Just Launched: The NBA’s New Toronto Restaurant Is Open For Business
Until recently, Toronto’s Queen’s Quay waterfront was a dead zone of dining options, anchored by the Westin Harbour Castle’s turret-like revolving restaurant and haunted by the ghost of Captain John’s, the floating banquet hall in a derelict ship that closed in 2008. But revitalization efforts have ushered in the likes of Aburi-owned Miku and Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890, making the quiet stretch along Lake Ontario an enticing arena for exciting new culinary players—which now includes the NBA’s first-ever Courtside Restaurant.
Spearheaded by the NBA’s branded attractions arm and operated by Toronto’s Urban Dining Group (the company behind Hey Lucy and Gabby’s restaurants), the project has been in the works since 2018. The 930-square-metre eatery opened in April and hopes to attract hoop heads, tourists and locals alike with its varied menu, atmospheric space filled with basketball memorabilia, gift shop and, soon, a 200-seat patio.
Courtside Restaurant’s culinary ambassador, Top Chef winner Erica Karbelnik, and executive chef Myles Sam created a high-low menu fit for a sports-bar-meets-upscale-dining venue inspired by the energy of the city. “As Torontonians, we are very proud of who we are, and our love for basketball is electric,” says Karbelnik. Hand-helds, like a fried muffuletta sandwich, are meant to be eaten with one eye on the game, which is broadcast on 25 screens throughout the restaurant, while more elevated dishes, like berbere-spiced chicken and salsa-verde swordfish, appeal to foodies as much as sports fans.
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Throughout the space, rare collectibles, like a pair of Shaq’s size-22 sneakers, are displayed alongside custom artwork, including a mural by Toronto-based Anishinaabe artist Jenny Kay Dupuis, and social-media-worthy backdrops, like a neon sign that reads “I will play in the NBA one day.”
The Toronto launch will serve as a testing ground before more Courtside Restaurant locations open globally. “Nearly half the population of Canada are NBA fans, and we’re seeing a record amount of international talent coming from Canada,” says Stacie Cohen, senior director of branded attractions. “So it was a no-brainer to choose Toronto as the first location. We wanted to deliver a new experience to this passionate fan base.”
This article appears in print in the Spring 2023 issue of Canadian Business magazine. Buy the issue for $7.99 or better yet, subscribe to the quarterly print magazine for just $40 a year.