This morning I decided to have breakfast at a little diner not too far from my hotel here in downtown Toronto. During my years of living in Toronto I’d always wanted to come and check it out but hadn’t until now.
Clearly the decor has changed little over the years… and once I stepped inside it transported me back to a different era and time. I was no longer in the 21st century but caught inside a time capsule from the mid 20th century.
However, the true charm of this establishment is the vibe that you get when you get inside.
It’s the sort of place where they know you name, and you’re instantly part of the family. This way of operating is buried deep within their DNA.
The Patrician Grill began back in November 1967 when Louie and Helen Papas purchased the diner. Over the past 55 years it’s continued to serve up good solid food six days a week.
Although Louie passed away back in 2011 and Helen has retired it’s still in the family as their son, Terry Papas and brother-in-law Chris Slifkas now run the diner.
Sure, the diner itself was from a bygone era, but the friendliness is authentic and genuine.
An example is when I arrived, soon after it opened at 7:00 am the diner was empty except for the two owners and me. Perhaps it’s a Canadian thing but as soon as I sat down at the counter a steaming hot cup of coffee was sitting in front of me.
Didn’t have to ask, didn’t have to say a word except for “good morning”.
My original plan had been to meet my mate Martin for breakfast on Monday, but he had to cancel at the last moment as was feeling unwell. I still walked over full of expectations, but alas the diner was closed until Wednesday for a movie shoot.
As I sat chatting to the owners before any other guests came in, they mentioned that they are often used for movies as traditional diners are now difficult to find. This movie will be part of a HBO series that will be released next year called the “Frequent Travellers”.
I decided on a traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs (over easy) with home fries and bottomless coffee. This wasn’t just any standard diner fare, nope it was a very hearty breakfast which filled the plate.
After stuffing myself with a good solid meal my bill came in at the princely sum of $12.65.
Interestingly, not long after I arrived a few regulars began to float in, many of whom Chris and Terry knew by name. Without even asking for an order, they began preparing “the usual” orders.
This was just another layer to the already overwhelming feelings of being in a place that functioned on a first name basis and had an air of familiarity that you don’t often get these days.
However, what I wasn’t expecting was that it was a “cash only” establishment. I guess if I was a regular, I would have known, but alas I didn’t…
So now I’m feeling bad as I didn’t have any cash on me (in fact, who does these days?). Chris said that I could go to the ATM machine at the corner if I wanted.
He must have felt my feelings of guilt, as he said without giving it a second thought “you look like an honest guy, come back and pay me tomorrow”.
I was blown away! Who makes an offer like that these days?
Of course, you know where I had breakfast every morning from then on during my stay here…
As you’d imagine I’m sure they’ve seen it all over the years and by now have a good sense of intuition about people. For me thought it was generosity at a whole new level.
The diner itself is on King Street East, and not necessarily in the best part of town. There are no high-end stores here, nor in fact many stores still operating since the pandemic although George Brown College is across the street.
I’m sure over the years that they’ve seen many people down on their luck, but this little diner acts as a gathering place and in many cases as a beacon of hope in the local community.
And if my intuition is right, they wouldn’t shy away from providing meals to others less fortunate in difficult times.
It’s these little family run businesses that are the true heart and soul of a local community. The big corporations or social media companies may get all the publicity but it’s these little places that hold the key to making people welcome and bring a sense of community.
Like most large metropolitan cities, Toronto is expanding at a terrific rate, with around 20 large condo towers being developed in the downtown core currently.
I’m sure this is great for the city, but often, unfortunately at the expense of these small family run businesses who find themselves having to move because the building is being sold then demolished to accommodate another concrete tower.
Strangely, the loss of these businesses may not have an immediate impact, but over time much of the fabric of the neighbourhood is lost.
I’m just glad I had the opportunity to experience the Patrician Grill at its finest!
If you visit Toronto make sure you pay a visit.
Until next week