As Toronto grows denser, and we deal with countless challenges to keeping the city vibrant — even as we lose many independent mom-and-pop shops and restaurateurs to generic chain offerings in overly glassy condo podiums — tucked just a block off of King or Queen streets just west of Spadina, is the Food Hall at Waterworks, a major new venue opening today that celebrates the human touch through colour, texture, and just plain good eating.

Overlooking the stalls of the Woaterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

The buff brick, Art Deco Water Works Building, designed by J.J. Woolnough and completed in 1937 at 497 Richmond Street West, was disused by the City of Toronto when BuildToronto (now CreateTO) sold it to MOD Developments and Woodcliffe Landmark Properties in 2015. Both companies have a history of preserving history — the heritage base of MOD's Massey Tower and the revitalization of the former North Toronto Station by Woodcliffe into the flagship Summerhill LCBO are particularly well-known examples — and this Designated Heritage property looked like a perfect candidate for reuse and revitalization as well. 

Waterworks Building seen through the St Andrew's Playground at Adelaide and Brant, image by UrbanToronto Forum contributor rdaner

While a mid-rise addition of 288 condos (including 15 affordable units) was placed over top of it — designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the residential suites began to be occupied in 2021 — the building's block-long hall along its south side looked perfect for a grand use, and with the King West area having become a trendy haunt in the 2010s, a food hall filled with new outposts of some of the city's most impressive independent restaurants seemed like the way to go.

State of the hall in September 2016 when the redevelopment announcement was made, image by Craig White

With the interruption of everything by Covid, including the very challenging time it created for the city's restaurateurs, the food hall did not arrive as quickly as originally expected, but as of today, 55,000 ft² is now dedicated to food service, including over a dozen vendors plus event spaces on the ground and mezzanine levels.

Looking down one of the aisles of the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

With a team led by Eve Lewis of Woodcliffe and Gary Switzer of MOD, key consultants ERA Architects, who oversaw heritage retention and augmentation, Stephen Fong Architect, and Cecconi Simone, the mission to turn the space into a destination for hungry Torontonians is now reality.

Eve Lewis of Woodcliffe, Gary Switzer of Mod Developments, image by Craig White

Bluescape Construction managed the rebuild, which included unbricking windows and recreating them in steel, uncovering and reglazing the skylights, restoring their copper-clad clerestory windows, and such work as building the mezzanines. Build It was responsible for the build-out of the kiosks.

Leaning tables in the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

Mercato San Miguel in Madrid was one of several European food halls that were studied when designing Waterworks Food Hall, with such details as the lighting, the size of kiosks, their food handling equipment, the width of the aisles, and the combination of seating types — individual tables, communal tables, bar stool and leaning counters — all taken into account to come up with a comfortable and energized space aimed at accommodating a full range from singles to groups of people.

Two of the kiosks at the east end of the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

On opening day, food vendors include:

  • Aburi Sushi: torched sushi and hand rolls
  • Dave’s Genuine Deli; traditional deli and barbecue
  • Harry’s Charbrolied: burgers
  • Liu Loqum: Turkish delight shop
  • Musoshin Ramen: Kyoto-style noodle shop
  • Karak: Stuffed naan
  • Arepa Republic: Venezuelan-style street food
  • Island Oysters
  • Otto’s Berlin Doner
  • SOI Thai Foon
  • Scooped by Demetres: ice cream
  • Vit Beo
  • Taco Lupita
  • Pizzeria Popolo
  • Boxcar Social: coffee

Freshly shucked oysters at the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

Vendors were chosen to provide a wide selection of food types, aiming to satisfy any particular cravings that guests may arrive with. Drink types too: as opposed to typical food courts found in malls everywhere, besides the same set of chain-operated counters that one sees again and again that are eschewed here, the other big difference is that the entire food hall is licensed, meaning that you can pick up a beverage at one of the bars, and pair it with whatever nosh has caught your fancy that day.

One of the drink purveyors at the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

Two of the alcoholic beverage purveyors are still to come, including the Civil Liberties cocktail bar (opening later this summer) and Grape Witches: a natural wine purveyor (opening September).

Looking down one of the aisles of the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

Civil Liberties, mentioned above, will overlook the food hall from a mezzanine at its east end 

A view to the east from the north mezzanine at the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

The north side mezzanine is set up for rotating pop-up vendors, and can operate as a private event venue, while at all times providing a great view over the hall and across to the windows that overlook the greenery of St Andrew's Playground.

A view to the south from the north mezzanine at the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

A view to the west from the north mezzanine at the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

The north mezzanine at the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

Back at ground level, another space just off to the side of the hall is bookable for a variety of functions.

An event space at the Waterworks Food Hall, image by Craig White

Located opposite the event space and across a courtyard, is Lee Restaurant by celebrity chef Susur Lee, and in the northwest corner of the building, is non-alcoholic quality drinks merchant SOBR Market. Beyond this, there's still more to come at Waterworks, including a 53,000 ft² YMCA that is targeted to open in the Fall.

Scooped by Demetres serves homemade ice cream, image by Craig White

To finish off this visit, dessert items can be found at several kiosks of course, but one is just desserts: Scooped by Demetres, with homemade ice cream, and freshly made waffle cones if a cup is not your style.

Cajeta Swirled Goat Cheese Ice Cream Waffle Cone from Scooped by Demetres, image by Craig White

While you can walk out of Waterworks with an ice cream cone, you can drive out too: there are two levels of commercial parking directly below the complex.

UrbanToronto will continue to follow progress on this development, but in the meantime, you can learn more about it from our Database file, linked below. If you'd like, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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Related Companies:  Bluescape Construction Management, Cecconi Simone, Diamond Schmitt Architects, Janet Rosenberg & Studio, Kramer Design Associates Limited, L.A. Inc., LiveRoof Ontario Inc, Norris Fire Consulting Inc, Peter McCann Architectural Models Inc., Quest Window Systems, Urban Strategies Inc.