Toronto Star

Original Pickle Barrel location closes its doors

Leslie Street restaurant opened in 1971 as 85-seat Jewish deli


The shopping centre at 5941 Leslie St. in North York is officially named Wycliffe Plaza, but neighbourh­ood residents, even the landlord, call it the Pickle Barrel Plaza, after the popular chain restaurant, whose original location has anchored it for five decades.

But with the recent closure of its most famous tenant, perhaps the plaza will soon revert to its proper name. The illuminate­d red letters reading “Pickle Barrel” along the top of the building have been taken down, and the lights inside are off.

A sign posted on the door reads, in part, “the time has come for the Pickle Barrel on Leslie Street to close its doors after almost 60 years of serving you. We would like to thank each of you for your patronage and friendship over the last five decades, welcoming our team into your community and into your lives.”

The restaurant opened in 1971 as an 85-seat Jewish deli and later expanded to a larger space at the same plaza, adding a patio and party rooms. Additional locations sprung up across the GTA, and the menu grew beyond deli staples to include pub fare, pastas, salad bowls and brunch.

In 2017, Pickle Barrel was acquired by restaurant group Cara Operations, now called Recipe Unlimited. Calls and emails to Recipe Unlimited, which owns more than a dozen other restaurant brands — including the Keg, Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s and the Burger’s Priest — went unanswered.

Currently there are seven Pickle Barrels in Ontario, including Toronto locations inside Yorkdale Shopping Centre and at Yonge and Eglinton. Its high-profile downtown location at Yonge and Dundas closed in fall 2020.

TikTok and Instagram food reviewer Rick Silver (@dicksworld), recently posted a video about the Leslie Street closure, eliciting other diners to share their memories. One user wrote, “My dad’s favourite. He used to love the liver. Fond memories of being with my parents.” Another offered, “My late Grandma loved it here. Also, back in the day, I went to so many bar mitzvahs there.”

“I grew up in that area and went to the junior high across the street,” said Silver, who also runs, a local restaurant directory and review site.

“A deli dinner on the weekend was a tradition. I remember there were literal pickle barrels on the wall. At the time, it was where you’d go for corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. You’d have to line up to get in on a Saturday and Sunday.”

Silver returned to that Pickle Barrel in 2021, when the restaurant celebrated its 50th anniversar­y, and ordered a Reuben sandwich as a nod to its deli roots, even though he said places like Centre Street Deli and Pancer’s Original Deli have become the GTA’s Jewish deli gotos.

“It was the OG, that’s a big thing,” he said. “It was one of those restaurant­s that felt like home, and it resonated with a lot of people.”

 ?? STEVE RUSSELL TORONTO STAR ?? The Pickle Barrel, now stripped of its signage, anchored Wycliffe Plaza for more than 50 years.
STEVE RUSSELL TORONTO STAR The Pickle Barrel, now stripped of its signage, anchored Wycliffe Plaza for more than 50 years.

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