Around the time this photo of what was then called Lake Shore Road was taken, by the Humber in 1928, Hans Sachau opened a shipyard on the site of Casa Mendoza. Sachau. who specialized in sailboats and cruisers, performed his patriotic duty by building submarine chasers during the Second World War.<br />
<em>Lake Shore Road, east approach to Humber bridge, looking west, October 26, 1928. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 6373.</em>
By the early 1950s, Sachau and his wife had converted the site into the Dutch Sisters Inn, which included a restaurant specializing in seafood and German dishes like sauerbraten, schnitzel, and strudel. As <em>Globe and Mail</em> advertorial writer Mary Walpole described the premises in her April 27, 1953 column, “it is as gay and interesting as the two nice people who own it. The décor has the charm of the unusual from the big Dutch stove with real Holland tiles to the Marine Room with deeply recessed pictures of the sea.” The restaurant quickly became a popular spot for family gatherings and wedding receptions.<br />
<em>Advertisements, (left) the</em> Globe and Mail<em>, April 19, 1955, (right) the</em> Toronto Star<em>, March 29, 1956</em>.
The Dutch Sisters Inn developed a reputation for its desserts, which led Monarch Flour to borrow one of its recipes for an advertisement.<br />
<em>Advertisement, the</em> Toronto Star<em>, October 9, 1956</em>.
<em>Toronto Star</em> writer Robert Taylor was disappointed when he sampled the Dutch Sisters Inn’s Thanksgiving dinner in 1959. While he enjoyed his appetizers, he found the steak rolade (described as “tender steak dressed with bacon and onions”) was “tender and tasteless and cold.” Also not winning raves: roast potato (“soggy”), fruit cup (“looked like the stodgy canned product”), and apple strudel (“soggy and tasteless’). He reasoned that, because of all of the raves he had heard about the Dutch Sisters Inn, the restaurant was either short staffed due to the holiday or having an off night.<br />
<em>Lake Shore Boulevard West, looking east, circa 1961. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1464, File 5, Item 5</em>.
In June 1974, the Dutch Sisters Inn changed its name to Casa Mendoza, switching its influence from middle Europe to Argentina. Disaster struck two months later when the restaurant was gutted in a fire caused by a broken gas line. Investigators suspected arson after an empty, barely damaged safe was found in the ruins—a safe that a motel employee noted was filled with around $7,000 hours before the blaze broke out. The motel was unaffected and no one was injured.<br />
<em>Photo by Barrie Davis, the</em> Globe and Mail<em>, August 28, 1974</em>.
According to <em>Globe and Mail</em> food critic Joanne Kates, the rebuilt Casa Mendoza was “an orgy of Latin American atmosphere,” especially in its foyer. “The entrance is the perfect Toronto paradox: motel-style parking lot and Spanish hacienda, with brick arches leading to a stucco colonnade and massive seventeenth century doors from Argentina,” she wrote in her June 14, 1976 review of the restaurant. “Before you can open the door, a Latin American smoothie in blue satin shirt and beads leaps out to hand you to the hostess. She leads you past the parilla, a South American open grill, past the South American gift shop stuffed to the gills with Peruvian pottery and Argentinian onyx. She hands you over to the maître d’. Buenas noces, buenas noces, buenas noches. It feels like a Berlitz deep immersion course that’s been influenced by a textbook on how to run the perfect theme restaurant.”<br />
Kates found the restaurant itself slightly more restrained, thanks to its “astonishingly comfortable chairs.” She noticed that tourists soaked up kitschy touches like strolling guitarists and received more attention than the serious diners in the room. She had mixed feelings about the food: an appetizer sampler was boring, and the desserts were a disaster (“cheesecake with a topping that tastes like Lik-M-Aid”), but main courses such as a well-seasoned, juicier-than-average grilled veal steak accompanied by fresh sauteed mushrooms were impressive.<br />
<em>Advertisement,</em> Best of Toronto 1980.
While the motels around it closed, the Casa Mendoza <a href="http://www.canada.com/story_print.html?id=0ae82bbe-396f-42f9-91d7-eed108f40171&sponsor=">carried on</a>. The restaurant was featured on Restaurant Makeover in 2006, though owner Teresa Bodzan later noted that she had to close for the following six weeks to clean up after the TV crew left.<br />
<em>Casa Mendoza signage in September 2008. Photo by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist</em>.
"It’s hard when every bit of the history is gone, and the character,” Etobicoke Historical Society President Denise Harris <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1115476--casa-mendoza-and-the-real-jerk-brought-quirky-personality-to-toronto">told the <em>Star</em> earlier this month</a>. “The city loses something when it becomes too homogenous… Eventually there won’t be anyone left who remembers any of this.”<br />
<em>Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist</em>.
When Casa Mendoza closed its doors on New Year’s Day, a chapter of the city’s waterfront history ended. The last motel/restaurant to operate along the Lake Shore Boulevard strip on Humber Bay, it was demolished last week to make way, like its former neighbours, for condos. With it go memories of a row of businesses whose clientele ranged from the postwar families who vacationed there to the criminals and hourly users who frequented the lingering motels by the early 1990s.
During its later years, Casa Mendoza was favoured by people who enjoyed its old-fashioned lounge atmosphere, complete with couples on the dance floor and live entertainment. The property has been owned by developers for several years and had been operating on a year-to-year basis, but its demise hit regulars and management hard. As Teresa Bodzan, who ran the motel and restaurant for the past two decades, told the Star before the property’s contents were auctioned off earlier this month, “Nobody cares for any history or any landmark. Money talks.”
But we care about such things. Follow the story of the “oasis on the lake” in the gallery above.