Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant
Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant is a defunct restaurant and banquet hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is located in the MS Jadran a former Adriatic passenger ship now permanently docked at Yonge Street and Queen's Quay on Toronto's waterfront. The ship is actually on a small lane way at the foot of Yonge Street called Captain John's Pier. The restaurant was open every day of the year, including all major holidays such as Christmas and New Year's Day.
The restaurant was owned and operated by John Letnik who came to Canada as a refugee from Yugoslavia in 1957. He opened the restaurant aboard the MS Normac in 1970. The Normac had served several years with the Detroit Fire Department and then as a ferry that travelled between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island. In 1975 Letnik bought the larger Jadran from the Yugoslav government. The Jadran was one of three luxury cruise ships built in Split for the Jadranska Linijska Plovidba company. For several years it operated as a luxury cruise ship in the Adriatic and Aegean. Letnik purchased the ship in 1975 for a million dollars, and it became a second location for his restaurant. As well as being its owner, Letnik also serves as chef.
The ship was one of the first attractions in the area that became known as Harbourfront and was a pioneer in the waterfront's transformation from an industrial port to a recreational, artistic and residential area and tourist attraction.
In 1981 the Normac was struck by then Metro Toronto Parks-operated ferry Trillium and sunk. No one was hurt, but the restaurant was destroyed. This set off a long legal battle between Letnik and the city. Letnik was eventually awarded damages, but reportedly not enough to compensate for the destruction. The Normac was raised and refurbished and served as a floating restaurant in other communities with the Jadran being the sole home of Captain John's since then.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the floating restaurant was a desired culinary destination attracting prominent diners such as Bob Hope, Brian Mulroney, Mel Lastman, Robert Campeau and Steve Stavro, and was a sought after location for weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events. However, in its latter years it lost favour as the city's gastronomical scene became more sophisticated and diverse and by 2002 Letnik was seeking bankruptcy protection More recent reviews from local papers rated its culinary fare as average, despite the restaurant's boasts of having "the best seafood in town!" Reviews by patrons are decidedly mixed. The restaurant's clientele was primarily tourists and many bus tours stopped at Captain John's.
Bankruptcy, closure and sale attempts
In 2002 Captain John's filed for bankruptcy protection, owing over $5 million to various creditors including $3 million to unsecured creditors. Letnik's bankruptcy proposal involved the repayment of all unsecured creditors owed $5000 or less and a repayment of no more than $30,000 to all other unsecured creditors.
Temporary 2008 closure after health department inspection
In August 2008, Toronto public health officials ordered the restaurant closed after citing it for 11 separate infractions, including 'Operator fail to maintain premises free of sewage back-up' and 'Operator fail to ensure food is not contaminated/adulterated'. The owner was fined $2,160.
Attempts to sell
In 2009 owner John Letnik put the restaurant up for sale at a list price of $1.5 million and has subsequently reduced his asking price to $1.1 million. Despite nearly forty years of operation, Letnik was unable to sell the restaurant. Finally, in June 2012, the Toronto Port Authority rescinded the lease agreement for the slip where the ship was moored, citing over $500,000 in payments owed for back taxes, rent and utility payments. At the same time the City shut off the boat's water supply, in turn causing a health department inspector to order the restaurant closed due to the staff's inability to sanitize dishes and wash their hands. The owner was given until July 27, 2012, to remove the boat's gangplank and all restaurant signs, and the Toronto Port Authority has invoked marine law to order that the ship “must refrain from leaving" until its debts to the city and the port authority is paid. The Jadran's engine has been removed, and the ship is reportedly mired in mud, meaning the vessel would have to be towed from its current location.
In September 2013, with Letnik now owing more than $1 million in taxes, licensing fees, and berthing fees, the city initiated the process of seizing the vessel. Letnik declared he would not abandon the ship and might even chain himself to it.
The Toronto Port Authority had given an August 22, 2014 deadline for the Jadran to be removed and scrapped and took bids from ship breakers for the job. Three bids were submitted and on July 31, 2014, the Federal Court of Canada declared the bid by entrepreneur James Sbrolla of the North American Seafood Exchange to purchase the ship for $33,501 to be successful and approved the sale of the ship to Sbrolla's holding company. He had hoped to restore it to a floating restaurant. The removal of the ship was delayed due to problems in having the hydro transformer removed, and when plans to find a new berth for the ship fell through. Sbrolla then proposed a plan to have tugboats tow the ship out of harbour and move it to a private slip at the foot of Parliament Street where the ship would be stripped of salvageable elements such as scrap metal, which is to be sold, and its teak decks, which are to be used by Toronto Brigantine on their tall ships, with the remainder of the ship to be scrapped. If the plan is not approved the court could reopen the bidding process to new candidates.
In October 2014 the Toronto Port Authority terminated the deal and returned Sbrolla's payment after rejecting his proposal as it would have required tearing the ship apart in harbour, a plan which the authority did not "feel comfortable proceeding with". It is now expected that the ship will not be removed until at least the spring of 2015.
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- Pigg, Susan (27 June 2012). "Captain John's Restaurant ordered to shut down". Toronto Star. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
- Pigg, Susan (June 27, 2012). "Captain John’s Restaurant could be rusty relic on Toronto waterfront for years despite being shut down". Toronto Star. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
- Alcoba, Natalie. "Captain John's owner refuses to abandon floating restaurant as city struggles to recover $660K in back taxes". National Post. Retrieved 2013-09-11.
- "Captain John's could be destined for scrap heap". Toronto Star. July 31, 2014. Retrieved July 31, 2014.
- "Captain John's sold for $33,501". Toronto Star. July 21, 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
- "Buyer of Captain John's fails to make final payments". August 8, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2014.
- "Logistics plague Captain John's removal". Toronto Star. August 29, 2014. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
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