The current state of the new Salad King location.
Remember when the wall of that historic building collapsed at Yonge and Gould, forcing thai favourite and Ryerson student staple Salad King to close down until the building was repaired? And then, about a month after Salad King announced they would re-open in December across the street, we reported that renovations were taking much longer than expected?
Well, now we understand why.
We weren’t sure quite what to expect when Salad King owner Ernest Liu let Torontoist into the construction zone above Foot Locker at 340 Yonge Street this past weekend, but it was something along the lines of the sleek stainless steel cafeteria-style tables and benches and the graphic Thai skyline that adorned its previous location. But not yet.
Inside the space, the dust, broken beams, and half-mounted drywall of the large room that will eventually churn out some of Toronto’s most craved cultural cuisine looked not unlike the construction carnage of Yonge and Gould, visible from outside Salad King’s arched windows. There have been few aesthetic changes to that space, judging from the photo published in this article back in October. But that doesn’t mean Liu’s crews haven’t been busy.
“All the work done has been behind the walls,” Liu says. About sixty to seventy percent of the total budget, over one million dollars, will never be obvious to customers, even the most devout, he continued.
Salad King owner Ernest Liu inside his new digs.
Despite the hefty price tag, Salad King’s loyal following can expect few changes in the overall look and dining experience of the restaurant. There will still be a clean and contemporary design, with Thailand-inspired wall decals that travel from the ground lobby and up the stairs to the dining room. And diners will enjoy the same classic menu of thai’d-and-true dishes, but for about a quarter more to offset higher labour fees. Even the faces will be familiar, with about half the former kitchen staff back on board. And though he hasn’t made the calls yet, Liu expects most, if not all, of his wait staff to return.
The King’s signature, though, was the communal eating style, and that won’t be changed from past to present palaces. Liu says he was hesitant at first to introduce the idea to the usually isolated North American diner, but decided to take the chance after seeing its success in London, England. While there will be more private tables along the front of the restaurant and an even more secluded booth in the middle of the floor, most of the seating will be in the form of long, cafeteria-style tables to encourage Salad King’s deliberately loud, boisterous, and buzzing atmosphere. Though first-timers are probably wary of sharing a meal beside complete strangers, Liu says he has seen some pretty incredible connections arise from the setting⎯from an hour-and-a-half-long conversation between a twenty-something young woman and an eighty-six-year-old regular, to two other patrons who met at a communal table about six years ago, were married the next year, and then brought their young child to the restaurant before it closed. It’s now so integral to the Salad King philosophy that Liu’s spending over sixty thousand dollars just on the tables and chairs.
When we last left Liu, he told us that the wait was for Toronto Hydro to come in and get the electricity running, which a spokesperson for the electric company assured Torontoist was still on track to happen by mid-January. But after the space (eventually) gets power, it will still take up to two weeks to test the equipment and to receive building, fire, and health inspections. So Liu’s not setting a specific date for the reopening just yet. He and his wife Linda learned their lesson seven and a half years ago when Salad King closed for renovations and didn’t set a date for their reopening, but one of Toronto’s daily newspapers reported a date for their reopening—the wrong one—anyway. When customers arrived at the restaurant throughout that day, the stress brought Linda to tears in her office.
Plans for a third floor lounge will be on hold for at least a year, until Salad King can stand on its own.
So with delay disappointment already surrounding the new renovations, fans shouldn’t be expecting any more projections from Liu and the Salad King crew, though his designer apparently has a few tricks up their sleeve for the much-anticipated event. With winter upon us and the excitement from the holidays and New Year’s soon to be over, it might be nice to have a kick of twenty-chile heat to look forward to.
Photos by Eric Yip/Torontoist.