do Latin-American food very well. I enjoy Piano Piano – especially the pizza – though I do miss Victor Barry’s high-end cuisine from the days when the room was Splendido.
GETTING IT RIGHT
HOW SMART CITY TECHNOLOGY WILL CHANGE THE GAME FOR CANADA’S LARGEST METROPOLIS
STORY BY BEN KAPLAN & NATASHA CHOY
Streetlights that monitor traffic. Buildings with net zero energy use. Advanced technology that anticipates our needs. The future is upon us, and these innovations will soon affect every aspect of our lives—including the cities we live in—thanks to the Smart City movement.
What is a Smart City? It’s the wave of the future where technological innovation and the Internet of Things work in harmony to create a digital platform syncing our city’s assets. It’s LED streetlights, autonomous transportation, and adaptive technology based on machine learning and data aggregation. It benefits everything from traffic monitoring to waste management and involves public and private sector collaboration of real-time data to enhance the lives of citizens. Smart cities bring people and technology together to make better use of shared systems, enhancing liveability, workability, and sustainability, by focusing on social equality, economic power, and innovation.
Throughout history, cities have been living centres for commerce, culture, and connection, and it’s estimated that by 2050, 70% of the global population will be living in urban centres. As these urban centres grow, there is increasing pressure to find ways to communicate, plan, and respond to the demands on space and resources. The need for cities to become digitally integrated and sustainable has never been stronger. Around the world—from San Francisco to Shanghai—cities are striving to be “smarter,” using a broad range of technology and data to solve the increasing challenges that come with the accelerating urban density. With the population in the GTA projected to grow by over 2.6 million to 7.45 million people by 2031, how will Toronto respond?
The good news is Toronto’s best minds are already hard at work thinking about this. Back in 2016, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, in partnership with the City of Toronto, hosted its inaugural Smart Cities Summit. At the summit, Mayor John Tory outlined the important pursuit of this future. In his remarks, Mayor Tory was clear: “If we want to have modern, effective government, we need to have a big push on Smart City developments,” he said. “We are committing to a bold vision of Toronto as a city that collaborates, innovates, and uses modern tools and approaches. I’m determined to make that happen.”
It’s an ambitious pursuit, but the opportunity to tap the global “smart technology” market—an industry estimated to be worth US$1.5 trillion by 2020—is one worth pursuing. Mayor Tory envisions locally sourced tech incubators working on real-time problems in Toronto, delivering their solutions first to our city, then onto the world. Smart City applications, across every platform, create jobs while enhancing the experience of Toronto’s citizens and additionally solving the urban density dilemma: how will we best serve all of the new people moving here?
When it comes to tackling this challenge, and laying out the roadmap for an effective Smart City strategy, collaboration will be key. President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, Jan De Silva, has spent the past two years leading the Smart Cities Working Group, a team that includes the Toronto Region Board of Trade, the City of Toronto, academic and private sector stakeholders like Cisco. According to De Silva, this group has been working diligently to engage local stakeholders to foster a unified approach to ensure Toronto can appropriately respond to the opportunities and demands of the digital era and develop a “smarter Toronto.”
De Silva highlights one of the pressing reasons for smart solutions is the mounting cost to serve citizens as the city’s population grows at an unprecedented rate. Municipal costs are expected to increase by $607 million this year and $438 million in 2018. To stave off these budgetary pressures, the city needs to look to technology to deliver city services more effectively. Ron Gordon, Senior Advisor of City Digitization at Cisco, believes Smart City applications can save the city money, create new revenue streams, foster innovation, and engage residents, especially in priority neighbourhoods.
“It’s not just about digitization but also about policy—you don’t implement new technologies without having a plan for how everything works together,” says Gordon, who calls technology an “enabler,” but warns that it can only succeed if data is shared and everyone follows a singular policy. “A lot of cities have different departments and the different departments have different budgets and they don’t work together; they never had to until now, with things overlapping and blurring,” Gordon says. “It’s one thing to connect the departments, but it’s another to drive the value. The city needs to change their policy. We need to change our approach and use technology to drive value because what a Smart City is really telling you is that if we work together, we can achieve more than if we work individually.”
Integration of technologies and a unified strategy amongst all stakeholders is critical to the successful rollout of Toronto’s Smart City journey. “Our Smart City will be a success when we have the biggest impact on the largest number of citizens. Emergency services touch everyone, but we’re also quite interested in inclusive growth, and all of our members are concerned about talent gaps,” De Silva says. “[There are] so many things to take on, but it’s critical to study the analytics, iterate, and come up with a single focus and a single best plan.”
“The mistake cities make is they try to do too many things. Transportation, education, the environment—all are pertinent to any great city, but you need to pick a lane and stay there. New York did this brilliantly,” says De Silva, mentioning how former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg led his Smart City team to a crystalline focus on crime prevention. “In Chicago, traffic data is analyzed in order to best deploy police based on real-time analytics when fender benders occur and where, saving time and money, decreasing traffic, and increasing efficiency all while making the city more safe.” In order for Toronto to become a global Smart City leader, we need to prioritize and focus our energy on what we want the city to become.
De Silva, in plotting Toronto’s next twenty years, recites a favourite quote attributed to Mayor Bloomberg, “In God we trust. For everything else, bring me data.” The data will help us manage our assets, of which Toronto has many: our waterfront, our inclusivity, our tech incubator ecosystem, to name a few. Toronto is already a global leader in artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and through greater partnerships between government, tech companies, and academia, it has an enormous opportunity to leverage these assets—grow them, adapt them, and make better decisions.
Toronto has already implemented several smart technology initiatives, including MyWaterToronto, an online tool that provides residents on-demand water usage information, Waste Wizard, which improves the efficiency of waste disposal and Transportation Service’s Big Data Innovation Team, which aims to leverage emerging transportation datasets to better understand transportation issues across the city. Toronto has also recently appointed a Chief Resiliency Officer and established a Civic Innovation Office, funded in part by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, to further advance the city’s strategic priorities through innovation, collaboration and public-private partnerships.
Many who tout Toronto’s ability to become a global star in the Smart City economy point to Toronto’s waterfront revitalization, one of the largest urban redevelopments in North America. Christopher McKinnon, manager of public engagement for Waterfront Toronto, highlights that Toronto’s new waterfront communities offer a community-wide, open-access, ultra high-speed broadband network. It’s this kind of Smart City innovation that De Silva says the working group wants to replicate elsewhere in city life.
“Along with our partners, we’ve been able to build a technology-enabled community that will be more sustainable, more equitable, and more attractive for global talent and investment,” McKinnon says. “The technology infrastructure Waterfront Toronto has built has proven to be a significant draw for businesses and the coming decade will see many new commercial developments as the growing technology and innovation corridor along the city’s waterfront comes to life.” An example of this is the proposed 400,000 square foot Waterfront Innovation Centre slated to attract companies in digital media, advanced visualization, healthcare, and cleantech. As Toronto’s waterfront becomes a living test bed for technology-enabled, inclusive, connected communities, its transformation will present an invaluable opportunity to showcase Toronto’s advanced technologies to the world.
De Silva trumpets Toronto’s underappreciated library system—the largest in the world—as another example of how applying Smart City innovation to a city asset can enhance the citizen experience for all. In a priority Toronto neighbourhood, De Silva explains how a chief librarian saw a need when 200 school kids would be forced to wait for access to computers with Wi-Fi. “She worked with the business community and transformed our libraries—adding video conferencing and tutoring on new technologies. It was an infrastructure investment,” De Silva says. “These kids are the ones who will open new innovative industries right here. That’s what ‘Smart City’ means to me.”
Smart City solutions give citizens hope to believe that our city’s future will be more responsive, more inclusive, more prosperous, and more sustainable, as we work together in a smarter, data-driven, cohesive fashion. It’s hard not to think of a Smart City as a utopia, a digitally enhanced economic growth incubator in which all of our citizens have an equal chance of making something extraordinary that will benefit everyone. There have been learnings garnered by Toronto’s Smart City Working Group from cities like Tel Aviv, London, and New York. De Silva believes, under the guidance of Mayor Tory, that Toronto is making the right decisions with the right people to make our city not only the most inclusive in the world but also the smartest. It’s a revolution where everyone is invited to join in.
“Toronto can become the most sought-after business community in the world,” says De Silva. “We have all of the ingredients to grow this dynamic economy and make something—together—in which innovation and equality will thrive.””
A UNIQUELY ITALIAN MARKETPLACE COMES TO TORONTO
STORY BY JOANNE WANG
Rows upon rows of beautiful pastas, olive oils, and San Marzano tomatoes. Cases full of cheeses and salumi. Shelves overflowing with photo-worthy produce. Counters to feed your addiction, be it gelato, pastries, lattes, or all things Nutella. Standing room only wine and beer bars. Leisurely meals with table service? Yep. How about a dose of food education? That, too.
These are the things that food lovers all around Toronto are already anticipating with the opening of Eataly’s first foray into Canada in 2019.
It can be hard to succinctly label Eataly, but it’s perhaps best thought of as an elaborate Italian marketplace where urban food lovers can shop, graze, dine, and learn. There is a strong focus on high-quality ingredients, as Eataly’s founder, Oscar Farinetti, is a long-time proponent of the Slow Food movement. As a result, you can expect Eataly Toronto to showcase the best locally sourced produce and meats, as well as premium Italian imports for items not available locally. This focus on quality extends beyond what is stocked on the shelves—Eataly’s restaurants use the same products and produce that are sold in the market, and you’ll find that focus in the classes and demonstrations that are part of the educational component of Eataly.
The joy of visiting an Eataly is in indulging all the senses: the colours of the impeccably arranged products, the heady aromas of espresso being brewed and pizzas being baked in wood-fired ovens, the tactile experience of picking up a perfect eggplant or a beautiful tin of Italian pastilles, the constant patter of the shoppers and employees, the bliss of tasting some fresh burrata or perhaps that eighteen-month prosciutto di Parma.
On your first visit, perhaps you’ll order a delicately roasted whole fish seasoned simply with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil, sip a glass of Friulano, then wander over to the gelato bar to have a scoop of stracciatella while watching the crowds wander by. On your next visit, perhaps you’ll get a pizza to go and pick up some fresh vegetables and a bottle of wine to have dinner at home. Each visit can be a totally different experience, and that’s partly what keeps customers returning.
The five Eataly locations in the U.S. all follow a similar template, where retail and dining experiences blend into each other. The core grocery experience includes both imported and local dry goods, produce, meats, cheese, and fish. There are full-service restaurants adjacent to the retail areas, each specializing in one type of food (e.g., fish, pasta, meat, pizza, vegetables). There are also multiple walk-up counters—specializing in everything from pastries to panini—where you can order food to go or to enjoy at one of the many stand-up bars and tables, perhaps with a glass of wine from the wine bar.
The thirty Eataly locations outside of North America tend to adjust to fit the particular location, from the small bookstore feel in Bologna to the mega-Eataly in Rome. When asked whether the Toronto Eataly experience would lean towards the U.S. model or follow the European/Asian model, Eataly USA president Nicola Farinetti said, “I’ve always felt that Toronto can be the perfect middle. We can have the best of both worlds.” So why Toronto over Montreal or Vancouver? “We usually choose a location for one of these three reasons: A partner who we fall in love and want to work with, a city that we really would like to have a store in, or a location that we cannot resist. Toronto actually had all three characteristics!” Mr. Farinetti also indicated that Toronto’s strong Italian heritage and culture made it a natural fit for the first Canadian location.
In the U.S., Eataly’s business partners include Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, and Joe Bastianich’s B&B Hospitality Group. Together, they have opened four locations in New York, Chicago, and Boston, with a fifth location opening soon in Los Angeles.
In Canada, Eataly has joined forces with the Weston family’s Selfridges Group as its retail operations partner and Terroni as its restaurant partner. “The Weston family has a deep knowledge of the market, and that helps all of us to deliver the best Eataly possible. Not to mention their huge help in choosing the location in the first place!” said Mr. Farinetti. That location is in Toronto’s Manulife Centre, occupying 50,000 sq ft across three storeys. If that sounds massive, it is. Its closest competitor, the Saks Food Hall by Pusateri’s, measures in at half that size.
The location at Bay and Bloor is a savvy choice for Eataly. The area, which includes the Yorkville and Annex neighbourhoods, is endlessly hungry for new choices, with a built-in market of wealthy residents, upwardly mobile workers in its many office towers, and the masses of tourists shopping the Mink Mile. The location will create a natural extension of the evolving Bloor-Yorkville scene, bringing much-needed new retail and dining east of Bay Street.
Eataly locations are undisputed magnets for both tourists and food-loving locals. When the first Eataly opened in New York City in 2010, the crazy lineups lasted for months. Even seven years in, many of the hot spots inside Eataly still command ninety-minute waits to be seated. Given Torontonians’ love of new experiences and penchant for chasing the next Instagrammable moment, there is no question that Canada’s first Eataly will see both food-savvy locals and tourists flocking there in droves.
FROM BAY STREET TO MIAMI COCKTAILS
SHAKING THINGS UP WITH SIMON BENSTEAD
STORY BY jamie drummond
Before he found himself working in the world of all-natural bottled craft cocktails and restaurants, Simon Benstead had a successful career in finance as a trader.
A Bay Street expense account allowed Benstead the opportunity to frequent many a fine establishment. Always open to potential opportunities, and wishing to fulfil his dream of owning a restaurant, in 2003 he became an investor in the then nascent Nectar, helmed at the time by Chef David Adjey. Seeing the restaurant’s potential, Benstead owned Nectar outright by mid-2006.
Nectar’s last night was Valentine’s Day 2007, after which Benstead relaunched the location as Marben Restaurant. Marben was named after the house where Benstead was born, a modest home in Stonham Aspal, a small village in Suffolk, England. The village was so small that homes were given names as opposed to street numbers. As Benstead’s mother was known as Mary, and his father as Ben, their home came to be known as Marben. “It’s a representation of my mother and father’s sense of hospitality.”
Benstead was still trading after becoming a bona fide restaurateur, but all of this was to change come the economic downturn. In January 2008, his job became yet another casualty of the crash, but his previous experience of dining in restaurants worldwide put him in a rather advantageous position as a restaurant owner. A keen observer of all that happens around him, he had always been paying attention to what people liked and what they didn’t, applying these insights into the continual development of his restaurant.
Ever evolving, Marben has gone through a number of iterations over its ten years: Marben 1.0 was a supper club, Marben 2.0 was farm-to-table, and in its current form, Marben 3.0 represents Benstead’s British-Canadian story. “A grown-up gastropub focused on world-class hospitality,” he says. “A lot of people have dreams; for me, having the opportunity to open a restaurant was always at the back of my mind, and ten years later, as Marben celebrates a milestone, I’m grateful for the experience.”
Benstead’s current project, the Miami Cocktail Co. (MCC), was inspired by his experiences in Miami with partner Ross Graham, but it’s not the Miami most would imagine. An integral part of MCC’s MO with the brand is to demonstrate their personal take on the Magic City “[We wanted to capture] Brunch at The Standard on Sundays, the Design District, Midtown, Wynwood, Brickell, Soho House, the beaches, and the movement and sounds of palm trees in the wind.”
Two years ago, Benstead and Graham made a commitment to creating 100% natural, certified organic wine-based cocktails, essentially to target the Whole Foods market and consumers who care about both ingredients and authenticity. With wine-based cocktails MCC were given access to sell at any of 80,000 retail beverage outlets in the United States, as the sale of both spirits and spirits-based drinks is rigorously regulated in many states. This strategy gave them a distinct distributive advantage over their competitors.
“Whole Foods has a very strict and regimented roll out policy for new brands. One would start with a pilot store, and if the brand shows some success there, it would go local to about five stores, then regional, which would be about twelve stores, then statewide, and then national.”
MCC is now statewide in Florida, in twenty-six Whole Foods and thirty other retailers, and Whole Foods has just given them the green light to go national. Benstead and his partner now plan to expand into California, Texas, and New York.
He finds the alcoholic beverage industry fascinating and notes its growth through an accelerating number of mergers and acquisitions. He points out that the big players, namely Diageo and Bacardi, don’t do any of their own brand development. So is his long game to attract the attention of such multinationals? He’s asked that question often and smiles wryly. “We are running MCC as a standalone business to be self-sustaining and profitable, which will ultimately make it attractive to a multinational conglomerate.”
The company will focus on three ready-to-serve wine-based cocktails: Mimosa, Sangria, and Margarita. The Mimosa and Sangria are currently in the US market, and the company is in the process of launching the Margarita, which will become the only organic Margarita in Whole Foods. So how are they doing this, as Whole Foods doesn’t carry any spirit-based drinks? The answer is they are using pulque.
Pulque, or agave wine, is what the Mayans and Incas were producing and drinking before the conquistadors arrived and brought with them the knowledge of distillation. The natives had been making pulque for centuries, taking the same maguey (read: agave) sap used today for tequila production and fermenting it to create a wine with an alcohol level between 4% and 6%. Pulque consumption reached its peak in the late 19th century and fell into decline with the introduction of beer, which became more prevalent with the influx of Europeans in the early 20th century.
So pulque looks like tequila, smells like tequila, and even sort of tastes like tequila. Benstead thought, “What if we could make this delicious? What if we could make it certified organic? Two years later, after hundreds of different formulations/recipes [from] the country’s best mixologists and flavour scientists, we have an exceptional Margarita that is 100% certified organic and will be launched nationally in the US in October 2017.”
Whole Foods has had such success with the MCC’s wine-based 750ml bottles that they have asked the company to provide a new line of Margarita, sparkling rosé Sangria, and Paloma in single-serve 250ml cans as of fall 2017.
Both the single-serve and the Margarita will have their big coming-out party this season in Miami. The company is in the process of building a special tasting room for the launch in Miami’s Wynwood neighbourhood, which Benstead describes as “East Village meets Parkdale meets Venice Beach...an alternative and progressive Miami with vibrant art and culture.”
Benstead sees many similarities between Toronto and Miami. “Both are relatively new cities that have had one particular ethnic group really make their presence felt in the fabric of the place, the cuisine, the nightlife, the style: a Latin American influence in Miami, and Toronto being truly multicultural with a dominant Italian influence. The Latin influence gives Miami dining more casual healthy options serving up ceviche, juice, salads, and acai bowls and the year-round summer provides a lot more flexibility with al fresco design and experience.
“Miami also has a lot more options at the high end, with a lot of international visitors looking for a hit of glamour and design. Luxury hotel properties bring in big-name chefs and designers hoping to lure big spenders to their property. In the last ten years, Miami has turned into a world-class dining destination and—much like Toronto—has a vibrant street food culture.”
Benstead views Toronto and Miami as the two most prolific real estate development sites of the last fifteen years and feels there are no other cities that have had that New York-like growth, and with that comes a lot of development in hospitality. As with all those new buildings, developers require anchor tenants, and restaurants fit that bill perfectly.
While Miami Cocktail Co.’s products are currently unavailable in Canada, Benstead assures me that MCC is working on a province-by-province launch in the near future.