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CaféTO curb lane patios up and ready for long weekend, city says

Toronto’s CaféTO program is ready for the Victoria Day long weekend, with 95 per cent of participating restaurants now equipped to open their curb lane cafés, the mayor says.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Olivia Chow said the CaféTO program has more than 290 curb-lane participants this year, including 81 new and 215 returning restaurants. CaféTO curb lane patios are allowed to stay open until Oct. 15.

“It’s going to be a lot of eating and drinking and enjoying the beautiful sun out,” Chow said at the Pho Tien Thanh restaurant in the city’s Ossington neighbourhood.

Chow said more than 1,000 patios will be available this weekend. That includes more than 500 sidewalk cafés that can remain in place all year round and 650 patios on private properties.

Earlier this year, the city promised an improved CaféTO experience after last season’s program was rife with challenges and delays.

CaféTO, which became a permanent program in 2023, allows restaurants and bars to open expanded outdoor spaces on sidewalks and in curb lanes from spring to fall. The program was introduced with much fanfare in 2020 after public health measures during the pandemic restricted indoor dining.

Last year, restaurant owners complained about the program, saying the application process started too late and the approvals process was too lengthy. Some councillors also weighed in, saying too many city divisions were involved.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow speaks to reporters on Thursday to kick off the city's CaféTO curb lane café season this year.
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow speaks to reporters on Thursday to kick off the city’s CaféTO curb lane café season this year. (CBC)

Coun. Brad Bradford, who represents Beaches-East York, said the program is working better this year.

“Well, you know what they say, fourth time’s a charm,” Bradford said Thursday.

“It’s taken the city so long to get this thing right,” he added. “Last year, the city brought forward a lot of requirements that, frankly, were quite challenging for small businesses. The requirement to have designers, architects, engineers involved was probably a little bit of overkill.”

In a news release on Thursday, the city said the look and feel of curb lane cafés was improved this year with painted concrete barriers in line with city safety standards. It also said the application and renewals processes are now more user-friendly and streamlined and that it has increased staff support.

Business owners said they’ve noticed the changes.

‘A real help to us’: brewery owner 

Carl Pratt, owner of Beaches Brewing Company, said he is happy that his customers will have the chance to sip their beers outside.

“This year is amazing. We got approved and our paperwork from March versus last year where they dropped these concrete blocks in mid-June,” said Pratt, adding his establishment doesn’t have its own native patio.

“CaféTO is a real help to us. It improves our visibility on the street tenfold,” he said. “It allows people the opportunity to dine outdoors if they want.”

The CaféTO program has more than 290 curb-lane participants this year, a number that includes 81 new and 215 returning restaurants. CaféTO curb lane patios are allowed to stay open until Oct. 15.
The CaféTO program has more than 290 curb-lane participants this year, a number that includes 81 new and 215 returning restaurants. CaféTO curb lane patios are allowed to stay open until Oct. 15. (CBC)

For Dana Kerbel, owner of the Gull and Firkin, the process was smoother this year.

“It was actually fairly painless,” Kerbel said.

“We got our tables all ready, all sanded and varnished. And the umbrellas came in. And we did our planting yesterday. We are excited to be open for the long weekend.”

‘People really enjoy it,’ café owner says of patio

Helena Kosikova, owner and operator of the E.L. Ruddy Cafe in the west end, said its CaféTO patio enables the restaurant to increase its seating capacity. The extra space means a lot, Kosikova said.

“It has changed the business significantly, having the patio, positively. People really enjoy it,” she said.

“Before we had the patio, we had a hard time having people come inside. We don’t have air conditioning, and people want to be outside in the sun in the summer so the patio is really well used.”

The city said it hopes the sunny patios encourage more people to support local businesses this summer.

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