Sarcoa turns to special events amid music-on-patio problems
‘We’re not going away,’ says co-owner. ‘We are trying to live with the restrictions’
The owner of a harbourfront patio and eatery says a legal battle has forced it to change how it does business in order to stay afloat.
Sarcoa is shifting its focus to special events after running into bylaw trouble over noise complaints about patio parties — a problem that forced the owners to launch a $15-million lawsuit against Hamilton Waterfront Trust and the city in late 2015.
Co-owner Sam Destro recently told The Spectator the business — located on prime waterfront land — is operating as best it can given “the limitations that have been imposed.”
“We are going to do whatever it takes … to keep this thing alive,” Destro said. “We’re not going away.”
Starting in spring, he said Sarcoa’s waterfront patio is open from Monday to Thursday while the restaurant serves a brunch buffet on Sundays.
A sign on the door says the patio opened May 1, but on Tuesday and Wednesday this week the front doors were locked. Calls about hours were not returned. Fridays and Saturdays will typically be reserved for events like weddings, corporate gatherings or private parties.
The patio is expected to be open to the general public on weekends if events aren’t booked, Destro said. He recommends people check Sarcoa’s social media accounts or website for up-to-date information.
The venue’s website has been rebranded to JEM @ Sarcoa Event Centre, and a new general manager, Mike Attard — who has experience in the restaurant and events business, including with Geraldo’s at LaSalle Park banquet and conference centre — has been brought on, Destro said.
“We are trying to live with the severe restrictions,” he said.
“We will do whatever we can, but keep in mind, without music on the patio … it severely restricts our ability to provide an entertainment element that Sarcoa customers have grown to support.”
In 2015, Sarcoa sued its sub-landlord, the Hamilton Waterfront Trust, and the city for $15 million for preventing it from throwing patio parties featuring amplified music. The litigation is ongoing.
The lawsuit was sparked by a running quarrel in which the city started cracking down on the restaurant’s patio parties that summer after it had been operating for more than three years.
The upscale restaurant stopped playing outdoor music before bringing it back last year in an effort to save its lagging business.
Sarcoa maintains its 10-year sublease with the waterfront trust allows the business to hold the parties despite noise and zoning bylaws.
The trust has insisted the lease spells out that Sarcoa must comply with all city bylaws and denies it promised to obtain exemptions for them.
Hamilton Waterfront Trust executive director Werner Plessl and trust board member and Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr both referred calls about Sarcoa to their lawyer, Louis Frapporti.
Frapporti said a trial date has not been set.
“The parties are currently scheduling the next steps,” he said in an email last week.
Konstantine Ketsetzis, Sarcoa’s lawyer, said his clients are “trying to find a resolution that doesn’t involve a trial at this time.”
Starting this summer, the city is launching a two-year pilot project to allow live or recorded music on outdoor patios in seven commercial areas of the city, including the West Harbour.
Hamilton’s noise bylaw will still apply, meaning the music would have to end by 11 p.m. and cannot exceed 60 decibels.
Businesses in the designated areas would have to apply for outdoor patio exemption permits under the pilot, with an application fee of $300 to help cover the city’s administrative costs.
Destro said Sarcoa doesn’t plan on applying for this program.
The restaurant is located in the Hamilton Waterfront Trust Centre on waterfront lands that have been described as a jewel in the region.
These lands are also the subject of a planned $143-million revitalization over the next decade or more to turn the city’s West Harbour into a more accessible, community-oriented space that will be home to thousands of new residents.
Last summer, Sarcoa expressed concerns the redevelopment plans were “squeezing” the restaurant out because its 120 parking spots appeared to be slated for green space in the final development plan.
The city has said Sarcoa’s designated parking spots are included in the parking spaces planned for the development on Piers 7 and 8 and that the project will create “more parking than ever” over the next few years.
Amid this turmoil, the restaurant has been subject to a handful of small-claims suits over the past few years. Claimants have ranged from security companies to seafood distributors, with claims ranging from $1,500 to $25,000.
Ketsetzis said he’s not aware of any that are still active and the restaurant has been “very swift” to deal with the ones that have popped up.
“Despite the limitations and despite the trials and tribulations they’re going through, (they) have still managed to maintain themselves quite well with the creditors and everything,” he said.
“They could’ve just done what most people would do, which is bankrupt the corporation and walk away.
“They’ve been stringent believers in what’s happening at the waterfront … they’re still there.”
Sarcoa’s patio has been a go-to destination on waterfront land that’s described as a jewel in the region.
A battle over patio music has forced Sarcoa to shift its focus to special events, the eatery says. Fridays and Saturdays will be reserved for events like weddings and corporate gatherings.