The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has claimed another longstanding Toronto institution. Southern Accent, a decades-old New Orleans-style restaurant best known for its Cajun and Creole-inspired cooking, has shuttered its doors.
As restaurants across Toronto continue to be overburdened by mass dining room closures and a lack of rent relief, many are having trouble staying afloat. Some restaurants have pivoted to takeout and delivery models to help offset some of their losses. For others, such as Southern Accent, Lambretta Pizzeria and Vesuvio Pizzeria and Spaghetti House, the financial strain has proven to be too much to overcome.
“It is a sad day for us,” says founder and co-owner Frances Wood in a statement on the Southern Accent website. “COVID-19 has forced our hand. We are closing our doors and saying goodbye to all the wonderful customers we’ve gotten to know and love over the last thirty-seven years.”
Before moving to make way for the demolition of Honest Ed’s and the redevelopment of Mirvish Village in 2017, the restaurant had become a popular fixture on Markham Street, dating back to the early ’80s.
Over the past three years, Southern Accent began to lay down new roots at College and Ossington. Once again, the iconic 1940s curved red walnut bar was back in service at the centre of the new location.
“This year was the first time I felt we were turning the corner,” says Wood. “Business was improving and the staff in the kitchen and the front were in sync. Then COVID-19 happened. You just never know what’s around the corner. Now, once again, the bar goes back in storage along with our decor.”
Since then, residents across Toronto have taken to social media to mourn the loss of the local institution. Many have shared fond memories of birthday parties, first dates, weddings, and even the odd psychic reading. While others are paying tribute to the restaurant’s chef and co-owner Thessavan Maniceavasakan.
Southern Accent is closing. I have many feelings about this. I’ll pick one. Thessavan Maniceavasakan, a young Sri Lankan refugee that joined the restaurant as cook when he was 18 in 1998. Since then he’s mentored an armada of young Tamil cooks in Toronto. https://t.co/372KAt93g0
— Suresh Doss (@Suresh) May 4, 2020
Although both Wood and Maniceavasakan have shared a heartfelt thanks and goodbye with their staff and customers, some hope for the future still lingers.
“Who knows, someday there may be a rebirth of Southern Accent with the bar in tow and someone else at the helm,” says Wood. “If so, we’ll be there to help if called upon.”