After 32 years on Church Street, Bigliardi’s closes its doors

After 32 years on Church Street, Bigliardi’s closes its doors

At steak: Church Street loses its longtime resident, Bigliardi's (Photo by Jon Sufrin)

Ever since the news broke that George Bigliardi’s Steak and Seafood Restaurant is closing on September 26, the long-standing Church Street spot has been packed every night. Yet this is not just the usual phenomenon of regular customers coming by to bid the place farewell; George Bigliardi, the 73-year-old owner, says he is witnessing an influx of customers he’s never seen before. “Last night we had two people that had never been here before,” he says. “That is most unusual.”

Asked what has kept regulars returning for the past 32 years, Bigliardi cites his unique brand of customer service instead of the grilled rack of lamb or bacon-wrapped filet mignon. He sees his patrons “as family,” and the feeling seems to be mutual. Indeed, he tells us many customers were driven to tears at news of the restaurant’s closing. “When they come to see me, their martini is already on the table. For most of our customers, we remember what they drink.”

Loyal staff members, too, have remained for decades at a time. The current maître d’ has been at Bigliardi’s for 22 years; a previous chef, and even a dishwasher, stuck around for nearly as long.

Still, it has been tough going for Bigliardi’s over the past 10 years, especially as the environment around the restaurant has evolved. With the closing of Maple Leaf Gardens and a large advertising firm across the street, coupled with the relocation of CBC, business has slowly grown thin. The recession didn’t help either, and though the restaurant has weathered tough economic times before, Bigliardi (who works 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week) says it’s time for a break.

“It’s very hard on my family,” he says of his intense work ethic. “I was very lucky [my wife] was able to put up with me.”

So what can dedicated denizens expect to replace the venue? Certainly nothing with the character of a steakhouse that’s barely changed its decor since it opened. One of the restaurant’s two rooms will likely become a Pizzaiolo, the soon-to-be-ubiquitous purveyor of pizza, while the fate of the other room is yet unclear.

After taking some much needed time off, the restaurateur—who has hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Anthony Quinn and Bette Midler, and who once altered the Pope’s route through Toronto so he could get a photo for his mother—is not averse to the thought of opening a new, albeit less central, restaurant. Says Bigliardi, “We’ll probably resurface in a much smaller place, more intimate.”