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Café forced to close after a flood, then fire, days apart

Last Updated Jul 22, 2021 at 11:14 am EDT

Community members are fundraising for the staff of an independent Toronto café that has been forced to temporarily close after a flood and a fire pummeled the business just days apart.

“Especially coming out of the pandemic, it’s tough,” said Calay Hall, owner of Krave Coffee on St. Clair Avenue West. Hall became emotional while speaking to CityNews about the impact to her business and staff.

“It’s a big loss,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to quantify the loss of income.”

Earlier this month, Krave was flooded when plumbing work in the apartment above the café sent water pouring down through the ceiling.

Hall was forced to close the shop in the middle of the day, and miss the next day’s service, to clean up. She said she made sure to pay her staff for the shifts they would have worked anyways.

Four days later, in the early morning hours of July 13, a pile of construction debris just outside the building appears to have deliberately been set on fire. The building suffered smoke and water damage inside and part of the café’s patio was burned down.

“My partner says I was in shock, and that I just went in to work mode,” she added. “I don’t think I broke down until the next day.”

She estimates that Krave will be closed for another three to four weeks for repairs. With the fire happening on the eve of Ontario’s move to step three of its re-opening plan, including the return of indoor dining, the timing has been particularly hard.

“A lot of staff were really eager to come back,” she said. “We were just going to start our nighttime hours, we were going to launch a wine bar. We’ve had to stop that.”

Toronto police are now investigating the cause of the fire.

Hall said while she is insured, it won’t cover employees’ missed wages. There is now a fundraiser on their behalf, with the hopes of raising $30,000 to cover re-opening expenses and to compensate workers.

“I just want to make sure that they feel secure,” said Hall, “[so] that they don’t have to worry about EI being enough.”

Local MPP Jill Andrew notes that Krave’s patio is usually bustling, so to have this happen in the middle of summer, is a blow to both the business and the neighbourhood. She is encouraging people to support Krave if they are able to.

“It’s such an important part of Toronto-St. Paul’s,” said Andrew, who watched virtual Pride celebrations from Krave’s patio in June. “This is a woman-owned business, a queer-owned business. These are important things, we need women-led, queer-led businesses, everywhere in our city. To have this devastation happen to such a caring, compassionate, strong business owner and staff team, it’s deplorable.”

During the pandemic, Krave offered staff paid sick days before they were mandated by the province. Hall also paid staff who needed to miss work to get vaccinated.

“Calay has been such an outspoken advocate for workers’ rights,” Andrew said. “Calay and the staff are amazing, and they need support.”

Dr. Heather Hannah, whose veterinary clinic is two doors down from the café, is encouraging other businesses in the area to come forward with any security video that may have captured the incident .

“There are four small buildings on this block, there could have been a real loss of life and catastrophe,” said Hannah, who is also chair of the Hillcrest Business Improvement Area.

Security video viewed by CityNews shows a man walking in front of the building just moments before the construction debris is set on fire.

“Smoke got into things I didn’t even know I had,” said Hall.

She and patrons are hoping that the fire is the end of a string of misfortunes for the business.

Aside from the flood and the fire, in June, a thief stole plants from the café’s patio. In a social media post at the time, Hall said it happens every year, and is becoming a costly and frustrating expense.

Despite it all, Hall says the six years since she’s opened Krave have been great overall, “This neighbourhood has been phenomenal, the support has been incredible.”