Tuggs Inc.’s grip on a beachfront restaurant site at Ashbridge’s Bay is a “continuing disaster,” Mayor John Tory says, from which the city appears to have no escape.
“I think it’s a tragedy for the Beach, and for the residents and visitors who use those beaches so frequently in the summer and all year, that there isn’t an operator in there using all of those premises,” Tory told reporters when asked about Cara restaurant Carters Landing moving out after a legal fight with Tuggs owner George Foulidis. Tuggs leases the city-owned building and has exclusive rights to sell food and novelties at nearby parks.
“I think it’s part of the continuing disaster that is this man’s tenure and it was extended in a way that I think we had very few legal avenues to pursue, and I just feel very badly about the whole thing,” Tory said. “And I think there’s not been a single good part to it as far as I can tell, including this latest development.”
Foulidis did not respond to multiple calls and emails from the Star last week requesting comment on Tory’s statements and the latest twist in his Beach tenure that has generated headlines since the 1980s, when he won a lease for a restaurant on the boardwalk along the hugely popular eastern beaches.
Instead of kicking off prime patio season this May long weekend, Carters Landing will serve its final customers before closing Thursday after less than two years.
When Carters Landing opened in 2016, Foulidis had wanted Cara to take over his city-assigned lease. Court records reveal Foulidis and Cara fought over parking revenues, area liquor sales and more, and the deal was never completed.
A string of Foulidis-operated restaurants — Tuggs, the Boardwalk Cafe, seafood eatery Paralia and Athens Cafe — have also come and gone, leaving, at the moment, a Foulidis-franchised Tim Hortons and a new Johnny Catch Fish and Chips.
City staff say they don’t know what will replace Carters Landing. Also in the dark is the local councillor, Mary-Margaret McMahon, who told the Star she is “beyond frustrated” with Tuggs in her eight years as councillor that will end in October.
In 2007, city council voted, against city staff advice, to give Tuggs a 20-year sole-sourced lease extension to ensure the site has a “mom and pop” tenant and not a chain eatery.
But city staff couldn’t reach terms with Tuggs and brought the issue back to council in 2010. Citing legal advice, council approved a new deal that included annual rent of $200,000 and Tuggs spending $2 million on renovations.
The lease also reduced the city’s portion of proceeds from beach events and activities under terms that give Tuggs control of a beachside snack bar and exclusive rights to sell food and novelties at four nearby parks.
Council later directed staff to try to regain control of those parks activities, but negotiations went nowhere.
Like Tory, McMahon doesn’t see a way out of a lease set to run until Sept. 16, 2028, but said she would love to see it put out for tender, maybe to multiple operators to offer visitors a mix of activities and services at “the crown jewel of the city.”
She is closely watching Foulidis’s next move at the site. In divorce documents filed in 2016, he said he needed the Cara lease deal to help get out from under $2.8 million in debts. His ex-wife cast doubt on that claim, calling him called a “savvy entrepreneur with a vast and complex corporate group of operating businesses.”
Foulidis’s divorce lawyer at the time, Tanya Road, told the Star her client was “not on the brink of receivership or bankruptcy or anything.”
Road later went to court herself, records show, to force Foulidis to pay her. A Superior Court judgment dated last November ordered Foulidis to pay Road $133,783.71 in fees, a debt she had told him had put her in “a very bad spot financially.”
Road did not respond to an interview request or questions about whether she has received the fees.
Meanwhile, back at Ashbridge’s Bay, painters are finishing a big beach-facing 7Up Lemon Lemon ad on the side of what is, for the moment, Carters Landing. Tuggs has the right to “promote a sponsor’s product” and keep the revenue, city staff say, under the terms of its city lease.