Fans of The Real Jerk restaurant can look forward to the establishment continuing to serve up jerk chicken and rotis in South Riverdale — at least temporarily.
The Queen Street and Broadview Avenue restaurant, known for the bright, smiling sun mural on its southeast corner, received an eviction notice on Dec. 30, which informed the 23-year-old family-run business they had until Jan. 31 to move out of the building.
But following a ‘Save The Real Jerk’ campaign — complete with a website, social media presence, legal proceedings and support from Riverside residents and Ward 30 councillor Paula Fletcher — the restaurant has been granted an injunction which will allow them to operate at their current location until at least March 1 and potentially until Dec. 31, 2012.
Tenant and The Real Jerk owner Ed Pottinger hailed the ruling as a victory and thanked the community for their support. By press time, a petition to ‘Save The Real Jerk’ had more than 3,000 signatures.
“Without the community there would be no jerk,” Pottinger thundered in his packed restaurant the evening he made the announcement. “The community was the whole purpose of this … they proved they cared about this restaurant.”
If the restaurant closed, about 25 employees would have lost their jobs.
Pottinger said the operators never hoped to stay there permanently, but just to have more than a month to find a new location.
“That’s what I always wanted, just a little more time to relocate,” he said. “I now have that.”
In Dec. 2011, the president of Buckingham Properties, Bill Mandelbaum, purchased the building from Mike and Sultana Kalentzis.
At the time the Pottingers were operating under an informal agreement with the previous owners. The last five-year term written lease expired on Dec. 31, 2000, with the Pottingers informally paying monthly rent since.
Mandelbaum intended on renting the property with a possession date of Feb. 1. The new tenant was planning on opening an Irish pub in time for Saint Patrick’s Day, said Mandelbaum’s lawyer David Weisman.
But Madam Justice Wailan Low ruled the previous owners erred in the manner in which they sold the property, because the previous lease contained an option to renew and a right of first refusal in favour of Pottinger in case the owners decided to sell.
There is also evidence the previous owners deceived the Pottingers.
“According to the evidence before the court, Kalentzis did not accord to the plaintiff a first refusal and, to the contrary, represented to the plaintiff … that he did not intend to sell the premises,” Low ruled.
A major issue of contention is whether the Pottingers were month-to-month or year-to-year tenants. The document states that the relationship between a tenant and landlord where a tenant over-holds following a term of years is “presumptively a year-to-year tenancy unless there is evidence” to prove otherwise.
Mandelbaum’s lawyer presented document a titled “Tenant’s Acknowledgement” which states, “The tenancy is on a month-to-month basis. There is no written lease.”
“My client received acknowledgement from the restaurant that they were in fact there on a month-to-month basis,” Weisman said.
That acknowledgement was from Edward’s wife, Lilieth Pottinger, who signed the document.
If the tenant had indeed been month-to-month, then they would have needed only a month’s notice for eviction. But Low notes that Lilieth is not the tenant, officer or director of the tenant and hence had no legal authority to sign the acknowledgement.
“I am not persuaded that it displaces the presumption of a year-to-year tenancy,” the document reads.
As a result, the landlord is restrained from re-entry or otherwise interfering with the tenant’s enjoyment of the premises.
The judge also imposed a term that, starting March 1, Pottinger must pay $5,700 per month into the courts, which is the difference in rent from what Pottinger was paying and the agreed upon monthly rent for the new tenant.
Pottinger said they are hopeful of finding a new spot by March 1. Ultimately they have until the end of the year.
Torontonians from across the city tweeted their joy as the judge’s ruling was announced at the restaurant.
Zinejda Rita, a former South Riverdale resident who spent last year’s Valentine’s Day at The Real Jerk, said the restaurant is beloved by many nearby residents who have never even eaten there.
“The Real Jerk is really one of the staples of that intersection,” she said.
Rita was somewhat amused by the scale of the ‘Save The Real Jerk’ campaign, because in her experience, The Real Jerk is not usually the busiest restaurant.
“I found it very interesting myself that there’s this giant outcry from the public, all over Twitter and whatnot, and yet every time that I’ve gone to The Real Jerk it’s been kind of empty on the inside,” she said.
She said while Caribbean food is not her favourite, the restaurant has character and it was one of her more memorable Valentine’s experiences.
“It’s a kind of a cool place to go,” she said. “They have like, vinyl tablecloths.”
The Riverside District BIA was happy to hear the restaurant will be sticking around. The BIA’s vice-chair Nancy Grenier noted the restaurant moved into South Riverdale before gentrification made it a trendier neighbourhood.
“They’ve been a landmark in this neighhourhood for (almost) 25 years,” she said. “They were one of the pioneers.”
The motion for a temporary injunction was served on only one day’s notice and affidavits were not tested by cross-examination. For this reason, the ruling is interim only and either party may bring the matter back to court.
Mandelbaum could not be reached for comment.
Pottinger says he may have found a new location nearby. He refused to offer any concrete details, but did offer up a few tantalizing tidbits.
“It will be in the area, and it’s going to be great,” Pottinger said. “And I can say it’s going to have a patio.”