What happened to Sky Blue Sky?

Sandwich shops close two weeks after sale to a new owner

When Sky Blue Sky Sandwiches’ two cafes closed last month, it came as a shock – both to longtime staff members, and to the regulars who stop them in the neighbourhood asking for answers.

“I see people from the shop all the time,” says Mackenzie Graham, who worked at the cafe. “It can be difficult, because every time you tell someone new you have to relive it all. I don’t want to over-dramatize, but it really does feel like a loss of a friend or family member. Sky Blue Sky meant so much to the people who came in.”

Adds Sharon Belle, who worked for SBS for three years: “People are really confused and really sad, because it wasn’t just any place.”

That might not resonate with those who have never ventured within the show-poster-bedecked walls of Sky Blue Sky’s King East and Bloor West locations.

But the family-run shop’s unique gimmick (it had the distinct honour of being the world’s only sandwich shop dedicated to the band Wilco), warm atmosphere and ultra-friendly service had a way of pulling people in, as did the hefty, homestyle sandwiches that sold for well under $10.

The husband-and-wife team who opened the cafe, Chad and Robyn Comfort, wore their devotion to Jeff Tweedy and co. on their sleeves, naming each of the two dozen sammies after a Wilco track. Tweedy once visited himself, later proclaiming he preferred “their older, more experimental sandwiches.”

After seven years in business, the Comforts ultimately decided to sell, listing both shops for sale on Kijiji in March.

In an email, Robyn Comfort tells NOW she and Chad sold the business “as we were moving to the Kingston area where we once lived and loved. We don’t have any further comments to add about the shops closing, except to say that we are sad to hear of the news.” 

“We loved our 7.5 years at Sky Blue Sky and all the friends we made with our wonderful customers and staff,” she adds. “We miss it and we are sad to hear of its closing.”

Belle said the new owner was one of the first respondents to the ad. “They sold it pretty quickly.” 

Belle and Graham worked under the new owner for a couple of weeks. “He didn’t seem to understand that what he had purchased was special,” Graham says. “He seemed to have a vision for the place that was against its character – simpler, less creative menu, espresso machines, higher prices, et cetera.”

Adds Belle: “I don’t even think this guy knew who Wilco was.”

Things went from bad to worse for Graham and Belle, who say they are out several weeks’ worth of pay. “We tried calling him,” Belle says of the new owner. 

Toronto police, it turns out, are investigating “events that transpired during the change of ownership at Sky Blue Sky,” according to Sgt. Sean Imrie, of Toronto Police 51 Division. He declined to comment on the specifics in an email to NOW. “We’re really in the infancy of the process right now.” 

A seizure notice on the door of the Bloor location claims Sky Blue Sky owes $4,660 in rent recently, a post on Bunz Trading Zone showed the posters and prints that once decorated the Bloor cafe out on the curb. The King East cafe, meanwhile, was used as a set for the TV adaptation of The Girlfriend Experience it now sits vacant.

In the meantime, SBS staff find themselves mourning the loss of a community along with their daily nine-to-five.

“It was a humble little spot where you could get great food for cheap, and that’s rare, but more importantly it was a refuge for a lot of people – a place that was completely different where everybody was welcome,” Graham says.

“I always felt that visiting SBS was like spending time at a friend’s house, listening to good music while they made you a sandwich.”

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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