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CafeTO rollout going smoothly so far as spaces for patios begin to be blocked off

Following a disastrous 2023 CafeTO roll-out partly due to miscommunications between city transportation, economic development and licensing departments, the City of Toronto received just 501 permit applications.

That marked a near 40 per cent decline from the previous year. Since then, however, officials vowed to rectify past mistakes, ensuring residents and restaurateurs that they will experience a more efficient curbside cafe program for the summer of 2024.

On Tuesday, Apr. 30, Mayor Olivia Chow and Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher held a news conference at Eastbound Brewing Company to provide updates on these improvements.

They announced that the city has succeeded in keeping its promise, highlighting that 90 per cent of CafeTO curb lane patios will be ready and open by Victoria Day long weekend.

“Improvements to the CaféTO program have made it more seamless for the many local restaurants, bars and cafés that rely on these patios as a critical source of revenue,” said Fletcher in a city news release.

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According to the news release, more than 1,000 patios will be opened as part of CaféTO this summer with more 500 sidewalk cafés permitted to remain active all year round.

Another 650 patios have been approved on private properties, “while more than 290 curb lane patio spaces will stay open until Oct. 15”.

Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford told Beach Metro Community News that his constituents welcome the news of the city’s plans to launch CaféTO in record time this year.

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“After the disaster of last year’s delayed rollout, I’m certainly glad that CafeTO is working better this year,” said Bradford.

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He said that much of this year’s success comes as a result of a streamlined process which made it easier for establishments that participated in the program before to reapply.

“This lesson should be applied more broadly across the city – quick, automatic approvals for renewals, without a ton of paperwork or reinventing the wheel,” he said.

Although there were still minor “speed bumps”, Bradford applauded city staff for being “more collaborative and understanding” through this year’s permit application process.

“The city was definitely more proactive this year – definitely more organized,” said Dana Kerbel, the co-owner of The Gull and Firkin on Queen Street East in the Beach.

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Kerbel also highlighted the efforts of The Beach BIA to ensure a successful roll-out of this year’s CafeTO program.

Unlike previous years in which participants reported failures from the city to reach out and provide updates on the program, Kerbel said that an email offer to renew The Gull and Firkin’s patio permit was received in January.

“People that were approved last year and should have had a patio weren’t allowed,” said Kerbel. “I feel like that was rectified, so that’s positive.”

The City of Toronto has seen increased interest in CafeTO spaces for this year, reporting more than 1,000 participants. However, Beaches-East York (si far) has just 23 registered establishments – a decline from the 56 that signed up last year.

Kerbel said that this, although surprising, is perhaps due to the “novelty” of outdoor dining wearing off once people readjusted to life post-pandemic.

“The first two years were gangbusters,” she said. “That for sure had to do with COVID and people being more comfortable outdoors. The Beach itself became (so) vibrant. I had never seen something like it in almost 20 years.”

With the CafeTO program was first introduced to Toronto businesses in 2020, with the aim of helping them navigate through the tumultuous COVID-19 pandemic, Kerbel said she felt the initial success in the Beach was because of people’s desire for something different after having been stuck indoors for such an extended period of time.

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“The amount of pedestrian traffic created this amazing vibe at night, especially on the weekend,” said Kerbel. “But definitely last year, I saw a decrease in that.”

This has led to The Gull and Firkin downsizing their patio for 2024 as they expecting less foot traffic in comparison to previous years.

Still, Kerbel said that CafeTO and the additional outdoor space it makes available during the warm weather months has been “beneficial” to The Gull and Firkin, and she plans on continuing to be involved in the program in the years to come.

— Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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