Tommy has left the building… well, for now, at least

Left: The flooding that occurred in Princess Street businesses, including Tommy’s, in August of 2018.
Right: The inside of Tommy’s now, cleared out as it is shut down for renovations.

Less than a month away from its eight year anniversary, Tommy’s restaurant on Princess Street has closed its doors to the public for the next two months.

As a result of damage caused by the flooding that occurred in August of this year, the restaurant will have to undergo extensive demolition and renovations. That flooding, originally thought to have been caused by a broken water main, was actually the result of an “assembly issue” on a six-inch water service main, which was being installed during the fourth phase of the Big Dig, contractor Dan Corcoran later confirmed.

The flooding affected four businesses on the north side of Princess Street just above Barrie Street: Addiction and Mental Health Services KFLA (AMHS-KLFA), The Pita Grill and Poutine, Brian’s Record Option, and Tommy’s restaurant. AMHS-KFLA was not seriously impacted by the issue, but The Pita Grill and Poutine has since shut down, Brian’s Record Option remains closed (but has assured its loving patrons it will return, especially thanks to the fundraising efforts by the community to see it restored).

Although Tommy’s reopened the day after the flooding to serve coffee – thanks to the huge efforts of the restaurant’s staff – and remained open and serving its loyal clientele, it, too, is now closed as of Monday, Oct. 22, 2018.

“Right now, I’m as busy as I possibly can be, because once the demolition starts on the restaurant, they’ve said I’m not allowed in there,” said Tommy Hunter, owner of Tommy’s restaurant, as he took a short break between loading and unloading items from the restaurant into storage.

“So I’m trying to do everything I can until that point.”

The restaurant will remain closed until the new year. Hunter is hoping to have the doors open again by the second week of January, after two separate companies have come through the building: one for demolition and mould removal, and the other to rebuild and renovate the classic 50s diner-style restaurant. And Tommy’s regulars needn’t worry: Hunter has no plans to change the aesthetic of the restaurant apart from “maybe adding some more neon signs,” he said.

Earlier this month on Monday, Oct. 1, Hunter took to social media to vent his frustrations with Len Corcoran Excavation Ltd., the firm in charge of the Big Dig, as well as Dan Corcoran, the company’s president, himself. Among other gripes, Hunter accused Corcoran and his company of carelessness and not following up with the businesses affected by the flooding. In just days, Hunter’s Facebook post had gone viral locally, with over 1,000 shares on Facebook alone. However, days later, Hunter and Corcoran met face to face to discuss the matter and are both hoping to move forward amicably.

“We were able to sit down and talk about the issues like professionals,” Hunter said.

“Once I explained the collateral damage involved with closing a restaurant, I think he started to understand why I was so upset.”

That collateral damage – things that won’t be covered by insurance, but will certainly create additional expenses – includes a number of things. Hunter’s primary concern surrounds the fact that closing for two months leaves his employees without work for at least two months. And that issue in and of itself could cause a number of issues, Hunter expressed, pointing to the fact his current staff could build relationships in the bars and restaurants that employ them in the interim. He also noted that losing staff would mean having to train new employees, and, with a largely senior staff at the moment, that would require thousands of hours before he’d be able to operate as he was before the flooding. He’s also concerned about losing loyal clientele, not only because of the relationships that have been built between customers and the staff at Tommy’s, but also because the revenue the casual-yet-consistent bar customer generates will also be missing.

“Now if I send all of my guests to some other bar to have their beer, and now they’ve got relationships at other bars, suddenly that’s their bar,” Hunter said.

But it’s the situation he is faced with, and one he will face head-on as soon as he can get back inside his restaurant.

“November 15 will be eight years since I got the keys, and the work hasn’t stopped since. It’s a very strange feeling to suddenly not be doing that,” he said.

“I was worried that I’d get used to not working, but I’m already excited to get back in there and working again.”

And, since his meeting with Corcoran, the two have been able to bury the hatchet. A few acts of good faith can go a long way, something Corcoran has proved by making a $800 donation to the Partners in Mission Food Bank in lieu of the funds Tommy’s would have raised at their annual bike and carwash, which was meant to be held the same day as the flooding. And Corcoran has also indicated that he will try to help financially in places where Hunter finds himself paying out of pocket, both parties indicated.

“I’ve been trying to do what little bit I can to help bridge the gap between what the out-of-pockets are and what the insurance company will cover,” Corcoran said.

“Don’t get me wrong, my feelings are hurt and I’m very sad about how edgy his comments were on Facebook,” he continued, “But we had what I call a really great conversation. I like to think that we’re done throwing handfuls of you-know-what at each other, and we’re going to try to move forward and see if we can’t continue to talk about ‘is there something that I can help him with a little bit to minimize the negative effects.’”

Any while Tommy’s won’t be open, Hunter still plans to carry out his Christmas tradition of serving about 300 people in need of a free holiday meal on Christmas Eve. Thanks to the generosity of the local service community, Hunter will use the kitchen and basement level of Renaissance event venue to serve his Christmas dinner, and, although he just closed the doors of the restaurant, there’s no time to waste getting started on fundraising for the event.

“I think for the first month and a half, we’re going to have to keep it pretty much cash donations,” Hunter said, noting that because he doesn’t have the restaurant open, he doesn’t have a place to store the turkeys that are often donated by the public.

Last year, 120 turkeys were donated, along with 90 pies and $4,000, which just covered feeding the 300 people in attendance, as well as the grocery hampers Hunter and his staff delivered to families in need five days before Christmas, which contained a turkey, potatoes, frozen pie, dinner rolls, fresh vegetables, a box of stuffing, a can of cranberries, and package of gravy.

“And I mean, to be honest, if we went strictly on cash donations instead of people donating turkeys, it would be a lot easier and better, because then I could order the turkeys in bulk myself, through food suppliers and get them at a better deal.”

Still, Hunter is eager to make sure his Christmas dinner goes ahead, and is already working on fundraising plans as he catches up on office work he’s been putting off while hosting back-to-back events before he had to close the restaurant.

“I know some people prefer to donate the food themselves rather than just donate the money. And ‘m not going to say no to any donations of any sort. So we’ll get the freezer space figured out as soon as we’re able to,” he said.

“You can always make things work, that’s what I always say.”

To donate towards Tommy’s annual Christmas dinner, cash and cheques can be dropped off at Hunter’s other business, Inkwell Tattoos and Piercings at 272 Bagot Street. Those wanting to donate food items should contact Hunter directly.

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