Dairy Queen gets a yellow card

The following post is parental guidance: Parents, don’t look.

I used to work at a Dairy Queen. It was my first job, when I was 13, and I have no idea how many people I killed by food poisoning. I used to spoon lukewarm grease on top of burned hamburgers to make them ‘juicy’. Nobody, of course, had given me any idea about food preparation or handling, and I can’t, even now, barbecue safely—I certainly couldn’t then.

Apparently, mine was not the only Dairy Queen with human resource problems. The DQ on Weston Rd near the Superstore received a yellow card from health inspectors on April 14 in part because nobody working there had been trained how to cook safely. The place also had no hot running water, no thermometer to measure food temperature, unclean equipment, and unclean restrooms and food preparation areas.

In all previous inspections, that Dairy Queen had been given a thumbs-up from inspectors.

City Council votes against another bar in Weston

At their most recent meeting, Toronto City Council asked the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to  carefully review the liquor license application of another bar in Weston; this time the bar is Sin Fronteras, at 1784 Jane. It has not yet opened.

Recently, City Council also asked the AGCO to take a careful look at the application of Femi’s Place, on Weston Road.

Frances Nunziata’s letter to council said that residents worry Sin Fronteras would exacerbate existing problems around the location, and that the application is “not in the best interest of the community”.

Brioni fire heroes honoured

Last week Mayor Rob Ford and City Council honoured two men who saved an elderly woman from the fire above Brioni’s supermarket.  David Evans and Shawn Murphy were honoured at the Council meeting on Tuesday, though only Evans was able to attend.

According to news reports, this was no common rescue: the men had to fight through smoke, flames, and exploding oxygen bottles to rescue the woman.

CityTV has the story and a video.

Another Licence Application Challenged

Councillor Frances Nunziata is seeking to protect us from another licensed restaurant, this time at 1784 Jane Street. According to our councillor, complaints were received regarding ‘drug activity, late night noise, and late-night construction’ at this address.

It seems that the previous tenant is in rent arrears and so is probably not behind the application to open a licensed restaurant.

With the public not having access to the complaints in question, the councillor may be treading on shaky ground. Are the complaints legitimate? If so, why visit upon the new tenants the sins of the old ones? Is this unnecessarily impeding the birth of fledgling businesses? Certainly, our police are capable of enforcing laws and responding to noise complaints, yet this is the second straight month that the councillor has opposed a licence application in York South Weston. If a licensed restaurant is not in compliance with the law, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission (AGCO) can fine them up to $5000, suspend or revoke their license. A restaurant could continue to operate but would not be allowed to serve alcohol.

There are some important issues here that need to be addressed:

  1. When politicians oppose liquor licence applications, the process should be transparent so that business owners (and the public) know that allegations are genuine (and not someone else’s fault) while protecting the identity of the complainants.
  2. A few vocal residents should not be allowed to impede the improvement of our community.
  3. Jane Street and Weston Road are commercially zoned and desperately in need of vibrant thriving businesses. Perhaps councillor Nunziata could share her vision for these streets and what she is doing to attract businesses that meet her approval.

Sin tax?

If we could be certain that Sin Fronteras (which in English sounds ominous but in Spanish means “without borders”) would be good for Weston, nobody would oppose licensing it. As we can’t be sure, we must ask whether Sin Fronteras will be worse than the alternatives—and the alternatives are bad indeed. They are the illegal and unlicensed ‘booze cans’, which have been a source of terrible violence and danger in Weston.

Your humble correspondent generally holds to the “keep your enemies closer” philosophy of public morality; he thinks that vices are best made legal and taxed to hell, if only because they otherwise disappear underground and spread. Sin Fronteras, by this principle, should be given a go and kept in the bright public view. After all, perhaps this will be the establishment  that turns Jane into a new Latin Junction. Even if it likely won’t, there is only one way to tell.

Sensible people, though, disagree with this philosophy; Jennifer Cicchelli and Frances Nunziata are among them.

Jennifer Cicchelli, Frances Nunziata’s executive assistant, took the time to respond by email to yesterday’s post on the new Weston establishment applying for a liquor license. In her email, Cicchelli clarified their experience with managing troublesome businesses:

I was informed [by the AGCO] that while we have been told in the past that owners can take a suspension to avoid a hearing, and consequently avoid a review of their liquor licence, this information is not accurate. It was explained to me that whether there is a hearing or not, the licence is reviewed.

I would also like to clarify the comment I made regarding places opening up as restaurants and then operating as nightclubs. The AGCO is not responsible for enforcing the use of the premises as stipulated on their business licence – this is something the City is responsible for. When I wrote the email I did not intend to imply that all the issues I noted fall under the jurisdiction of the AGCO. What I was trying to convey was that, from our experience, problem establishments which are licenced to serve alcohol are not easier to “close down” than those that are serving alcohol without a licence. The AGCO itself does not have the authority to order an establishment to close down. They only have jurisdiction with respect to the serving of alcohol.

If these experiences are generally true, Sin Fronteras could turn out to be as bad as the alternatives, which is hard to imagine. If problem establishments are just as hard to shut down as unlicensed ones, it is very important to do the job right the first time, and to license those places that will not be a drag on an already labouring community. However, according to Cicchelli, the bar’s owner is not reaching out to the councillor’s office to make his intentions clear.

Nunziata asks AGCO to reject a second Weston bar

Frances Nunziata and the Etobicoke-York Community council don’t want a bar to open on Jane St. Last month, Nunziata and City Council also opposed the liquor application of Femi’s Place, a restaurant on Weston Rd.

In her letter to council, Nunziata says residents “have reported several concerns to my office regarding the ongoing activity in and around the building at 1784 Jane Street in which Sin Fronteras is to operate.” Jennifer Cicchelli, Nunziata’s Executive Assistant, said in an email that the “problems reported include allegations of drug activity, late night noise, and late-night construction.”

Neither Nunziata nor Cicchelli say, however, that the people behind the application are causing the problems.

According to Cicchelli:

“Legal” bars are part of the problem.  In Weston in particular, specifically, places open up as restaurants and then operate as bars and/or nightclubs. Some of the problems encountered include alcohol being served after hours, alcohol being served to minors and serving people who are already noticeably intoxicated.  While the AGCO issues licences, they rarely revoke them. The owners can either take a suspension or go to a hearing at which point their licence is reviewed. It is not uncommon for owners to just  take a suspension to avoid going to a hearing. We have some “restaurants” in our ward that have violated the conditions of their Liquor Licence over and over again, yet they have not had their liquor licence revoked, despite pleas from the Councillor and area residents to the AGCO.

Once identified, it is easier to close down “illegal” bars or booze cans than it is to deal with problem establishments that have a liquor licence.
Currently, there is a notice of arrears posted on the door of the building. The previous tenants, a beauty supply company, owe more than $10,000.
Photos by Roy

Nunziata’s War of 1812

As WestonWeb has mentioned in previous articles, Frances Nunziata is our vocal and dynamic councillor. She has been involved politically for decades and overall her contribution has been outstanding. Years of opposition made her an outspoken maverick ready to fight for her constituents.

One of the problems apparent in the Weston community is the illegal use of premises to hold large parties to which admission is charged. Parties go long into the night and attract some dangerous individuals. These unlicensed premises are a threat to safety and because their whereabouts are unknown, often in basements and side-alleys, they are hard to detect and shut down. When establishments are licensed, police officers and inspectors can enforce operating hours, room capacities and reasonable levels of noise.

Femi’s Place, an existing restaurant at 1812 Weston Road has applied for a licence to serve alcohol. For some reason, Ms. Nunziata recently steered through this emergency council decision to block the application. In her motion, Ms Nunziata claims that ‘Residents of Weston Village, within which this establishment is located, are already troubled by the number of licenced establishments in the area which frequently violate the conditions of their liquor licences but still remain in operation.’

As a result of complaints she sent inspectors to visit the restaurant, but they found that the restaurant was serving alcohol legally and without problems (the restaurant had applied for and obtained special permits). There was no evidence of wrongdoing other than hearsay.

There are few licensed establishments in the immediate area south of Lawrence. There is one nearby at 1828 Weston, Michelle’s Place, whose owner claims that they have never had problems.

In Ms. Nunziata’s zeal to clean up Weston, she may have forgotten that a nuanced approach is best rather than ‘Kitty bar the door’. Successful businesses and neighbourhoods have to start somewhere. Legal businesses pay taxes, enrich the local community and are subject to inspection and control.

The statement by Ms Nunziata that there are Weston establishments frequently in violation of their licenses implies that we are being failed by the inspection and enforcement process. Perhaps this is where she should focus rather than victimizing fledgling businesses.