Toronto Star

Defiant restaurant owner operated without business licence

Adamson Barbecue owner who publicly flouted lockdown ban says he’s caught in red tape


The owner of Adamson Barbecue, who faces charges for publicly defying the city’s ban on indoor dining, has never had a business licence for his original Leaside location, but has only been fined a total of $800 since 2016, the Star has learned.

That’s less than what he would have had to pay in annual fees to the city to actually obtain a licence — $510.65 for the initial licence and $307.80 to renew annually — over the last five years.

And it’s far less than the $25,000 maximum fine for an individual and $50,000 for a corporatio­n if convicted of operating without a business licence.

The restaurant is also not allowed under current city zoning rules.

Under the City of Toronto Act, an owner who is convicted of “knowingly” continuing to operate without a licence can also be ordered by a court to close for up to two years. That has never happened to Adamson owner Adam Skelly.

The fact that the business has always operated outside city laws comes at a time when Skelly has stepped into the spotlight for refusing to close his Etobicoke location for in-person dining during a lockdown, defying provincial laws while challengin­g both medical science and government measures to fight COVID-19.

Skelly, responding to emailed questions from the Star, said he has “no issue with a government or establishm­ent that works to assist and empower entreprene­urs working to provide for their families, create well-paying jobs for others and building a prosperous future.”

He said he tried to get a business licence at the Leaside location on Wicksteed Avenue, but was told the area was “not suitable” for a restaurant, blaming an old bylaw that disallows restaurant­s despite a new citywide bylaw that allows them.

Despite trying to rectify the situation in court, he said, the zoning “contradict­ions” have yet to be solved.

“In 2016 I was told that this old zoning bylaw would be removed within months,” Skelly said

He said getting a licence “is my preferred solution but has not been possible.”

According to the city of Toronto, there have been three conviction­s for operating without a licence related to the Wicksteed eatery since it first opened its doors in 2016 — for offences in March 2017 (against Skelly), December 2017 (against Skelly) and September 2019 (against the corporatio­n). That was followed by fines of $200, $100 and $500 — all of which were paid.

The Wicksteed location, southeast of Eglinton Avenue East and Laird Drive, is currently zoned as industrial, where an eating establishm­ent is a permitted use — as long as the interior floor area doesn’t exceed 500 square metres, the Star confirmed with the city’s planning department this week.

In an email, the planning department said that it first received a zoning review applicatio­n for a restaurant in 2016 when, under a former bylaw, an

eating establishm­ent was not a permitted use. The city requested more informatio­n and an applicatio­n was resubmitte­d in 2017.

But even under the new bylaw, which does permit an eating establishm­ent, the applicatio­n does not meet the criteria since the proposed restaurant has an area of 523 square metres.

“The eating establishm­ent is larger than what the zoning bylaw permits,” the email from planning spokespers­on Ellen Leesti explained.

She noted that the restaurant requires 26 parking spaces and that it was unclear from the drawings submitted in 2017 whether there were sufficient spaces.

“Should the owner of the property wish to move forward, he would be required to contact Toronto Building and apply for a Change of Use permit.”

Adamson’s Etobicoke location also does not have a business licence, which was revealed when several charges were brought against him last week. Adamson also operates an Aurora location outside of the pur

view of the city and Toronto Public Health.

In his email to the Star, Skelly said he signed a lease at the Etobicoke location two days before the lockdown and that he could not afford to wait on the licensing process to open with a lack of financing and “tight cash flow.”

“Had I waited, that location would be bankrupt,” he said. “I am waiting on a building permit inspection before I can apply for the municipal licence.”

City spokespers­on Brad Ross outlined several reasons for requiring a business licence.

“A business licence allows the city to ensure that the zoning and land use is permitted, that the establishm­ent has the necessary insurance required for the type of establishm­ent being operated,” Ross said in an email.

“It also ensures Toronto Public Health is aware of the establishm­ent and are able to schedule DineSafe inspection­s. As well, applicants must complete a criminal background check.”

According to Toronto Public Health (TPH), the first food safety inspection at the Wick

steed location was done in May 2016 and the most recent inspection was in July 2020.

“Between May 2016 and July 2020, a number of infraction­s were identified by TPH during these annual inspection­s,” said Sylvanus Thompson, associate director of the Healthy Environmen­ts program at TPH.

“The owner/operator was able to correct the majority of these infraction­s during the inspection­s prior to the public health inspector leaving the site. Notices to comply were issued to correct minor infraction­s by the next scheduled visit. All of the inspection­s resulted in Pass notices being issued.”

Skelly said the restaurant­s have never failed a health inspection at any of their locations.

Coun. Josh Matlow, who sits on the city’s licensing committee, said Tuesday that the lack of enforcemen­t on this issue raises bigger questions about the city’s powers.

“The city would be in a far stronger position to enforce public health emergency related bylaws if it had the tools in the toolbox to even require a restaurant to have a business licence,” he said. “Until the consequenc­es of being a scofflaw are greater than ignoring the rules, the city’s demands have no teeth.”

Adamson is not the only restaurant to be operating without a licence. Ross said that in 2019, 374 establishm­ents were charged for not having one, including those whose licences had expired or failed to renew them in time.

Those numbers dipped in 2020 — 82 charges have been laid thus far. Ross said the reduction is related to the pandemic and bylaw officers being reassigned.

Toronto has some 8,000 eateries, according to city officials.

The original Texas-style smokehouse quickly grew to popularity in the industrial park after it first opened in the spring of 2016, with lineups snaking down a long ramp outside the front door.

As lockdown measures came into effect last month, Skelly vowed on social media to open the newest location in Etobicoke for regular service, while making claims not backed by facts about the accuracy of the COVID-19 test and severity of the virus.

That led to large crowds of anti-mask, anti-media and other demonstrat­ors gathering outside the Queen Elizabeth Boulevard restaurant and a two-day stand off with police that ended in Skelly being arrested after he allegedly broke into the restaurant following the locks being changed overnight.

Skelly, 33, now faces several provincial and criminal charges, including one count of attempting to obstruct police, one charge of failing to leave when directed, one count of mischief and failure to comply with the Reopening Act.

 ?? ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO ?? The Adamson Barbecue location in Leaside, shown during its 2016 opening, has never had a city business licence, which owner Adam Skelly says is because of zoning “contradict­ions.”
ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO The Adamson Barbecue location in Leaside, shown during its 2016 opening, has never had a city business licence, which owner Adam Skelly says is because of zoning “contradict­ions.”

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