Source: Toronto Star, January 13, 1959
With temperatures predicted to plunge into extreme cold weather alert territory this week, there may be a corresponding rise in the number of people seeking comfort in a warm, nourishing bowl of soup. Half a century ago, Fran’s offered a full lineup of soups priced “sensibly” for those looking for a cheap bite or as an appetizer to add refinement and enjoyment to their meal (though one wonders if “Fran’s Plantation” would now be “homestyle beef” or “minestrone”).
G. Francis (Fran) Deck opened a 10-stool diner on St. Clair Avenue west of Yonge Street in 1940 after spending two decades working for his brother’s restaurants in New York State. While the banquet burger appears in embryonic form as a “Forest Hill” on the restaurant’s original menu, their signature rice pudding appears to have been a later addition.
Part of Deck’s early success was fuelled by being one of the few restaurants north of Bloor open on Sunday, which drew the pre-/post-church crowd. Within a decade he operated four locations around the city, offering economical comfort food at all hours of the day. Among the regular patrons at the original location was nearby resident Glenn Gould, who dropped by in the wee hours each morning to down an order of scrambled eggs.
Upon its 50th anniversary, Rosie DiManno wrote about the mystique that surrounded Fran’s as she grew up:
Some of us have always been rather curious about Fran’s beloved reputation since its everyday menu is pretty much a paean to edibles bland and banal (although fairly appetizing at 3 a.m.). Besides, for those of us who grew up in Toronto, venturing up to the Yonge-St. Clair neighbourhood was akin to penetrating the heart of Waspness.
By the time Deck died in a roadside accident while on vacation in Arizona in 1976, the four locations served more than 2.5 million meals a year. Some of those customers distressed Deck in his later years, including the increasingly gay clientele looking for love at the College-Yonge location—he noted in a Toronto Life profile, “I used to kick them out—CBC people and everyone—and nearly wound up in court.”
Attempts to expand the chain outside Toronto to outposts such as Kingston and Windsor in the late 1990s led to bankruptcy, with all locations closed by 2001 except for College-Yonge, which had been franchised off years earlier. It remains in business, along with two other locations that opened this decade.
Additional material from the September 1973 issue of Toronto Life and the May 31, 1976 and May 9, 1990 editions of the Toronto Star.