Condo developer to take over Le Sélect Bistro

Long-running French bistro Le Sélect is in “new hands” – those of a real estate developer.

The restaurant’s owners announced on Instagram on February 17 that Allied Properties has taken over the reins of the upscale restaurant, which closed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

“As the bills piled up and the centimes started to run short, we asked ourselves: are we ready to enlist for another fight from the trenches?” they wrote.

“And so, for the first time, Le Sélect is in new hands. We don’t know yet what will happen in the sunny future after COVID,” they added. “It may be the Le Sélect that you remember. It may change a little or a lot. But we think our legacy is in good hands.”

Run by partners Jean-Jacques Quinsac and Frederic Geisweiller Le Sélect opened in 1977 and spent three decades on Queen West before moving to 432 Wellington, just west of Spadina.

In recent months, the owners have taken a fight over property taxes – and way the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) assesses properties – public.

Geisweiller launched a petition last year and said his property taxes have increased from $31,276 in 2007 to $203,710 in 2020, akin to the taxes condo developers pay.

In an interview, he says several factors led to the decision to sell the property and the business to Allied.

The prospect of existing in an area perennially under construction, a 20 per cent drop in clientele after the patio closed in 2019 due to that construction, the fight with MPAC (which, he says, resulted in a reduced-but-still-expensive $100,000 tax bill), and the prospect of another pricey tax assessment for 2020-2024.

Moving and reopening could also take years, given the amount of work Le Sélect put into renovating the space in 2005, which includes a reclaimed pewter bar from Paris.

“We don’t have that many years left to have the energy to build something new and to run it successfully,” he tells NOW.

According to financial statements, Allied paid $17.2 million in cash on January 28 for the the two-storey building, which was built in 1971.

Geisweiller says Allied is now looking for a new operator to take over the restaurant – and what that will look is a question mark.

A photo of Le Select cafe and bar
Courtesy of Le Select

The sale resulted in 70 staffers being terminated, but Geisweiller is working with a group of them who are putting together a proposal and raising the necessary working capital should they be selected to keep Le Sélect alive.

“Everyone is going to walk home with a fair amount of money because we’ve decided to share some of the proceeds with [the staff] above what we’re supposed to pay by law,” he explains. “A number of people have expressed interest to put that in a pool and to see whether they would come up with enough cash to start a new business.”

Though they will likely go up against seasoned restaurateurs with competing visions for the space, he believes Le Sélect would not be close to what it was in different hands.

“The danger of being measured against what it was would be too great,” he says of the future operator. “Our staff is in a different situation. They can continue the legacy. They know the place so intimately,” he says. “If it’s not the staff that takes over, a radical change may be more appropriate.”

Another challenge is, of course, the pandemic. When Geisweiller crunched the numbers, he said pivoting to takeout would cost more than remaining closed. Le Sélect was also a destination restaurant in a neighbourhood that is in transition. Nearby offices are largely empty, meaning local customers are scarce. 

Regardless of government rules and vaccines, he also doesn’t believe diners will be comfortable packing into a restaurant for a while. 

“Le Sélect with 50 per cent of its seating capacity would not be what it was,” he says. “You need the warmth of people making conversation, laughing, living. The pandemic has certainly changed our behaviour when it comes to public space.”

In Allied, he says he found a buyer who is a “good corporate citizen.”

Allied owns 4.7 million square feet of property in Toronto, including offices that house eOne and Shopify. The restaurant is the second iconic Toronto business the developer has aligned with in recent months.

In December, the company announced a partnership with 125-year-old music venue Massey Hall to extend the facility into a multi-stage space called the Allied Music Centre.

NOW has reached out to Allied’s acquisitions team for further comment.

After the Instagram announcement, Geisweiller says his inbox and social media feeds filled up with more than 1,000 messages from customers, many of whom marked milestones at Le Sélect.

“We’ve celebrated births at Le Sélect, we’ve celebrated engagements, weddings and wakes,” he says. “The people who take over, if they keep the concept of Le Sélect, will in turn become the keepers of those memories.”

What are his fondest memories?

“The energy of the place was contagious,” Geisweiller recalls. “It came from the staff. We had people work for us for over 30 years. That says a lot about their dedication.

“It was electrifying when you came in the place and it was full,” he adds. “When it’s empty, it’s quite a let-down. My most valued memories are a mixture of all these events that took place under those circumstances of great enthusiasm and great energy.”

Read the full Instagram note from Le Sélect below.

This story was updated on February 23 with more information, including an interview with Frederic Geisweiller.


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