Sassafraz is a staple of Yorkville. So, when a five-alarm fire burnt the restaurant to the ground 10 years ago, it was kind of a big deal.
A landmark had fallen.
But given a decade has passed, it’s proven to be the phoenix of the city.
For me, the resto was always one of those places that was too posh for the university students. When TIFF was on – at the same time as Frosh Week at U of T – we would duck into the ‘Fraz for martinis and a chance encounter with a celebrity. That was 2000, and I just happened to see stars while gazing through the throng of people packing the neighbourhood haunt.
It was kind of like the Frolic Room in Los Angeles, but without the air of performance, and no Howard Hughes.
Speaking of celebs, I’ve written about the storied restaurant for the Town Crier in the past, and before my wife and I wed, we had dinner there for an anniversary. My wife remembers the occasion because I over-tipped the waiter. I remember the moment because the whitefish was cooked to perfection.
Of course, that was after the fire, and the restaurant’s survival post tinder box escapade has been of great interest to me. Owner Zoran Kocovski took a brief moment to shoot a few words my way about the overall success of the canary-hued house.
“Our core values revolve around taking care of our team, our guests and our community and it is these values that provide the foundation upon which we can successfully deliver great hospitality over the long term,” he says.
Ah, but it doesn’t hurt to have the Yorkville crowd, complete with Hazelton Lanes, the Four Seasons and the Windsor Arms within a stone’s throw.
I’d remember seeing the vultures of people skulking around the stony outcrop by the fountains on Cumberland. They’d be hovering just to see a movie star.
Kocovski acknowledges there is a co-relation between TIFF becoming one of the elite film festivals, and the popularity of his gin joint.
“I think Sassafraz filled a niche in Toronto at that time. After almost 20 years we have continued to evolve along with the community and neighbourhood.”
It was that community that helped the restaurant rebuild, Kocovski admits.
“This encouraged us to continue to work to remain relevant in the fast-evolving neighbourhood of Yorkville,” he says. “We also strengthened our ties with the community by remaining actively involved.”
Which means, they’re active in philanthropy circles. The restaurant participates in fundraising events for the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, Second Harvest, The Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the Fife House, HotDocs and the Canadian Film Centre.
And, as that famous ancient Greek myth goes, from the ashes, new life.