Captain John's Harbourfront Restaurant, For Sale
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Captain John’s Harbourfront Restaurant, For Sale

How will the captain repay his outstanding debts?

Photo by {a href=””}sonicgregu{/a} from the {a href=””}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

For 42 years, Captain John’s has occupied some prime real estate: 1 Queen’s Quay, right near the foot of Yonge Street. Now, the City, Waterfront Toronto, and the Toronto Port Authority want him out.

John Letnik, the 74-year-old owner of the ship, seeks retirement from the floating restaurant biz, but a hefty $550,000 in unpaid property taxes, as well as some back rent allegedly owed to Waterfront Toronto and the Toronto Port Authority, keeps him landlocked. In order to climb out of this financial black hole, he’s been seeking donations with the newly launched website

“It’s started and we’re getting donations,” said Jim Serba, the website’s administrator. “It’s not quite as successful as we’d like right now, but we’re going to continue to publicize it.”

The captain has been seeking a buyer since 2009. He initially listed the ship on Craigslist for a cool $1.25 million and, not surprisingly, nobody bought it. More recently, he enlisted the assistance of Canadian Business Sellers, a Toronto-based firm that advertises all over the world to find buyers for their clients. Even they have had difficulty selling the ship.

Waterfront Toronto, which is involved in redeveloping the entire lakefront around Captain John’s, leases Letnik the land on which his boat’s ramp rests. The agency wants Letnik’s hulk gone one way or another, meaning whoever buys it will also have to bear the cost of towing it out. The property is on a month-to-month lease, making for a particularly tough sell. And it doesn’t help that there are significant renovations and updates required, both inside and out.

Letnik says he did have one buyer, but things didn’t pan out. “If they don’t have a lease, or some sort of agreement, no one will put 10 cents inside. That’s where I am right now,” he said.

Tim Armstrong, owner of Canadian Business Sellers, says the buyer—someone from Italy—was willing to pony up $7 million, but was disappointed that the ship can’t stay where it is. If a 10-year lease were available, she would have bought it.

“We had another guy at the boat [last Friday]. He understands that it has to move, but he’s going to offer something really low, so we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Armstrong.

He says there are a multitude of potential uses for the boat, and that there are people who might be interested. A movable restaurant like Captain John’s is a rare find. Letnick even managed to live on the boat for many years in a cabin on its upper level.

The captain remains determined to pass the Jadran (that’s the ship’s name) into the hands of another restaurateur, even while the City, Waterfront Toronto, and the Port Authority continue to muscle him out.

“I’m not finished yet. I’m going to fight them until the end, and I’m not leaving the boat,” he said.

The Port Authority has barred the ship from leaving port until the outstanding debts are paid.