The carnage of brick and insulation beside Salad King’s former location earlier this year. Photo by ronnie.yip from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
Downtown Thai restaurant Salad King had such a command over its curry-craving customers that even as the walls literally crumbled around them, diners were reluctant to abandon their plates of pad thai and Bangkok noodles and evacuate the building. But lunch-interrupted they were, and the half-eaten plates are still visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Unfortunately, it will be even more of a wait until the Salad King’s loyal subjects can finish the meal that was tragically cut short.
Salad King’s cafeteria-style dining room has been off-limits since the lunch rush on April 16, 2010, when one of the brick walls of the three-storey heritage building that housed it and several other businesses suddenly collapsed onto the sidewalk below.
Luckily, no one was injured at the busy intersection of Yonge and Gould, steps away from Ryerson University and Yonge-Dundas Square. But it has left the student staple in disrepair. With a roof in ruin, its support unstable, and the stench of a kitchen stocked with rotting vegetables, meat, and dairy, Salad King owner Ernest Liu announced in August that it would reopen in a new location above the nearby Foot Locker in December. But a series of unfortunate and unexpected setbacks has delayed construction at 340 Yonge Street, pushing the return of Salad King until late January at the earliest, meaning starving students in the exam crunch and exhausted shoppers in the Christmas blitz are without the trusty Thai takeout.
“You never know. We expected some problems but not that much delay. I thought the whole thing would be ready in no time,” Liu said.
With Salad King at its current location since 1991, Liu was hesitant to leave the spot and risk losing his customer base. But two and a half months after the collapse, it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to take control of the space again for at least a year. The deterioration of the building was made worse by water damage and food-spoiling, and in order for the bricks of the heritage site to be restored, Salad King would have to be the last part of the building to be repaired.
Liu decided to move on. Considering areas near Yonge and College streets, at Superior‘s previous address on Yonge, south of Dundas Street, and at Church and Dundas streets (now a Wimpy’s Diner), he settled on the spacious former digs of fellow-Ryerson hangout, Reilly’s Sports Bar & Grill.
Everything began according to plan—Liu received a sought-after loan from the bank to buy and renovate the space, and signed the lease this past July. An interior designer had sketches by mid-August, contracts were signed, and construction began at the end of October.
Then the reality of building a second-floor restaurant set in, and progress slowed. A new drainage system had to be directed through Foot Locker, and Liu suddenly had to wait for their cooperation. Then crews realized the facilities would require more power, but another wire from Toronto Hydro meant a crew digging up Elm Street behind the building and navigating through a “spiderweb” of gas and water pipes. Liu originally thought the restaurant would have electricity by now, but Hydro has said workers cannot begin until January 15, 2011.
“I cannot push the construction through, otherwise I’d ask them to work seven days a week to get this done,” he said.
What’s also not helping matters is that Liu hasn’t seen a penny of his insurance money yet, he says, despite filing the claim the day after the incident.
But if all goes according to plan from here on in, Liu says the new eatery for his classic curries and nummy noodles will be worth the wait. A new elevator will diminish anyone’s concern for equal access to the second floor, a larger dining room will ease the perma-lineups for a table, a more modern and efficient kitchen will get the plates out even faster than before, and unisex washrooms will add another level of spice to the twenty-chili-scale. Liu is even in talks with his new landlord about opening up a bar and entertainment venue on the floor above.
One thing that isn’t changing, though, is the menu, which is the main reason why this King remains Toronto’s most adored, even when on hiatus. Despite only being in service for about a quarter of the year, Salad King was voted as Toronto’s Best Thai in NOW‘s 2010 Readers’ Poll. Thai-loving Torontonians have also been hounding the resto’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, desperate for a date for the grand re-opening. And despite all the scheduling and financial frustrations that have come with the move, Liu said one of the hardest parts is the guilt he feels from not being able to serve his customers the food they want.
“I say thank you to all my customers for all their support over the years.”
Good things come to those who wait. For those who can’t, Liu said that his upper-scale Don Mills restaurant, Linda, named after Liu’s wife and business partner, will cater downtown parties at Salad King prices. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to sit, starving for stir-fry, as this King waits to regain his throne.