LAMASThe single-story brick-and-concrete-masonry-unit building at 1042 Queen St. E in Torontoâ€™s Leslieville neighborhood has always been associated with food. Built in 1949 as an A&P grocery store, it has since served as a vegetable wholesaler and even an indoor bean sprout farm. Its newest life, after an extensive renovation designed by local firm LAMAS with executive architect MGBA, is as a trendy farm-to-table restaurant and brewery.
The biggest challenge for the LAMAS team, led by principals Weihan Vivian Lee, AIA, and James Macgillivray, was reconfiguring and expanding the structureâ€”all within the existing footprint. The basement was excavated to accommodate a full lower level, and the floor in the center of the structure was removed to create a double-height brew house. Throughout, the structural steel was doubled to accommodate the modifications.
That steel was necessary to support the added weight of an urban rooftop farm that provides everything from salad greens for the kitchen to pungent herbs for the beer. â€śTo convert it into something that would support a green roof was a lot of gymnastics,â€ť Macgillivray says.
Looking beyond just supplying the kitchen, the garden is also a test nursery for different cultivars of ancient grains to determine which would thrive best at local farms. â€śThe larger mission became trying to use the baked-in interest craft-beer fans have in ingredients, flavor, and provenance to shine a light on local cuisine and the need to rethink agricultural problems and opportunities in the food system,â€ť owner Max Meighen says. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the roof also provided vegetables for CSA boxes, which supplemented the restaurantâ€™s income.
The most public-facing part of the building is, of course, the restaurantâ€™s dining room, and the team wanted it to be flexible: â€śItâ€™s a large space that we thought could become a hub for the neighborhood. People are in need of spaces to do work in during the day and there are a lot of young families,â€ť Lee says. â€śWe wanted to kind of capture the potential of that for this community.â€ť
To that end, the space was split into different zones, with low tables, zinc-topped high-top tables, booths, and bar seating. â€śThereâ€™s the idea of four different fields of activityâ€”almost like a crop rotation,â€ť Macgillivray says. And the focus wasnâ€™t just on dining: â€śWe were deliberate about having a lot of open space to accommodate strollers, wheelchairs, and multiple configurations,â€ť Meighen says. Before the pandemic, the space hosted events from wedding receptions to lecture series, so the flexibility is key.
Light fills the spaceâ€”both from large windows out to the street and into the skylit brew house, as well as from the pendant light fixtures that create a plane below the ceiling. The white concrete block walls are offset by pink-painted exposed structural steel, gray felt runners applied to the walls that serve as acoustical control, and colorful murals by local artist Madison van Rijn. A series of nonstructural wood frames help define seating areas and â€śplay with your sense of scale,â€ť Lee says. â€śWhen you have repetitive members that keep stretching and reinforcing the receding line, the space looks bigger.â€ť
But not everything is new: The original terrazzo floors were patched with concrete and polished, and the existing wood-joist ceiling was left exposed. â€śYou have to make decisions about which things are worth preserving to maintain the character of the original space,â€ť Lee says. â€śIt might have been easier to get a new roof, but it makes a huge difference to have that patina.â€ť
At press time, Avling has reopened for outdoor dining in addition to its grocery business, and Meighen is excited to see what the future will bring: â€śWe didnâ€™t design the operation with a pandemic in mind,â€ť he says, â€śbut a multifaceted, flexible, and adaptive model was always the plan.â€ť