Career change an Ace in the hole

Diner by day, bar by night moves into old Chinese restaurant space

After 20 years in the music industry, Greg Boggs started talking to his friend Maggie Ruhl, the owner of the Dakota Tavern, about a career change.

“In a lot of ways I just got disillusioned with the music business and was looking for something else to do and was talking to Maggie about the good and the bad of owning bars,” says Boggs, a former director of artists and repertoire for Sony BMG Canada and Columbia Records in New York.

While he was walking around his neighbourhood he saw the former Ace Chinese Restaurant on Roncesvalles Avenue at Fermanagh Avenue in a new light after the curtains came down and he could see beyond the half-dead plants in the window.

“I was surprised to see that it was this old diner,” he says. “I sent Maggie a picture and the rest was sort of written.”

After several months of renovations they opened The Ace. Open nightly for dinner (and offering brunch on weekends), the diner turns into a bar until last call with a late night menu.

Although they brought the interior back to life by reupholstering the chairs and adding some finishing touches, they wanted to keep it as original as possible, which is why they chose to maintain the name.

“We’re a restaurant and a bar,” says Ruhl. “We kind of wanted something for everyone. We wanted to be for families and people in the neighbourhood.”

In addition to daily specials, which they post to their Twitter and Facebook accounts, she says their chef Peter McKnight offers a selection of dishes ranging from steak frites to mussels and fish.

“He’s really having a lot of fun with the classics being inspired that this was an old diner but also wanting the fish and the French preparation of things,” she says.

Although the fried chicken has been really popular, they count the pork chops with red eye gravy, which is made with coffee, as one of their current favourites. Ruhl says their desserts are all made in house and include several different varieties of ice cream as well as chocolate perogies, which are stuffed with Nutella.

Since they both bartend and serve several nights a week, Boggs says it’s nice to get a direct sense of people enjoying the place.

“Every night is kind of exciting because I still have this feeling like maybe nobody will show up tonight,” he says. “And when people start showing up it’s really, really exciting.”

Ruhl says she wants people to feel so comfortable during dinner that they don’t want to leave, which is one of the reasons why they decided to stay open late.

“A lot of it is kind of like an extension of this place too,” Boggs says. “It’s kind of like it’s been here for so long like I think it was built in 1955 and there’s something comfortable and warm about it just in and of itself.”

Especially early in the evenings, Ruhl says they’ve been getting lots of kids from the neighbourhood, which she says is adorable.

“These Roncesvalles kids are too much,” she says. “They eat mussels and they’re so nice and well behaved and social.”

“But they don’t have to be well behaved because …” Boggs starts.

“Greg’s not,” she cuts in.

About this article:

By: Ann Ruppenstein
Posted: May 14 2012 4:40 pm
Filed in: Business
Edition: Toronto