The arrival of a new barbecue joint signals a new chapter for a quiet corner that’s been the site of many liquor-licence applications—and neighbourhood protests against them.
If all goes as expected, the opening of a new barbeque place at 536 Manning Avenue will mark the end of a neighbourhood squabble that has lasted almost two decades.
For years, residents of the neighbourhood surrounding the intersection of Harbord Street and Manning Avenue, where 536 Manning is located, have opposed liquor-licence applications from owners of various businesses at the site. Now, some of those very same residents are throwing their support behind a new application, by owner Francesco Grandi and executive chef Tony Gallippi, who plan to open a restaurant called Smoke BBQ House there in September.
“We’re looking at opening a traditional southern-style barbeque house,” said Gallippi, an ex-Windsor, Ontario restaurateur who has been practising the art of slow-cook barbeque for over a decade. He grew up two houses south of 536 Manning, and he lives there today.
Gallippi and Grandi are planning on widening the storefront’s small, dark windows to make their business more inviting. They hope Smoke will become a casual hangout for the whole neighbourhood to enjoy.
Councillor Mike Layton’s office is currently working with the Palmerston Area Residents Association (PARA) to craft a list of liquor-licence conditions that will be satisfactory to everyone involved. It seems as though the process will be relatively painless.
The only hiccup came at the very beginning, when the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) issued Grandi and Gallippi a placard to post in Smoke’s window during the licensing process. The sign identified the business as “Aftermath, to be known as Smoke BBQ.”
Seeing that, Gallipi took it upon himself to write a letter to community members, in which he told them that he had nothing to do with a business called Aftermath. That letter probably saved his business.
Aftermath Café was 536 Manning’s tenant between 2005 and 2007. It belonged to Ryan Facciolo, who, like Gallipi, grew up near Harbord and Manning. The café was a hotdog-and-hamburger type of place. It became known as a student hangout.
When Aftermath opened, there was already some bad blood left over from previous liquor-licence applications on the corner. Harbord Collegiate, a high school, is nearby. The presence of all those students had long served as rationale for preventing neighbourhing businesses from serving alcohol.
Two 1992 applications—one at 536 Manning and another across the street at 538 Manning—had both been denied after outcry from school officials, neighbourhood residents, and then-Councillor Joe Pantalone.
The tension escalated in 1998, when a 17-year-old Central Commerce Collegiate student named Tom Pham was fatally stabbed at 538 Manning by a student from Harbord Collegiate. (At the time, the place was operating as a snack bar and video arcade.) Around the same time, there was another liquor-licence application on 536 Manning. It was denied.
The stabbing still hadn’t faded from the neighbourhood’s collective memory in 2005, when Ryan Facciolo applied for his liquor licence. The Aftermath, hidden away behind its mostly windowless storefront, didn’t inspire much trust in residents worried about teenage delinquency.
The results of the application were predictable. There were enough complaints—from PARA, school officials, Joe Pantalone, and MPP Rosario Marchese—that Facciolo found himself before a liquor-licensing tribunal, where he tried and failed to make his case. PARA had organized residents against the application in response to worries that Harbord Collegiate students might have gone to Aftermath to drink, or that Facciolo might have turned the café into a noisy nightclub.
Without the ability to sell drinks at night, Facciolo’s business suffered. “After the denial, I ran for about another year,” he said recently. “Business was still adequate, but it wasn’t enough that it was something I was going to invest all my time into, because it seemed to be a losing battle.” Facciolo currently works as a supervisor at a women’s shelter, and he also has an ownership stake in a College Street bar.
Things changed in 2010, when an upscale French restaurant called Ici Bistro managed to succeed where others had failed: It opened at 538 Manning, with a liquor licence, after a year and a half of staunch opposition from Joe Pantalone’s office. A key difference between Ici’s application and those that had come before (aside from the fact that Ici is a higher-end restaurant, more likely to appeal to parents than students) was that it was subject to something called risk-based licensing, introduced by the AGCO in 2008.
Risk-based licensing enables the AGCO to attach provisos to a liquor license before issuing it. To bring residents onside, Ici accepted 15 different special conditions, including that they not play amplified music, or open a video arcade.
Ici’s success is what Smoke BBQ House is hoping to emulate. Grandi and Gallippi are emphatic that their restaurant will be just as aboveboard as its neighbour across the street.
Facciolo, meanwhile, seems bemused by the neighbourhood’s change of heart. “In all honesty, I wish [Smoke] all the best,” he said. Then he added, a little bitterly: “But it’s not a fair system, and it cost me a lot of money.”