Vintage Toronto Ads: Bobby Orr’s Pizza Weekend

Originally published on Torontoist on October 4, 2011.


Don Mills Mirror, October 13, 1971.

If Tim Horton could run a donut shop, why couldn’t Bobby Orr lend his name to a pizzeria?

Orr may have skated into the pizza business to fend off others hoping to utilize his name in the restaurant business. Around the time the first pizzas were delivered in 1970, Orr’s representatives sent lawyers after other restaurateurs hoping to cash in on the Bruins star’s fame, such as two New Hampshire gentlemen who dreamed of opening Bobby Orr’s Eating Place locations throughout the granite state.

Before the first puck dropped for the 1971/72 season, Orr signed a five-year deal with the Bruins that, at $200,000 per season, made him the NHL’s first “million dollar man.” Besides leading the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory, he picked up the Conn Smythe, Hart, and Norris trophies. We doubt any of that silverware made its way to the pizzerias for a special promotion. (“Buy two pizzas and win a chance to touch Bobby’s latest Norris Trophy!”)

Vintage Ad #1,668: Bobby Orr wants to give you some of his dough

Toronto Star, June 9, 1971.

Known as either Bobby Orr Pizzerias, Bobby Orr’s Pizza Restaurants, or Bobby Orr’s Pizza Parlor, the chain planned to expand across Ontario, but the business endured as well as Orr’s infamously bad knees. An Oshawa newspaper ad hinted at the problem, proclaiming, “Bobby Orr wants to make a comeback,” after, as Star columnist Jeremy Brown put it, “a lapse in quality.” As for the former locations listed in today’s ad, the new one in Willowdale is now a salon/spa, the Keele store is currently a Mr. Sub, and the Cabbagetown branch is a real estate office.

Additional material from the December 17, 1970, and May 21, 1971, editions of the Toronto Star.


7172 opc orr card

1971/72 O-Pee-Chee hockey card.

Whatever name it carried, the chain appears to have come to an end in 1973, when Winnipeg-based owner Champs Food Systems sold the pizzerias to an unnamed buyer for $100,000. As part of the deal, Orr Enterprises withdrew the hockey star’s name from the restaurants.

In his book Power Play, Orr’s agent Alan Eagleson included a paragraph about the pizza business:

Oscar Grubert is a really successful restaurateur of the chain variety. He owns the rights to several of them, all big–Cavanaghs and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Winnipeg, Mother Tucker’s in other places. When his deal for Bobby Orr Pizza Places was launched in the Royal York Hotel, a lot of celebrities, from Pierre Berton to Robert Fulford, were on hand, as well as all the sportswriters. The fanfare was for a new Bobby Orr Pizza Place to open in Oshawa. Oscar set them up and they did well, except Bobby didn’t want to have anything to do with them. He’d say “I never eat this stuff,” that type of thing, and wouldn’t go to an opening. So Oscar finally said, “We might as well get out of that deal.” If Bobby had co-operated he’d be making hundreds of thousands of dollars from that business now, but he just kissed off an association that could have been a long-time money-winner for him.

Or one that Eagleson probably would have benefited more from than Orr. In a 1993 Globe and Mail column on fact-checking, Robert Fulford disputed Eagleson’s account of the pizza chain’s launch night. “It’s nice to be called a celebrity,” Fulford noted, “but I’ve never been in the same room as Bobby Orr and never heard of Orr Pizza Places.”


Vintage Toronto Ads: An Epicurean Delight

Originally published on Torontoist on May 24, 2011.


Toronto Life, December 1966.

Say “Red Lobster” and, apart from the pricy crustacean, many people will conjure images of garlic cheese biscuits, popcorn shrimp, and a treasure chest of prizes for small scallywags. Long before the American seafood restaurant chain washed up on Toronto’s shoreline in the mid-1980s, several other businesses briefly used that name before drifting back into the lake.

One was a North Toronto gourmet takeout/delivery that operated during the late 1960s. Early ads touted its unique dinners (netting not included), which allowed customers to heat and serve at their own leisure. Any clumsy chef could quickly prep the lobster, uncork a nice bottle of South African vino, and then enjoy a cozy tête-à-tête.

Besides plain lobster, The Red Lobster offered other seafood dishes with fanciful origins. An August 1965 ad pitching Lobster Newburg (or, to make it sound fancier, “Lobster a la Newbourg”) claimed the meal was invented by Irving Newbourg, personal chef to Julius Caesar. The ad claimed that the dish was “rescued from obscurity by the tender reverence of our own chef, a great admirer and personal friend of Irving’s.”

By early 1967, ads touted new ownership, which changed the name to Lobster Gourmet two years later. Under its new name, the business received several mentions in Mary Walpole’s advertorial column in the Globe and Mail, such as this one promoting its holiday offerings during the 1972 Christmas season:

Those spur-of-the moment Yuletide affairs when guests linger longer or relatives arrive unexpectedly can be done with grace and aplomb merely by calling the Lobster Gourmet on Mt. Pleasant Rd…Office blockbusters will of course require a few days notice, but then when you consider Lobster Gourmet deliver the entire feast in disposable containers, piping hot and at the specified hour, everyone from the top echelon to cleaning staff will bless the organizer on the morning after…We call ourselves whenever we feel like being spoiled when staying home…The bread that goes with every order deserves raves too—home baked on the premises, it is so rich and buttery you can cut it with a fork.

A less advertiser-inspired assessment appeared in Epicure’s Toronto Food Book (Toronto: Greey DePencier Books, 1978):

Lobster Gourmet offers shellfish dinners for those who don’t like cooking or eating out. All the store needs is an hour’s notice. A 1-1/2 lb lobster dinner (including home-baked bread, drawn butter, salad, and baked potato) is $12.95; a la carte (lobster alone) only 50 cents less. Still, the store salad and bread aren’t that great and if you feel like putting out some effort, you’d be better to arrange those matters at home. The unadulterated cooked lobster itself is first-rate—always in my experience.

Additional material from the August 20, 1965, and November 30, 1972, editions of the Globe and Mail.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Sample Some Switzer’s

Originally published on Torontoist on February 15, 2011.

The Best of Toronto, 1980.

When Switzer’s served the final hearty sandwich at its 322 Spadina Avenue location on September 15, 1991, it was the last deli standing on what had once been a prime strip for diners to get their fix of Jewish delicacies. While competitors like Shopsy’s and United Bakers moved elsewhere, Switzer’s stuck it out a few more years as nearby storefronts started to sell noodles instead of knishes.

One item on Switzer’s menu that received high marks from a review in the Toronto Star around the time this ad appeared was the fries:

Toronto’s best fry is sort of a second string specialty here. This deli may be better known for its corned beef and knishes, but the fries are good enough to be put in the window, too. Short little homemade devils, crisp on the outside, downy on the inside. They carve up the Ontario-grown spuds right there, boil them in Super Fry pure vegetable oil (which is changed four times a week) and, yes, they do blanch them (pre-cook ‘em and then throw them back in the oil for another 60 seconds upon each order). But they’ve got a flavour that any mama would envy. No need to bother with the gravy. Downing these chippies is a crime.

Shortly before the Spadina location closed, general manager and co-owner Eric Solomon shared his memory of one of the many characters who passed through Switzer’s doors:

We once had a woman come in for a corned beef sandwich and she said she had no money but could she sing for her supper? She then proceeded to sing and dance to “Hava Nagilah” up and down the aisles of the restaurant. Everyone was singing and clapping with her, so of course we fed her. The best was when she asked if the pickle was extra and she started to sing and dance again.

Canadian Jewish News, September 12, 1991.

Besides the move of Jewish clientele north from Kensington Market, Solomon saw parking as a major reason for the demise of the Spadina location. Tickets were handed out freely, and the scarce number of spaces along Spadina was to be further limited with the forthcoming streetcar line.

Today, 322 Spadina serves up bánh mì instead of corned beef, thanks to Nguyen Huong. Of the other Switzer’s locations listed in today’s ad, only the Torbram Road branch continued to operate as Switzer’s into the 2010s.

Additional information from the September 12, 1991 edition of the Canadian Jewish News; and the March 3, 1981 and April 17, 1991 editions of the Toronto Star.


ts 91-04-17 history review

The Star’s review of Switzer’s, shortly before it left Spadina Avenue (April 17, 1991). 

cjn 91-09-12 switzers leaves spadina story

Canadian Jewish News, September 12, 1991.

ts 91-09-16 switzers leaves spadina

Toronto Star, September 16, 1991.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Discover the Mug

Originally published on Torontoist on January 11, 2011.


Tribute, Winter 1982.

It’s December 1982. You’ve planted yourself in a seat at the York cinema on Eglinton Avenue, arms loaded with popcorn and soda for fuel while watching Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic biography of Mahatma Gandhi. As the theatre fills up, you flip through the issue of Tribute devoted to Gandhi that you picked up on the way in. The short cast bios and puff pieces don’t hold your attention long, so your mind drifts elsewhere. You observe your fellow moviegoers, none of whom appear interesting or seem like they could be potential cause for concern during the movie. After polishing off your Coca-Cola and long before the trailers start, you flip through the magazine again to keep your hands and mind occupied.

While turning the pages, an ad catches your eye, though you’re not sure what draws you to it: the young server with flowers in her hair and a burger platter in her hand, or the mug filled with a healthy-headed beverage that may or may not be alcoholic. Mental note to self: suggest The Mug to your friends as a place to go after Christmas shopping at the Eaton Centre?

And then the movie begins…

Postscript: By the end of 1985, The Mug appears to have evolved into the J.J.Muggs chain. Of the locations listed in this ad, 500 Bloor Street West currently houses Aroma Espresso Bar, while the 1 Dundas Street West branch awaits its reincarnation as Toronto’s second Joey Restaurant. The next feature at the York will be a 3D showing of My Date With a Wrecking Ball, as the building (later used as an event venue and fitness club) will be demolished to make way for a condo.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Dining at Village by the Grange

Sorry, Wong Number

Originally published on Torontoist on November 2, 2010.


Toronto Star, March 30, 1979.

Never underestimate the ability of a business to exploit the punny potential of its moniker.

Deriving its name from a New Jersey restaurant that offered the same mix of cuisines, Ginsberg and Wong made it easy for groups of diners torn between Chinese treats and a deli sandwich fix. Weeks before its opening in April 1979, an advertorial in the Toronto Star promised that the new restaurant, whose full name was the Ginsberg and Wong Food and Beverage Emporium, would prove popular with lunch and pre-theatre groups who fancied a different style of menu. Among the promised items were “all types of hearty fare such as plump, overstuffed cabbage rolls and tempting dishes from the wok as well as all kinds of deli delights.”

Toronto Star reviewer Winston Collins had mixed feelings about the fare and lively atmosphere:

The food isn’t altogether terrible at this new Village by the Grange restaurant, which seems to have sprung to life out of a computer. But, be warned, the big, brash, noisy establishment assaults the senses and nervous system. Along with the kishke and fried won-ton appetizers, an offering of Valium should be included…It’s the perfect place to take a bunch of rowdy youngsters out to eat…The food? Some of it is better than you might expect. Of the appetizers, the gross egg roll ($1.75) is an appetite depressant but the fried chicken wings ($1.95) are meaty and flavourful. The Chinese hot-and-spicy chicken ($3.95) is a pretty good entree; the deli corned-beef sandwich, with shoestring French fries and a taste of cucumber salad ($4.50), is just OK.

The crowds came: by the middle of May, the Star reported that one Saturday saw over a thousand patrons follow the arrows along the self-serve counters to choose their meal. Diners continued to flow through its doors for two decades before the contents of Ginsberg and Wong were unceremoniously auctioned off along with the remnants of three other defunct mall eateries in 1998. We don’t know how many people left that sale with the wong item.

Additional material from the March 20, 1979, May 6, 1979, and May 18, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star.

Expect the Unexpected at Village by the Grange Restaurants

Originally published on Torontoist on November 9, 2010.


Bravo, November-December 1982.

Hungry? Here are a few dining options at Village by the Grange that could have been among your choices for a celebration as the 1982 holiday season kicked into high gear. We covered Ginsberg and Wong last week; here’s the scoop on its fellow foodie tenants.

Ristorante La Gamba was one of the original eateries in the Village by the Grange complex when it opened in 1979. It was run by John La Gamba, whose family had a lengthy resume operating restaurants and catering firms. Most of the information we’ve dug up about La Gamba comes from Mary Walpole, who never said a bad word about any restaurant during the decades her advertorial column ran in the Globe and Mail. Mary dripped with hyperbolic praise for La Gamba when it opened, so take her advice with a grain of salt (or a spoonful of parmesan cheese):

It was a night to remember! A glorious feast gastronomique!…Success blew in the door with the superlative six-course dinner—a triumph for chefs Salvatore & Mario. Applause soared for their culinary dexterity and delightful dance to soft accordion music before the cake-cutting ceremonies!…This new ristorante in the unique Village by the Grange is multi-levelled, cleverly combining sophistication and rustic simplicity. Beautifully bright tiles imported from Italy; real silver-birch trees reflected in shining mirrors. Look for their amusing logo on the walls “Italian with a Twist”!—for go you must—tomorrow or sooner!—to be welcomed by Shaun; to choose from a consummate menu ranging from Rome’s Fettucine alla Carbonara to stunning Frittatae co-ordinated by the knowledgeable Julio Polanari. Not “just another Italian restaurant”—this is a celebration of creative cuisine!

One of the restaurant’s attractions was an eight-course Roman feast, complete with harpist, offered on weekend evenings and overseen by La Gamba, clad in a white toga and sandals. According to Globe and Mail society columnist Zena Cherry, when La Gamba once made a last-minute ingredient dash to another store in the complex, a boy asked him if he was God. He looked at the kid and responded, “Only Fridays and Saturdays.”

John La Gamba also briefly ran Saks, which was located in a cursed corner of the complex. When the mall opened, a retired Peter Witt TTC streetcar and a similar vehicle from Ottawa were placed in the middle of the McCaul streetcar loop to serve as a dining spot. First came The Trolley, which, joked Star food writer Jim White, “went off the tracks.” Next was Hot Jam, which proved to be “a sticky wicket.” Saks arrived in 1982 and, as today’s ad demonstrates, struck pun gold when it came to advertising group bookings—how could diners resist a dose of “group Saks” for a large gathering? They did: La Gamba closed Saks in 1983 and redeveloped the space as a T.J. Applebee’s Food Conglomeration, an eatery inspired by popular American casual chains like TGI Fridays.

Of the restaurants in the ad, Young Lok had the longest history. Opened on Spadina Avenue in 1970, Young Lok developed a reputation for cheap, well-prepared Chinese cuisine. It moved over to fancier digs in Village by the Grange in 1982. Among the fans worried that the upgraded space might ruin the food (which the hard-to-read text in the ad describes as “Sizzling Szechuan, pungent Peking, and the mysteries of the Mongolian Grill,” the latter a new draw after the move) was the Globe and Mail‘s Joanne Kates:

In the good old days the place was kind of drafty. They’d give you a stubby old pencil to write down your order and you knew you never had to dress up to go there. It was comfortably tacky. But now the pencils are monogrammed and the pad of paper for writing your order is custom-printed. The floor is ceramic tile, the plants are real, and there are enough mink coats to make you think you’ve fallen asleep and woken up on Bloor Street. So long, linoleum. Bye-bye Formica Schlock. This is the path of upward mobility, and Young Lok, formerly the gastronomic doyen of Spadina’s saintly scruffiness, has taken that path.

Kates was pleased to discover that while the surroundings had changed, the quality of the food hadn’t. She delighted in dishes like Mandarin crispy duck, a meal for “unrepentant grease lovers, with its fat layer of duck fat cushioning the crunchiest of skins, with the whole sinful affair elevated to the nadir of decadence by a chilli and hoisin sauce.” The restaurant remained in the complex until 1995, while a North York branch survived a few more years.

Additional material from The Joanne Kates Restaurant Guide by Joanne Kates (Toronto: Methuen, 1984) and the following newspapers: the April 21, 1979 and August 26, 1980 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the May 18, 1979, February 24, 1982, and July 20, 1983 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Dressing Up for Danakas

Originally published on Torontoist on May 18, 2010.


CFL Illustrated, October 11, 1976.

The man on the left was not a happy fellow. If given a choice, he would have worn his comfortable corduroy sports jacket and checked trousers to the business dinner, but the boss insisted he had to wear a tuxedo as very important clients were attending and the firm had to put on its classiest face. He shuffled off to his neighbourhood Tuxedo Junction at the last possible minute and discovered all that was left was the Prince Edward ensemble. He put on the outfit, stared in the mirror and sighed. Not only did he feel uncomfortable in so formal an outfit, but he thought he looked like a fifth-rate celebrity guest starring on a game show. No, it was even worse than that. This was the same tux his cousin Murray was married in, the cousin who told so many embarrassing, cringe-inducing stories at the altar that half the wedding party fled before the ceremony was over.

While waiting for his dinner ride, our sullen friend picked up a book a friend gave him featuring local restaurants and their prized recipes. He flipped through the pages of The Flavour of Toronto until he reached the section on his destination this night, Danakas Palace.

Mirrored ceilings, wood-panelled walls, richly upholstered furniture, a brightly glowing grill pit: all combine to create a palatial background to an elegant meal. Specializing in steaks and seafood, the Palace has named its delicious seafood platter in honour of Canada’s prime minister…Many theatrical and athletic stars have followed his example. Good wines are a specialty and service is attentive.

He gazed at the recipe for the Prime Minister’s Seafood Platter. How to eat like Trudeau…two lobster tails, six scampis, six prawns, six shrimps, eight crab legs, eight oysters, eight scallops, two ounces of breadcrumbs, a teaspoon of finely chopped garlic, an ounce of dry white wine, three ounces of butter, three teaspoons of lemon juice, and a pint of vegetable oil. The crab and lobster were baked, the smaller crustaceans sautéed in garlic and wine, and the remaining seafood fried until golden. Arrange the lot on a silver platter, douse with cognac and set aflame. The dish had possibilities. Maybe, he thought, he would buy a rose from a street vendor, place it in his label like PET, then enjoy the delights of the sea.

His ride wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes, so he pulled out the box of restaurant review clippings he filed away as potential date destinations. Buried near the bottom was Joanne Kates’ opinion in the Globe and Mail from a year earlier. His heart sunk when the headline read unfulfilled promises.” Danakas Palace got off to a bad start with Kates for producing ads touting its “famous” charcoal broil — she felt it was “strange that a restaurant should be famous in time to make that claim when it opens.” Meant to be the first in a chain of restaurants, she felt that “it’s fitting that a chain begin with a nod to progress. All guests are treated to garlic bread wrapped in that modern wonder, aluminum foil.” The food didn’t impress her, as out of the highly-touted eleven fresh vegetables, only two appeared on her plate (of which one, creamed cauliflower, was mushy and lacked cream). Bouillabaisse featured stringy, tough fish; trout was over-fried; black forest cake was leaden. She sighed that the chain would probably do well, as “it has the ingredients that seem to sell nowadays: underground parking, décor that at first glance looks first class, a la carte dinner for two with wine and tip for about $40, and above all, mediocrity.”

As his ride arrived, all he could hope was that it wasn’t going to be a long night in a stiff tux with middling food. The deal-making possibilities of the evening had better be worth the potential misery.

Additional material from The Flavours of Toronto: A Gourmet’s guide to restaurants and recipes, edited by Kenneth Mitchell (Toronto: Four Corners, 1977) and the October 27, 1975 edition of the Globe and Mail.



And now, for your eager eyes, the seafood platter at Danakas Palace that Pierre Trudeau  liked so much the owners renamed it in honour of his position. Whether the story is true or not, it’s not surprising a seafood platter would receive such an honour, as restaurants in the vicinity of Danakas Palace loved showing off their ensembles of lobster, shrimp and other sea creatures in full-colour ads targeted to business executives and tourists—a show of hands from anyone who’s ever actually eaten the “award winning” seafood platter showcased in every Toronto visitors guide by Fisherman’s Wharf since the dawn of man?

It often seems like a seafood platter is designed to look attractive and draw as much money out of a customer as possible. I won’t deny having succumbed to the allure of a broad sampling of delights from the deep. During my university days at Guelph, there was a restaurant in the upper reaches of Stone Road Mall called Legends that accepted school meal plans. At the time, it was one of the few off-campus spots that took meal cards, so it often wound up being the destination for special events among my residence-mates at Arts House. It became a running joke that I’d always order the most expensive thing on the menu, which was the seafood food. A further running joke was that the platter was never the same twice—a good night might bring heartly samplings of crab, grilled swordfish and tuna, a lousy one saw a meagre serving of shrimp and a puny crab appendage arrive at the table.

Come to think of it, Legends was often unpredictable with its fare, such as the time four of us ordered blue lagoons and each arrived with a different colour. Who knew purple lagoons existed?

Here’s how you can make a meal worthy of the occupant of 24 Sussex Drive, though you can choose to eat it as a salute to the current PM or your all-time favourite leader.

2 lobster tails
6 scampis
6 prawns
6 shrimps
8 crab legs
8 oysters
8 scallops
2 oz (50 g)breadcrumbs
1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
1 oz (25 mL) dry white wine
3 oz (75 g) butter
3 tsp lemon juice
1 pint (500 mL) vegetable oil

To prepare: cut the lobster tails and bend back in butterfly style; shell and de-vein the scampis, prawns and shrimps; extract the meat from the crab claws; remove the oysters and scallops from the shell and coat with breadcrumbs. Finally, wash the lobster, scampi, prawns and shrimps under cold running water and dry thoroughly.

Proceed with the following cooking methods simultaneously: (a) Place the crabmeat in a small ovenproof dish, add 1/3 tsp garlic, 1 tsp lemon juice and half the white wine and bake in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes.; (b) Place the lobster tails in an oven pan, add 1 oz (25 g) butter and 1 tsp lemon juice and bake in a moderate oven for 8-10 minutes; (c) Melt 1 oz (25 g) butter in a frying pan, add 1/3 tsp garlic and the remaining wine and sauté the scampi, prawns and shrimps for 2 minutes, stirring continuously; (d) Heat the oil and fry the scallops until golden, then transfer to a small overproof dish, add the remaining butter, garlic and lemon juice and place in a broiler for 5 minutes; (e) Re-heat the oil and deep fry the oysters until golden.

To serve: arrange attractively on a silver platter, pour over the Cognac and flame. Serves 2.

Recipe taken from The Flavour of Toronto, edited by Kenneth Miller, photographed by René Delbuguet (Toronto: Four Corners, 1977). 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Where Else Would You Eat?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 22, 2009.


Bravo, November/December 1982.

Yes, your friends were happy that the iambic pentameter flowing out of your mouth finally sounded naturalistic and not an exercise in word fumbling. For that, you deserved a night on the town!

Your friends also had deep pockets, as a meal at Chiaro’s (pronounced key-arro) wasn’t in the typical actor’s price range, especially if they treated you to the exclusive wine room. Two people who were denied the latter were Globe and Mail restaurant critic Joanne Kates and her dining companion:

We mere mortals, and two females to boot, are not invited into the wine room. We are not even offered a wine list. We are offered a table by the door and, having reserved earlier, we begin to wonder: Would the waiter chide a male customer for asking to see the label on a bottle of house wine before it was poured?

Chiaro’s was part of the multi-million-dollar renovation of the King Edward Hotel in the early 1980s. Kates compared the décor to both ends of the hospitality spectrum owned by new operators Trusthouse Forte: the Plaza Athénée in Paris and your average roadside Travelodge. “The lobby is splendid and subtle,” she noted, “an Edwardian triumph of massive marble columns and Oriental rugs lit from above by a glass roof. But in the women’s room the soap is that horrible green stuff (what, no Pears?) and Muzak plays.“

Kates felt the pasta dishes were worth the money while most of the mains were boring. Her summary of the Chiaro’s experience expressed disappointment:

Neither the $20,000 peacock mirrors nor the grey walls and ceiling are glorious. The food is good, but it is attention to detail that makes a restaurant great: Salada tea and banal desserts give Chiaro’s a mass-produced air; waiters who seat and serve diners according to their Dun and Bradstreet rating do not belong. A restaurant that charges $105 for dinner had better treat everyone like a queen.

Additional material from The Joanne Kates Toronto Restaurant Guide (Toronto: Methuen, 1984).