It’s official: Coca has closed for good

It’s official: Coca has closed for good

Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye: tapas bar Coca bows out (Photo by John Hritz)

After a saga of financial woes, the sudden departure of a star chef and an unexpected shutdown in March, the official word on Coca’s fate is finally out: the restaurant will not reopen, and plans of renewal have been shelved. When we last checked in on the Coca fiasco, chef Nathan Isberg (who left the restaurant after a break with management in November) was weighing his options. Should he go his own way, or get back in the overheated kitchen with one of Coca’s investors? When a letter was posted last week, indicating the site’s seizure by the landlord, we talked to Isberg to find out what went wrong.

According to the chef, his partnership with the investor fell apart before a new vision could even take shape. The negotiations reminded Isberg of previous headaches. When Coca closed, for example, suppliers (including the Cheese Boutique and Kawartha Ecological Growers) were reportedly hit with major losses—Isberg estimates as much as $80,000. Another instance the chef noted involved Coca’s landlord, who claims to have suffered from the restaurant’s difficulties because the investor stopped paying rent after a rate increase. The troubled investor declined an interview, but indicated that his plans to reopen a revamped space are firm and financed, and that “ignorance from the landlord who insisted on increasing the rent at a time of major challenge to the sector” was the stumbling block that sealed Coca’s fate.

For now, Isberg is keeping busy at the Berkley Church, but he is still hungry for a place of his own—without an investor this time. “I’m remembering why I like cooking in the first place. I think I can transfer that into a restaurant,” he says. The aspiring entrepreneur is thinking about opening up a place somewhere in the Junction. Considering his taste for Ontario ingredients, his studies of sustainable food and his admiration of Grant van Gameren’s nose-to-tail techniques at The Black Hoof, we’re expecting a restaurant of the fresh-and-local variety.

Before Isberg starts his new project, he’s working on getting back to basics. “I am mostly looking for ways to cook the food I like without getting pulled into the clichés and drama of restaurants as I’ve seen them,” he says. “I’ll have to spend the next little while unlearning some bad habits associated with the last few years.”