In the span of a little over a year, The Brickyard Grounds firmly entwined itself into the fabric of the neighbourhood near Greenwood and Gerrard. It quickly became a convenient hub serving up sharp coffee and comfort food in a warm environment that was always bustling with action. What's more, it fostered a strong sense of community amongst the people who came through its doors. In fact, the cafe's original run even helped to spur on a push to rename the surrounding neighbourhood as Bricktown, paying homage to the area's many brickyards in the late 19th and early 20th century.
After a fire in its building forced The Brickyard Grounds to close last winter, cafe owners Lefteris and Sophie Karagiannis have been going through the painstaking process of rebuilding their business literally from the ground up once again. Now with a reopening finally set for August 27, we checked in with them about the new Brickyard Grounds, what it means to open a cafe for a second time and what we can expect with the reincarnation.
WHAT WERE THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT SHUT DOWN THE ORIGINAL BRICKYARD GROUNDS?
On a cold night in the early morning hours of February 25, we had a fire in the basement that created a great deal of smoke damage. Smoke is like water, and follows the path of least resistance. Thankfully, all of the smoke detection devices were working properly, and Toronto Fire Services was notified quickly. We're grateful for the timely response and efforts of Toronto Fire Services and 55 Division, as they worked diligently to contain and secure the area.
HOW DID THE COMMUNITY RESPOND TO YOUR CLOSING?
It absolutely amazes us how caring our community is. There were countless offers to help in the aftermath and rebuild. There were a number of times I’d step outside, and one of our guests was just staring at the note on the door shaking their heads in disbelief, and when I went outside to say hello, I was met with tears of sadness. We shared a lot of hugs, hopefulness and joy of our determination to move forward and rebuild. There were a number of times when others would see us, and cross the street to give a warm hello and best wishes. It helped to hear their own stories of having to deal with similar circumstances. When we're out and about in Leslieville, people honk their horns and shout out their car windows to say hello. I’ve met guests on the street who instantly lit up. We miss our guests quite a bit, and look forward to seeing them again.
WHAT WAS INVOLVED WITH THE REBUILD?
It’s a little like peeling an onion, you just don’t know how many layers are needed to get to the core. One thing is for certain, we’ve gotten to the core, and are placing the finishing touches on the rebuild. The basement underwent a full renovation — back to the brick. On the main floor, there was some structural work that needed to be complete before a new floor went in. We went with a Made in Canada maple floor. There’s new heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing and everything else you can imagine if you’ve ever undergone a full renovation. Having already renovated a year and half ago for The Brickyard Grounds, we knew what was involved.
SO, WHAT CAN THE COMMUNITY EXPECT WITH THE REINCARNATION OF THE BRICKYARD GROUNDS?
This is our opportunity to take a step back, and look at everything with a 30,000-foot view. We asked ourselves: what is really important to us with The Brickyard Grounds? What we set out to establish is a place that the community can call its own. We’re unpretentious, and provide a great environment for our guests to enjoy great food. This part remains the same. What will change is some of the interior; some of the seating, the counters and wall colours. We’re also making some small changes that will make a big difference for our peak service times.
WHAT ABOUT THE MENU?
Our menu will fundamentally stay the same — we’re focused on providing comfort Canadiana. We’re adding more vegetarian and vegan options, as well as more options for those with a gluten-free lifestyle. We’re also adding ice cream, and this will provide a number of new offerings like ice cream sandwiches with our scratch-made waffles. Having some time away has allowed us to try new things, and we’ve found some new favourites. We’re still focused on small-batch local producers for beer, but we’re expanding to include cider. We’re also changing our hours to accommodate the early evening crowd who are just getting home from work and want to have a casual dinner.
ANY OTHER SURPRISES?
More than ever, we're focused on our community. The Brickyard Grounds will be putting Bricktown on the map in Toronto. Many have asked whether previous coffee cards will be honoured as they are still in many people’s wallets – and yes, we're happy to honour them. We’ve always offered non-dairy options for lattes like soy, almond and even hemp milk, and this will also follow through in the small-batch, scratch-made frozen dessert offerings. I’ve been experimenting. We’re finding more uses for our fresh Montreal cheese curds. More to come on all of this, so stay tuned.