Return to Glory

Will new residents in downtown Windsor keep restaurants from moving to the suburbs?

Rudyard Kipling remarked that East and West would never meet. The same might be said for Windsor’s downtown and its suburbs. The city core boasts a multiculturalism that broadcasts Canada’s low-temperature attitude to culture. Ethnic restaurants abound, including a plethora of halal shwarma places geared toward the neighboring immigrant communities.

But to return the enclave to its pre-9/11 glory days when nearly every night the downtown streets were buzzing with people from the U.S. as well as Canada, restaurateurs are calling for more residents.

“No matter what the specific issue you want to solve in the core, more residents is the solution,” says Mark Boscariol, who owns two restaurants. “Unfortunately, (the city) has no plan to achieve that goal — and no specific targets or actions to achieve those goals. You want more residents? You have to specify how many in the next year. Is it 100, 200? Then you have to list the actions (necessary) to achieve each and every single one of them.”

Boscariol owns The Willistead in the Walkerville neighborhood, near the Hiram Walker distillery, and Snack BBQ in the downtown district. “Walkerville has an amazing sense of pride in its property owners,” he says. “Downtown is simply the calling card of our city. But if downtown fails, the rest of the city and region will fail.”

For future restaurateurs, South Windsor is virgin territory. With roughly four neighborhoods the size of Walkerville and one-quarter the number of restaurants, the math is good.

Paul Chanko crunched the numbers and decided South Windsor is where he’s going to open his new venture, called Budakon. He used to stake his claim downtown. “Our downtown is facing many challenges,” he says. “There are a lot of delinquent landlords who leave their buildings in horrible condition and expect an upstart like me to literally sink my life savings into fixing up those buildings.”

Another victim of South Windsor’s siren song is Erie Street, Windsor’s legendary row of Italian restaurants. Nick Politi, owner of Nico Ristorante, says Erie Street is still home to great restaurants, bakeries, and markets, but now he’s contemplating the unthinkable — leaving Erie Street. “Even though we have minimal traffic in this city, and you can go from one end to the other in 20 minutes, Windsorites have very little patience and believe that any distance more than two kilometers from their house is too far,” he says.

For now, Politi is staying put, and Erie Street remains a gourmand’s friend; however, some of the neighborhoods around the enclave have lost their original steadfast ethnic communities.

Ted Dimogolou, who owns Tiki Sushi, says downtown Windsor could benefit from a strong marketing campaign that touts the city’s culinary assets. “What puzzles me is that if an excellent restaurant opens in a bad neighborhood in Detroit, then it’s edgy, but if you do the same thing in Windsor, people say the place is a dump,” he says. db

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