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What can be learnt from Toronto’s Market Street entrepreneurs?

The street next to Toronto's St Lawrence Market has been lovingly restored and is now home to five independent eateries. What can they teach the aspiring restauranteur?

The restaurant industry is a notoriously risky business environment – but that didn't stop five inspired entrepreneurs setting up their own eateries last year on Toronto’s newly renovated Market Street.

Previously dilapidated and rundown, Market Street's recent restoration has made the most of the 19th century buildings that had lain hidden beneath eroded exteriors. The main aim was to create a foodie destination and offer a ‘diverse collection of culinary culture and charm.’

"It looked like a scary dark alley that wouldn’t want to walk down" Dimitri Petropoulos, general manager of Italian restaurant Pastizza, told The Star when describing Market Street, pre-renovation.

The word ‘destination’ defines the essence of Market Street and it is likely the reason our entrepreneurs chose it as their location. Rather than touching up a few old buildings, the goal was to make Market Street a special place that people would go out of their way to visit.

The emergence of Market Street is a poignant part of Toronto's evolution, as it was the last project started by legendary Toronto developer Paul Oberman before his tragic death in 2011. Oberman’s wife, Eve Lewis, completed the restoration of the buildings on the street's west side and replaced the asphalt with more traditional and aesthetically appealing cobbled paths. It was a cathartic exercise for her:

‘I was able to focus on this. I was able to focus on Paul’s business and it really gave me something to immerse myself in,’ Ms Lewis said in an interview with The Star.

Five independent businesses currently reside on the street: Barsa Taberna, Bindia Indian Bistro, Evolution Food Co., Market Street Catch and Pastizza. Alongside them is a cafe from small Ontarian chain 'Balzac's'.

Despite the renovation, choosing such an area for a start-up restaurant or eatery is a bit of a risk - a lot of marketing is needed to make people aware of the new hub.

Yet, five fledgling restauranteurs decided to invest in Market Street and have their first eatery located on Market Street. What can we learn from them?

Location, location… and no big corporations

‘None of [the eateries] are corporations, and we’re all very complementary, so there’s no clashing concepts,’ said Aras Azadian, president and partner of Barsa Taberna, a Barcelona-inspired tapas restaurant on the street.

Besides the usual risks of starting up, the placement of a number of independent and locally-owned businesses in one area is conducive to gaining support for and attracting people to it. Negative perceptions of bigger corporations and the growing trend of supporting local businesses are key in the viability of destinations like Market Street.

Choosing such a location should be a head start for a new enterprise; you will already have an enthusiastic customer base and the area's communal reputation from the outset .

The fact that these restaurants are all ‘complementary’ to each other also provides that all-important sense of a ‘dining destination.'

This has encouraged the entrepreneurs to share the marketing cost  in advertising the area to potential customers. For example, all the restaurants on Market Street are serving a prix fixe lunch menu from April 10th called ‘Marketlicious.’ This unification also aims to highlight the theme of each restaurant.

Take a risk – but evaluate it

When Ian Paech, owner of Evolution Food Co. on Market Street said that he wanted to start his own business, some of his acquaintances were worried about the risk he was taking on. Yet he weighed up the odds and felt it was worth it.

‘A lot of my banking friends said I was taking on more risk than I should have,’ Ian told The Globe and Mail. ‘I wanted to do something that was a pleasure...and meant something to me.’

It's true of any business, but especially so in the restaurant industry - if you don't have a passion for what you do, you will not survive for long.

Know the industry

While you needn’t be an expert to venture into an industry, you should attempt to learn as much as you can by way of research and experience. This is particularly true in the food industry, where you really have to be on top of your game.

Since working for his parent's drive-in restaurant from the age of 12, Tom Antonarakis’ (owner of Market Street Catch on the street) deep-rooted passion for the food business grew with his experience.

If you don't have prior experience, make sure you work in some restaurants before you take the plunge; it's not a job for the faint-hearted, with a frenetic atmosphere and long hours. Vigilant book-keeping is the cornerstone of any catering business and it's essential to keep on top of foodie trends.

Gain family backing

Starting a restaurant business can be difficult, and having support from the family can make all the difference. Michael Kapil, owner of Market Street's Bindia, took this ideal to the extreme, with his whole family being involved in the business.

Michael was actually the first entrepreneur brave enough to set up his own restaurant on the newly renovated Market Street. After he decided to name the restaurant after his seven-year-old daughter, he employed his wife Jyoti as the manager. His brother-in-law is also the executive chef and co-partner.

‘But what I like about running a restaurant is that people always walk in happy — and leave with a smile on their face,’ he told The Star.

Nearby market: fast, fresh produce

Opening an eatery near to a local market is a real perk for a food business, as fresh, local food will always be close by. These days, customers want to know exactly what they are eating - how is was produced and where it came from.

Market Street is aptly named and sits comfortably next to the bustling St. Lawrence Market, which boasts a treasure trove of local produce.

Tom Antonarakis, (of Market Street Catch), is lucky enough to own a food truck and seafood counter inside the market. This enables him to have both access to fresh ingredients and also operate outside the hours of the market.

If you think you have the drive and determination of Toronto's entrepreneurs, take a look at our restaurants for sale in Canada .

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