HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


Sayonara, JK?

With banks out of the way, looks like "stress test" time for restos:


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. a couple months back i was at gilead for brunch and he was bussing tables rather than schmoozing, unless he directly knew the diners... his face was somber and riddled with worry. i'm almost not surprised as business and personal agendas don't often mix well, no matter how noble they might be.

    i wish him the best of luck and will try to make it out to a jk establishment more often as i do often like his cooking and appreciate that he makes the effort to participate in so many charitable functions.

    1. As I strolled past the window front of Mark McKewen's new market place in the Don Mills Centre, I noticed expansive space with large refrigeration/display cases. It made we wonder if the plan is to offer upscale prepared foods ( a la Zabars on the upper W. side) or more of a butcher shop with gourmet condiments. Either way, what's the prognosis of such a new venture in this economy and the location seems to me to be a bit risky. I don't think it's just restaurant dollars that are drying up...

      9 Replies
      1. re: tuttebene

        i'm not sure if the location is risky at all anymore.... the mall seems to be attracting exactly the clientele they were expecting and is pretty darn packed! reviews are very favourable and people are willing to drive there because of the density of "high quality" shops... the people who would shop there are drivers anyway. i think they took the risky move of the being the first in to start gentrifying the area and its paying off because they were able to get other retailers to buy into it.

        1. re: pinstripeprincess

          I'm dubious about both guys. Feeding people is a legit business, but over-amped optimism and risk-blindness is shaping up to be a deadly pandemic around the GTA.
          Despite his many skills, Mark can't print money. Nor can any of the other Don Mills optimists.

          1. re: Kagemusha

            my comments are about the donmills centre are more about the donmills centre than mcewan. the food business will have struggles but i don't think the location is what will hinder him there. spending will obviously dictate how well the centre does, but i'm just saying it looks like all the people they wanted shopping there are full aware of the complex and happy to be there if they were to shop at those stores because really, what's one coach store from the next?

            as for jk.... i think his principles drove him more than the business, no disagreement there.

          2. re: pinstripeprincess

            I wish I shared your optomism about this location but I still think that there may not be enough traffic on a daily basis for upscale take-out meals, unlike locations for Pusateri's and Bruno's which are in affluent residential neighbourhoods. Not sure people will find it convenient to have to go to a mall for finding prepared foods (unless it's really more of a supermarket then maybe the chances will improve). I hope it and the mall do well but if last Saturday is any indication, Don Mills Centre had very little foot traffic and what they had was mostly doing some window shopping or sipping lattes. Would it not have made more sense to set up shop closer to North 44?

            1. re: tuttebene

              I think some of your above statements are a little misguided. The Shops at Don Mills (not Don Mills Centre) is 5 minutes away from the *most* affluent area in Toronto, The Bridle Path. Even before you reach the path, there are $1 & $2 million homes. So, I think in some ways it's actually closer to the affluent area than both Pusateri's and Brunos.

              It's not really a "mall". They are all separate shops, hence the name. McEwan's has its own separate entrance and is an entity on its own, and not within any mall structures. And it's out in front, clearly visible, clearly accessible.

              There has been much press written about this and it *will* be a supermarket-type store.

              And lastly, I was there last weekend as well and could not find parking because there were so many people there, as well as plenty of foot traffic and shoppers with bags. So maybe different times? I don't know but what I've seen of these shops so far, they seem very successful and a tremendous addition to the neighbourhood, both in variety of stores as well as aesthetics.

              Oh and I don't know where you could possibly fit 22,000 sq feet near North 44.

              1. re: tuttebene

                Case in point: when you want to pick up some prepared foods quickly you don't want to be fretting over parking. I thank you for correcting the name of the retail destination and bringing to my attention the proximity of TBP. My bad. I was just asking the question and not providing a review of not-yet-existent establishment.

                1. re: tuttebene

                  Actually, there's parking for hundreds if not thousands in the multi-level parking garage, so I would find it almost improbable if someone couldn't find a parking spot there. When I said I couldn't find parking, I meant in the side parking right outside the stores. McEwan's and LCBO both have direct facing parking to the garage. And yes, how could we possibly review a yet unopened business (although many do try on here).

            2. re: tuttebene

              I think it is the former (prepared foods). I will definitely go to check it out, but if the prices are outrageous then that will limit my patronage.

              1. re: tuttebene

                Interesting that this article is by Sonia Verma. In the latest Toronto Life, she writes about the effects of the recession on Toronto's elite. One point she makes is that some businesses, such as the Cheese Boutique, seem to seeing an increase in business at the same time as restaurants are failing, because well-off people are staying home more.

              2. Is there a chef who receives more press than JK? How is it that one of Canada's top chefs hasn't even done fine dining in the past 20 years? Don't get me wrong, everything he does is admirable, he has done a lot for slow foods/organic. He is exactly the type of chef Canadians want to champion; ethical, noble, and good looking. On paper he looks great, his restaurants in practice are something else.
                I have had decent dishes, not complete meals, at the ROM, JK wine bar, and the Gardiner. Everything else seems erractic. I've never had great service at his restaurants. At JKWB, if you order dishes to pair with their suggested wine and organized this so it comes out in some logical form, the kitchen, then sends everything out in a completely random manner. The suggested wine pairings miss more often than hit. Does the sommelier actually taste the suggested pairings, or is it worked out in theory? There seems to be no orchestration to his front of the house. I've never been guided through an experience at his restaurants. Cutlery isn't even changed between courses at JKWB. Other posters have complained about the strong smell of burning rosemary, but that was nothing compared to eating fish at the Gardiner and having the smell of cheese being cut, in the middle of room, wafting over. Speaking of the Gardiner, the acoustics were punishing.
                There is no doubt in my mind that industrial agriculture is one of the great dangers of our time. We should all support local and organic producers, we should probably also eat a little less meat. JK is not the only chef pushing this movement, but he is one of the main ones. I just wish he put a little more effort into his total product.

                1. The fact that this was on the front page of the Globe (the lead feature no less!) was pretty interesting, I thought. I am sad to see the JKWB pass into different hands -- it's always been a fun spot. And I admire his commitment to local food. I'll still be attending his fish fry in the County in a couple of weeks and hope that he'll be serving up dinner and off-the-beaten track local wines somewhere soon. Does anyone know if he'll still be involved with JKWB?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Arcadiaseeker

                    Has anyone even seen him at JKWB this year?
                    I heard a similar 'rumour' last December (and posted on another JKWB thread) - specifically that the 'chef' at JKWB was now running that location - but nobody was able (or wanted) to confirm that - cetainly it wasn't refuted.

                    1. re: estufarian

                      I saw him there back in March (although he wasn't cooking). He actually came over and spoke to us which surprised me a bit but we were the last people in the place after the lunch crowd. I have seen him at Gilead at least twice in the last few months as well. I know there has been a lot of discussion about the food going downhill at JKWB in the past while but I've always enjoyed my meals there including brunch this past Sunday. I was saddened to read the article in the Globe this morning and I hope things work out for him.

                        1. re: Non Doctor

                          Control disputes can distract people away from the books. JK Wine Bar is still a great location for the right person.

                          1. re: Non Doctor

                            Thanks, I missed that.
                            Also heard JK on CBC Radio yesterday (Wed) saying that 'an offer was on the table' for the staff at JKWB to take-over the place - "but it wasn't generally available to anyone else to buy the space".

                      1. I saw him at Gilead the other week and he certainly looked stressed. Meanwhile, the place was packed. Interestingly, I've been to Gilead and Hank's maybe 10 times in the last two months, seems to me that the moves he's making are good ones. Plus his food is terrific and his brand is strong...he should really branch out from the G&M/Toronto Life/ladies-who-lunch scene and come downtown. Too bad Ossington got the bylaw smackdown - I would gladly invest in a JK resto down there, it would be rammed every night.

                        1. We were at the Gardiner press lunch yesterday, and while JK did seem tired and talked of challenging times, etc, etc. He didn't seem like someone who was folding, but rather someone who wanted us all to follow along and pay farmers what they deserve to produce our food. Not the giant agri-business, but the local producer.

                          He isn't the only one feeling the pinch...

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: legourmettv

                            The thing is that if everyone started buying local food there is no way in heck that they could produce enough.. especially so if you wanted it to be organic. It is a big Myth that in our current city culture we could ever survive on a 100mile system... just too many people concentrated in the city and not enough farms to produce the food...

                            So the more people who jump on the bandwagon the higher the prices will go due to supply an demand.

                            Also JK says his downfall was high food costs.. then why did he not raise his prices.. in all the posts on Chow I do not remember anyone saying that he was too expensive.. adding a buck to each dish would not alienate too many people and would give him more cash.. I am thinking that the farm and his time away from the restaurants had more to do with his cash problems then food costs...

                            1. re: OnDaGo

                              I'm not going to pretend to use any economic analysis in responding, but I have to take issue with the suggestion we couldn't survive on a 100 mile system. In terms of volume of food, cheese, meat, etc, Southern Ontario produces, the production exceeds the demand. No, it's not all organic, and no, we don't produce oysters, lobsters, Kobe, Wagyu or Chilean Sea Bass, but that doesn't make up the bulk of what is eaten.

                              If anything, the increase in prices for local organic means the market for the goods has increased, which should prove the business case for production to follow suit, or for supply channels to improve. One of the possibly inadvertent side-effects of JK being successful in marketing the local organic menus is that many of his suppliers are now selling directly into retail, or the high-end specialty shops, which probably has an effect on the wholesale prices.

                              1. re: Snarf

                                Tell me how much excess wheat is grown within 100 miles of Toronto that could be turned into flour to feed 6million people all year?

                                1. re: OnDaGo

                                  Not sure if you read my first paragraph. Discussions on this board about economics never go anywhere useful, with the final comments being somewhat along the line of "Oh, Yeah?", and "Yo mama."

                                  For an example of the uselessness of the discussion, your question presumes that 6 million people have bread as part of their culture, that that bread is made from wheat, and some presumption that there is a sufficiency or excess of wheat grown in the questioned region. It also indirectly suggests that current agricultural choices should be used as a fixed comparator instead of possible future production.

                                2. re: Snarf

                                  I think the economics of this are interesting -- the question would probably arise around items like spices (black pepper, sugar and curry for example) and other items that we are used to cooking with/eating that have to be imported. Coffee and tea would be out. Being a 100 mile purist would be tough for me at least. Anyone have some good Elizabethan recipes?

                                  1. re: Arcadiaseeker

                                    You'll have to go further back in time... even the Elizabethan English had access to spices and produce from far away places (even if they were insanely expensive).

                                    1. re: Blueicus

                                      You make a good point! And it begs the question -- I can't think of a time (at least in European history) when trade and travel has not been a vibrant part of culture (and cooking). Greeks, Romans and before....trade with most areas of the world has flourished and influenced cooking. This 100 miles thing, within that context, seems somewhat Orwellian. Perhaps we just need to revert back to non-polluting sailing ships (that do not destroy forests) and other means to transport what we need.

                                      1. re: Arcadiaseeker

                                        If you want a recipe for sweet potato/chicory coffee, I'd be happy to send you one. I don't think it's been made in the last 100 years.

                                        Local food movements'and physical benchmarks for production zones are various. One author in the states refused to disclude spices, and most restaurants will use spices and serve coffee. It's a direction that people are heading towards, not an absolute.

                                        Back to the trade comment, a number of years ago, the rent that the locals in Bermuda paid to the British Government for a lodge was and has been one peppercorn.

                                    2. re: Arcadiaseeker

                                      If you're really interested in heritage cooking, I suggest you look into articles/books by Liz Driver.


                                  2. re: OnDaGo

                                    It sounds to me that JK was maintaining some level of deliberate ignorance as to the exact state of his finances. Also, he admits that he expanded his business too quickly. The whole notion of expansion is anathema to the philosophy behind the slow food movement. Ah, the contradictions of the soul!

                                    1. re: OnDaGo

                                      The last grasp of desperation for any restaurateur is to raise prices. Trust me, it doesn't work. He didn't have enough customers to alienate to begin with, the problem is attracting new clientele. You think they would pay more in these times?

                                      It is a sad time for fine dining in Toronto.

                                      1. re: aser

                                        Angel investors and other gamblers are in very short supply these days. That's what's killing JK--his notable lack of business acumen and nanofad food interests aside. Too late to downshift if you've already hit the ditch.

                                        1. re: Kagemusha

                                          Generally, angel investors don't exceed 500k in their investments. This isn't that market.

                                          The Globe article indicated that there was bridge financing in place, not uncommon when selling an asset. The other businesses are making money.

                                  3. From everything I've read about this, it seems that JK fell into the same trap that many people did in their personal lives, which is living beyond your means! I don't claim to be the expert in the restaurant business, but just logically, one would think that if you want to be that kind of restaurant, ie. local food/produce, then for it to be profitable, you can't expand your empire. It just doesn't add up financially. You have to keep it small. And anyway, it just makes more sense with the branding of it that you keep it smaller anyway with the local produce, etc. But wow, how naive was this JK to not know how bad his books were? Who was minding the store?

                                    I've been around family members who are restaurateurs, and the one thing they *always* say is that when the cat's away, the mouse will play--meaning--if JK wasn't around as much as he should have been, then his staff, accountants, whomever was there will always feel less pressure to perform their best when the boss is away. Number one rule in the restaurant business: if you're an owner, always be there in some way everyday!!! But it looks like he was happier on his farm or in the kitchen creating, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, it's just you have to pick a lane.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Greekfood Koukla

                                      maybe he trusted his kitchen, floor and wine managers too much!?
                                      we wish him best of luck! he is a great guy indeed!