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Thursday, May 28, 2015

New Cafe on Danforth: D'Lusso Is A Hidden Gem

Co-partner & manager Daniella, always ready with a smile. 
Pioneer has a new HQ and it's called D'Lusso Cafe. That's right, you heard us, we're moving out of our shared bedroom office into the shiny new cafe at 1504 Danforth. What girl wouldn't want free wifi and gourmet espressos at their fingertips after a stressful business meeting? Plus, the crowd at D'Lusso is familiar and unexpected at the same time - it could be because everyone's a cousin in this family run business, including 'uncle' Joe.

In all seriousness, finding D'Lusso was like uncovering a really really secret hidden gem on the Danforth. Many readers probably vaguely remember an unremarkable cafe and lounge in that space called Apollonia, and before that a really sketchy sports lounge, so when D'Lusso first opened its doors in March it was tough to get the attention from pedestrian traffic already used to passing by.

When Pioneer discovered this gem, the girls behind the counter (Daniella & Laura) were immediately like soul-sisters, and we felt like we'd walked into someone's kitchen party. This can, and will, make all the difference in the world when you've got some fierce competition moving in down the street.

The cafe serves not only coffees and espressos, but also a long list of paninis, juices, breakfast sandwiches, specialty iced drinks (iced caramel macchiato anyone???), italian sodas and desserts. Our tastebuds literally screamed with joy after sampling an almond ice, a grown up version of a slushee made with almond paste straight from casa della nonna in Italia.

We were eager to come back and try the next day's special: a smoked-chicken panini with tomato chutney, herbed butter and apple cheddar. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious and Pioneer ate every single bite of the over-sized but well priced sandwich.

The cavernous space has been remodelled to accomodate large mummy-and-baby groups at the back, or Pioneer's next birthday party! You can sit at the front next to the open patio doors and people watch all morning, or sit at the bar and chat with Daniella who will tell you all about the history of the neighbourhood. She and most of her family (and a whole gang of regular customers) have lived on that block for decades - we've dubbed them The Originals, and they've got pictures up on the walls of Danforth shops owned by their grandfather 50 years ago.

They're also one of the only coffee places in the neighbourhood that are open after dinner, so next time you're looking for a quiet-ish place to escape to, this is the place to go - and don't worry, we'll save you a seat! Salute!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Policing the Danforth: Looking back to move forward

Theodore Roosevelt lived by the maxim “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – a revolutionary idea in mid-century American politics. Fast forward to the Danforth in 2015 and take note of the ground swell of community pride visible at coffee shops, restaurants, farmers markets and anywhere along the lengthy sidewalk. This is in some parts due to the work of the Danforth East Community Association (DECA) that has in some ways adopted Teddy’s philosophy: they’ve done what they could, with what we have here on the east end of Danforth. To make it a safer place, to make it a better community. 

And it truly felt that way until recently. 

Last week, our favourite pizza place Gerrard Pizza & Spaghetti won the new DECA Gems contest.  During the festive celebration at Ethiopian restaurant Hirut, Gerrard Pizza owner Vito Greco held his crystal “Stanley Cup” trophy up high with a grin on his face looking forward to the future of his business and his neighbourhood. 

Photo Credit: Austin Delaney / CTV Toronto
Yesterday, it was a new reality. Vito was sweeping up shards of glass from his front patio. A bullet ripped through his front window and a man was dead after being shot and killed only two doors down from Gerrard at a late night middle-eastern dive called Rotana. The second time in two years that police tape has cordoned off his stretch of Danforth because of a violent crime. Vito is fed up and so is the neighbourhood. 

Ironically, during the celebration at Hirut last week, Pioneer and Vito got onto the topic of neighbourhood history. This isn’t the first time that there has been tension in the neighbourhood (and it won’t be the last). During the 1940s and 1950s, there was so much post-war tension amongst multicultural groups along the Danforth that violence would break out frequently and with terrible results. Vito’s elderly father, who has been running Gerrard since 1959, says that groups of young Italian men were not allowed to “congregate” and would be asked to ‘move along’ by uniforms. 

Pioneer put in a call to 54 and 55 Division to ask them about their response to Monday night’s violence, and quite simply, will they be asking people to ‘move along’ from the Coxwell parkette, from out front of the many, many dive bars, from the alleyways and parking lots? 

Staff Sergeant Mullin from 54 Division and Constable Morrice at 55 gave us a resounding yes to this question. Although both units have been making an effort over the past few months to do evening inspections of liquor licenses and scanning for associated issues, they are changing their strategy quickly to adapt to the overwhelming need for police presence. 
  1. They will be partnering with Municipal Licensing & Standards (MLS) to put businesses in this area under the microscope, and making sure business owners are taking accountability for the kind of clientele they host.  It has worked in the past and they’re hoping it will work again. 
  2. They’ll be reallocating their resources and moving more officers to cover the wee hours of the morning. Taking a closer look at how they are policing the Danforth. 
  3. They’ll be beefing up police presence. This is a common policing strategy that works to deter crime by having visible uniforms. This will also keep people ‘moving along’, by leaning on bylaws like prohibiting consuming alcohol in parks and public spaces. 
  4. They’ll partner with TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Strategy team) on community initiatives. 
Overall, both Sergeant Mullin and Constable Morrice confirmed that our crime rate in the neighbourhood is actually going down. Although it may seem as if it’s increasing, the number of high-profile violent crimes is bringing some bad PR and outweighing the gentrification and general reduction of the seedy element. 

As a community, a lot of people are asking what we can do to combat these incidents. There is no simple answer. Wrapping yourself in Teflon bubble wrap is not the solution. Reporting crimes, calling in suspicious activity and keeping your eyes open is one answer. Get involved with the BIA or with DECA on projects that will help promote a safe neighbourhood – there are lots of volunteer opportunities for community activism.  Get to know your local businesses and shop at them. Be smart. Don’t feel bad about calling TPS about things that make you uncomfortable.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. “

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Starbucks Coming To Danforth East

While we haven't been able to get a statement from the mother ship just yet, the news around the neighbourhood is that a Starbucks is going in at 1417 Danforth. Our unofficial source spoke to someone that was actually official who confirmed that yes, there will be a Starbucks location opening up there.

Pioneer loves her Red Rocket and Celina's and Serendipity Bakery. And all the other small coffee shops that have kept us wired for the last decade, so it will be sad to see the impact on all these friendly neighbourhood places.

But we're pretty sure that there is enough coffee to go around. Plus, nobody makes Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies quite like Red Rocket. And we're not going to Starbucks for a cheddar jalepeno scone (#celenasfavourite).

So although there might be some backlash, consider this article from the U.S. that suggests real-estate follows the Starbucks effect and not-vice versa. They pick the "next hot neighbourhood" and real-state values soar. So to quote Barry Manilow everyone, it looks like we made it - if you're thinking like a real estate baron. If you're considering everything else about our neighbourhood, we think this place made it already a long time ago. #lovedanfortheast

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


While we were writing our last post about the Coxwell Barns, we were also munching on Red Rocket cookies and listening in on other coffee shop banter which resulted in a slight error. Luckily, you are all forgiving readers, right?? And since we gathered this information from brilliant local historian Stephen Wickens, we needed to set things in order. 

The Coxwell Barns was not converted into a bus terminal until the mid-1960s, when the subway was built. This photo from 1971 shows the impact of the Coxwell subway station and the pretty little buses all lined up in one small corner of the enormous concrete pad around the building. 

(Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto archives). 

Monday, May 11, 2015

A TTC History Lesson

The lights were blazing in the TTC garage as Pioneer strolled by a few weeks ago, so we started wondering more about this mysterious building taking up so much usable space at the intersection of Coxwell and Danforth. We did what any smart blogger would do and reached out to neighbourhood historian Stephen Wickens, who knows a heck of a lot about urban affairs and the TTC. Here's a history lesson for you! 

The Danforth Garage, as it’s formally called now, has served many purposes over the years. It was once upon a time called the Coxwell Barns and was part of the same streetcar barns system as the Wychwood Barns and four other transit “service” nodes.

In 1915, when the above picture was taken, streetcar tracks sprawled across the city far and wide including along Danforth. The Coxwell Barns served as a repair shop for these streetcars until the early 1960s.

If you look at an aerial view of Coxwell & Danforth from the mid-1900s, you can see that transit engulfs the whole intersection and the Barns has been expanded and is being used for buses rather than streetcars. These buses and their diesel fuel left their legacy in the form of the brown land the site sits on today.

Currently, it’s a big dumping ground for things the TTC doesn’t know what to do with, kind of like that drawer in Pioneer’s kitchen filled with knick knacks that serve no purpose. It also provides free parking for TTC employees.

Pioneer would love to see it restored to its original glory and once more serve as a neighbourhood hub in a different format like the Wychwood Barns which was repatriated by the city in 2008 and houses Artscape, a farmers market plus more. What would you do with our east-end space? If you’re interested in hearing more about the Barns and its future, architecture students from Ryerson University will be presenting their vision and development of the “Danforth East Streetcar Yards” tonight at Tobias House (7:00 p.m.).

Let us know what you envision for that intersection. Reach us at and we’ll post some of the best ideas and pass them on to our local councillors.