|Sign of the Steer restaurant, northeast corner of Davenport and Dupont, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 504. Click on image for larger version.|
Back at the turn of the 1960s, this high-turnover site brought such ruin to original owner Hans Fread, Canada’s first star chef, that 146 Dupont was known for years as “Hans Fread’s Folly.” However, for this notoriously outspoken restaurateur, most of his follies were self-inflicted; as he once admitted, “I am sometimes like a little boy with a big mouth—when I am angry, I talk too much and it comes back to hurt me.” Originally a lawyer in Germany, Fread fled to Canada in 1934 to escape the Nazi regime he openly criticized. Arriving in Toronto during World War II, he worked at the King Edward Hotel before opening Sign of the Steer in a converted house at Dupont and St. George in 1948. Fread quickly attracted lineups for specialties like pan-fried steaks branded with a poker to resemble grill marks, and other European-styled meals that stood out in a dull dining town. And his word was the law during his meals—minor requests from diners for adjustments weren’t tolerated. His notoriety grew to the point that CBC offered him airtime on its new television service, which led to Hans in the Kitchen (1953–54).
|Toronto Star, November 24, 1955. Click on image for larger version.|
|Toronto Star, June 29, 1960. Click on image for larger version.|
Fread fled to Winnipeg, where he accused Torontonians of suffering “an inferiority complex” that made them “think a candle on the table makes good atmosphere.” Fread’s namecalling—he painted Toronto diners as “a multitude of Lady Plushbottoms”—was viewed by former competitors as sour grapes from somebody who overpriced his meals. “Time had passed him by,” steak-house proprietor Harry Barberian reflected years later, “but he didn’t realize it and blamed the world.” Despite his venom, Fread was back in Toronto within two years. Before his death in 1971, he cooked at or operated several restaurants and taught at George Brown College.
The next occupant of 146 Dupont was Winco, who owned the Steak n’ Burger chain. Their approach in the early 1960s was, according to spokesman Tony Mili, “to provide a middle-class man with high-class dining.” The site later became an Italian eatery, Peppio’s, which catered to “the guy with five bucks in his pocket who wants to take his girl out for dinner.” The concept lasted for a decade, though ads indicate numerous short-lived attempts to turn the upper level into a swinging hangout for groovy kids. An ad warned potential partiers that due to low prices, “you’ll have to bring your own go-go girls.”
|Toronto Star, November 1, 1975. Click on image for larger version.|
|Toronto Star, August 10, 1978.|
Additional material from the November 23, 1955, October 28, 1964, and September 16, 1970 editions of the Globe and Mail, the June 29, 1960, October 17, 1960, October 19, 1960, November 24, 1962, February 28, 1964, and November 1, 1975 editions of the Toronto Star, and the June 1996 edition of Toronto Life.