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Beloved Oakwood Village restaurant forced to shutter after landlord doesn’t renew lease

A Toronto community is grieving the loss of a beloved local restaurant that offered customers a warm meal and a welcoming table in the heart of Oakwood Village.

Owner and chef Anne Sorrenti told CTV News Toronto that she’s been forced to close The Oakwood Hardware near Oakwood Avenue and Rogers Road because her landlord didn’t want to renew her lease.

Sorrenti said she has lived in the neighbourhood for 29 years and she used to pass the building all the time. She said the location used to be a hardware store back in 1928, and since then a series of businesses revolved through. Sorrenti opened the restaurant in 2016 after working to convert the space.

“It had become a cursed corner where one shop would open and then it would close, and then it was empty,” she said. “And then finally I said I’m going to do it. I’m going to take a chance and so I opened there in Oakwood village.”

“I knew there really wasn’t any place for people to go in the neighbourhood, for like families, women, just anybody. There was no inclusive place. For me, it was really important to have that place that was welcoming for all people.”

Over the years, the restaurant managed to become a pillar in the community, long-time customer Lisa Goos told CTV News Toronto. She said she brought her family to the restaurant to have a warm comforting meal when her mother passed away.

“It’s a pretty important place. My whole family went there when my mom died and Anna put shots on our table for us because she didn’t know what happened but she knew we were hurting,” she said. “It’s pretty devastating. It’s sad. It’s such a warm place to be. The food is just perfect. It just fit the community perfectly in terms of the décor, the food, the ambiance, the environment that it created.”

The Oakwood Hardware is being forced to close after the restaurant’s landlord refused to renew its lease. (The Oakwood Hardware/Facebook)

Goos said the restaurant was also a place she could visit on her own, and not feel lonely or uncomfortable.

“I was perfectly comfortable. It was that cheer. It was that place. It was like that for me, it was like that for my husband and it was like that for so many people in the community,” she said. “You would walk in and three of your friends would be sitting there. That’s the thing I’m going to miss the most.”

Goos said that when Sorrenti’s restaurant opened, it started encouraging other shops that serve the community to open in the neighboourhood.

“Anna’s presence really made a big difference to the culture of the neighbourhood. She made the place feel so warm,” she said.

Goos added that the prices were important to the community too. It was never too expensive and the prices never rose too high. “It’s not the kind of neighbourhood. It’s a lot of small families,” she said

Sorrenti said she rarely raised her prices in order to make sure her food was affordable for her customers. She said her business managed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic and a fire, but she knew her restaurant was an important place for the community and she strove to keep it afloat.

“I won’t say it was easy because it wasn’t, but, all along, the focus was that it would be a place for people to gather,” she said. “It’s become this community anchor. It’s become a hub and I wanted that.”

“People have been coming to me and crying about the closure. It surpassed by expectations, how much people loved this place. What I did want to create, I did. Not just me, but my family, my staff.”

Toronto Councillor Josh Matlow took to social media earlier this month to express his disappointment after hearing about the restaurant’s closure.

He posted about the business again this week and vowed to look “into realistic ways to protect beloved local businesses from being priced out of our main streets.”

“It’s hosted extraordinary events, family events and diverse cultural events,” he said. “I personally have such fond memories of my daughter running with her friends next to their magical patio, under festive lights, while we enjoyed Anne’s delicious meals over conversation with our community doing the same at tables around us.”

Sorrenti said she made it a welcoming place for young children. She said she put in an ice-cream shop in the back of the restaurant for kids to hang out.

“I just wanted it to be a warm place like from the moment you walk in, to feel welcome. It was important to me that anybody could walk in the door,” she said. “I always wanted this place to be more.”

She said the legacy of Oakwood Hardware is that it made an impact on a community that needed “some love, that needed some attention, that needed to be acknowledged as a community.” 

Sorrenti said she is not sure what her plans for the future are yet, but is proud of what she has accomplished. 

“I’ll never regret doing this. I’m sad. I’m heartbroken. It’s very heart-wrenching for all of us, but we won’t regret because we feel proud of what we have done,” she said.

The restaurant will officially close on May 25. 

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