Looking around our space at 1042 Queen St. E. today, there’s a lot of exciting change taking place. The kitchen is coming together and ready for chef Suzanne Barr to start menu-testing. Tanks are scheduled, at long last, to be installed in the brewery in just a few weeks. In short, we are much closer to the end of this renovation than the start.
So what in the world took so long?
When I began this journey more than two years ago, I was fresh off stints cooking in some of Canada’s top restaurants, followed by years working at a number of Europe’s most celebrated breweries. Returning home to Toronto, my goal was to take everything I had learned and create a uniquely Canadian brewery—where seasonality and local ingredients would be as important to the beer as the food.
It’s taken longer than expected, but that vision is now coming to fruition, and with our grand opening finally on the horizon, I wanted to share an exclusive look at the long, often challenging road to opening our brewery.
As with many construction projects in Toronto, our problems began at City Hall. To be fair, the city has recently made the regulatory environment for craft breweries friendlier, but our size and unconventional plans triggered a Committee of Adjustment hearing—an appointment that led to a six-month delay off the bat. Apparently, it’s not every day you see a rooftop farm in Toronto! From an expected start date of February 2017, the earliest we could start renovating was, at that point, early fall.
Next came problems with Toronto Hydro. First, they requested that we install a hydro vault—a large, dangerous and expensive piece of equipment on our property, but after three tense months of lobbying for an alternative solution Hydro thankfully agreed to a better solution (a simple transformer on a new pole outside the building, for those of you familiar with such things). Finally, we were ready to apply for construction permits.
On January 2, 2018, we began the renovation in earnest—and Murphy’s Law quickly continued to ring true. Pools of groundwater lurking beneath our floors immediately slowed our progress. The magnitude of muddy soil underneath our building even shocked the specialists brought in to manage the issue. And if that weren’t enough, more recently our brewery equipment supplier was placed into receivership, meaning the shipping and installation contract we were counting on would no longer be honoured.
Most notably, things have taken a while simply because the scope of our project made for a complex build out. With the addition of our rooftop farm and lower basement, we have effectively added two new stories to the building. The extra room in the basement will give us room for longer-term projects, like charcuterie, pickles and barrel-aged beers, but the rooftop farm is even more important. In many ways, it represents the lifeblood of the whole brewery, providing fresh ingredients for both the kitchen and brewery, while also serving as a platform for engaging the local community in key conversations about food systems and sustainability.
We’re especially excited to join the evolving conversation around what Canadian food can and should be, because we’re passionate about these issues. We chose the name Avling because it’s the Norwegian word for crop and harvest. Agriculture, seasonality and sense of place are at the core of everything we do.
With the construction wrapping up, we can’t wait to welcome you to Avling very soon. For now, the battle (and the construction), carry on!
Founder, Avling Brewery