The Eiffel Tower used to stand at the corner of Gottingen and Cornwallis. You could see it from a block away, tall and bright, almost two stories tall on the side of the building, a glittery accent to the neon script of French Casino, a restaurant where you'd find tournedos and foie gras, French food for the fine diners of the day.
It was the kind of showy street corner only found now in memory and ephemera, those last gossamer threads to the mid-century golden age of Gottingen Street. Oh, how times have changed.
It's been more than 10 years since Island Greek started holding down that corner, a scrappy, greasy pizza joint boxing up poutine and pies in the shadow of the fancier fare that has come to define the blocks between Cornwallis and Cogswell. In March, though, Island Greek closed. And so it's back to France. Sort of.
Ratinaud French Cuisine's Frédéric Tandy has partnered with Rosemary McKernan, owner of local produce distributor Beet Rouge, Ezra Edelstein, manager at EcoGreen Homes (which built the new Ratinaud space on Gottingen) and Jens Heidenreich, a radiologist at Capital Health, to open The 244, a new takeout joint that will light up the corner anew.
This new restaurant looks to be a part of a new heyday for Gottingen, one where the fractured neighbourhood increases focus on inclusivity, where community and business truly intersect. The plan is for simple, house-made down-home food—fried chicken, taco el pastor, fish and chips—kept at low price points and served by familiar faces from the neighbourhood. "We really want it to be an accessible place," says McKernan.
Lunches will be under $10, dinners will be under $15. Quality won't suffer for price, though, as McKernan and Tandy will source from themselves. "I run a local food distribution business, so all the veg is going to come from my business and all the meat and cheese is going to come from Frédéric. And because we don't necessarily need to have a mark-up there, it's going to allow us to use local ingredients and keep a low price point," she says. "It's so important to have a low price point in order to be accessible in our community." It is also important to the owners to hire from the community and to be a true expression of the north end.
The community really is the concept, according to McKernan. "I live on the block, Fred has his business on that block, Ezra just lives on the other side of that block. We love this neighbourhood: it's really growing and changing. With this opportunity we were really thoughtful about the process and wanted it to be something that was inclusive and lifted the neighbourhood up in an inclusive way as opposed to like opening another yuppie joint where people don't feel welcome."
McKernan, Tandy and Edelsetein collaboration has extended to meetings with the North End Community Action Committee. "They are this young group of people who are saying that their neighbourhood is changing and they felt like they didn't see themselves reflected. There was an opportunity for us to basically say 'You want to be heard, let's sit down and talk. What do you want to see? What do you think the neighbourhood needs?' This neighbourhood needs to reflect everybody who is there."
Kyturera Jones, Josh Creighton, Treno Morton, Donntayia Jones, Emily Muise, Christiana Tesfai and Nikaya Paris are the young people, 18-22, who make up the North End Community Action Committee. They live in the Gottingen area where the restaurant is opening.
"Rosemary got in contact with our group and asked if she could attend one of our meetings," says Creighton. "She told us she was a new business owner in the neighbourhood, told us all about her business and back story, and she came to get our input on the restaurant and to see how we could help involve the rest of the community in it. It's something we all appreciated; a lot of businesses don't do that. We were very pleased with her actions to come and involve us in the process."
That inclusion is important, says Kyturera. "It's important to include the community, to not just come in and establish a business and then not employ or engage people from that community," she says. "We want to make sure there's involvement with everybody in the community—after all, we are all involved in the community. If business people don't do that, it feels like they are trying to push the existing community out."
"It's also nice to know who is behind a business, to see what they're doing and the steps they take to involve the community," says Morton.
Look for The 244 on the corner of Gottingen and Cornwallis in early July.
Editor's note: The print version of this story stated that Island Greek had been open on Gottingen Street for over 15 years. We regret the error.