[URBAN NOTE] “Why restaurant veterans are ditching Toronto for Hamilton”
The Globe and Mail‘s Michele Sponagle writes about reasons why Toronto restaurateurs are abandoning this city for Hamilton, with its lower costs and better traffic. I’m wondering if these reasons will be echoed by Torontonians more generally in coming years.
Michael Cipollo declared once and for all that he was done with Toronto – its $25-a-day parking, brutal traffic, high prices, miserable people and the money-rules corporate restaurant scene. Although he spent 15 years as executive chef of the Bier Markt (growing it from one location to eight), he didn’t hesitate to sell his house, pack up his family and move to a booming Hamilton where he’s already launched two successful eateries – with at least three more in the works.
“I was tired of restaurants dominated by financial spreadsheets,” he says. “My own values weren’t a fit for the corporate restaurant world any more. So I was wondering, ‘What’s next? Go out on my own?’ The costs of doing that in Toronto are staggering for those who don’t have angel investors dumping millions into a project. So opening up restaurants for little guys makes sense in Hamilton.”
Mr. Cipollo and wife Paula dipped their toe into Hamilton’s culinary scene in October 2015 with Hambrgr. In four weeks, they launched the gourmet, vowel-challenged burger joint downtown on King William Street. It was a leap of faith on multiple counts – a chance to be part of the city’s evolution and to bring life to a lifeless downtown street with only a bingo hall and a couple of restaurants drawing visitors.
[. . .]
But Hambrgr’s hefty creations, made with locally raised beef, and craft-beer offerings drew a crowd. Within four months, he bought the space next door and opened Fsh & Chp. In their first year, sales from his two businesses doubled, confirming what he suspected all along: There are oodles of opportunities in Hamilton to create successful restaurants. Next up, he’s opening a bigger version of Hambrgr in January on Ottawa Street, going from a current total of 41 seats (including patio) to 110 seats over two floors.
“At first, people from Toronto thought I was crazy to open up a place in Hamilton,” he says. “It has just as many cool, hip enjoyable places to go than any neighbourhood in Toronto with a lot less pretension. When I left, I’m sure it was, ‘Ha-ha-ha. He’ll fall flat on his face.’ Now, people are asking when they can get involved.”