These days, the mottled façade of the now-closed People’s Eatery—a place that once dubiously claimed to serve the best Peking duck in town—doesn’t look like much. One could easily assume it’s just the tattered leftovers of an unremarkable Chinatown dive, poised to become yet another Chinatown dive. But inside, big things are happening.
Four dust-coated guys are building what could be the most ambitious restaurant the neighbourhood has seen in years. Anyone who’s stuffed their faces with pork buns and Trini doubles at Queen and Bathurst may recognize them: they’re 416 Snack Bar founders Adrian Ravinsky and David Stewart, bartending vet Matt See, and early 416 mentor Dustin Gallagher, who is fresh off a stint as chef at the erstwhile Acadia. The four have partnered up to open a new 416 offshoot on Spadina, just north of Dundas. In homage to the building’s past, the upcoming multi-level restaurant will take the same name as its predecessor: People’s Eatery.
“We had a taste of success at 416,” says Ravinsky, applying a coat of epoxy to the upper-level floor of the gutted space. “And now we have more resources. We’re not going to take that for granted.”
The roughly 1,800-square-foot space will seat around 80 and house two dining rooms in one. The downstairs will be similar to 416, with a laid-back ambiance and a snack-focused menu (we’re told to expect lots of smoked meat as a tribute to Spadina’s Jewish history). The upstairs will be a more refined room where Gallagher can essentially do whatever he wants. The former Top Chef contestant has a longstanding relationship with the 416 team, having developed the restaurant’s opening menu back in 2011. The new gig will give him the flexibility to get as high-end or as low-end as he feels at any given moment.
It may seem like an incongruous addition to the neighbourhood, but Chinatown is changing. It’s become fertile ground for slick new businesses like Dark Horse, Hotel Ocho, Strada 241 and the upcoming Lucky Red. Ravinsky is well aware that he and his associates could be seen as gentrifiers, but he’s confident that this stretch of Spadina has a vibrant future. “The neighbourhood has already had a significant change in its history, and it’s ready for another one,” he says.
An official launch date hasn’t been set, but the new People’s Eatery should be open “sometime between now and Christmas.”