Humans of Riverside: ROHIT’s Story

“We were caught in the storm of COVID two months after opening and all our original hires left. But I decided that we would not shut down…not even for a day. I kept the doors open through deliveries and takeouts.”

Rohit Wadhawan

Business Owner, Indian Spice Room in Riverside

His Story:

We were caught in the storm of COVID two months after opening and all our original hires left. But I decided that we would not shut down…not even for a day. I kept the doors open through deliveries and take outs.

I am a first-time business owner with no prior experience in the restaurant or food industry. I’ve spent my 25-year career in the corporate world and until a year ago was a human resources director for Walmart in Canada.

However, I wanted to create something of my own – something that fascinates me. I was known as a people leader in the places I worked and always wanted to do something that would allow me to have one-on-one interaction with a variety of people. Food, and especially vegetarian and vegan food, has always interested me. Plus, I come from India where it’s all about spices, flavour and aroma. I noticed that in Toronto there was not a single Indian vegetarian restaurant serving food from across India. The Indian restaurants here serve either South Indian cuisine or they are the usual naan and curry restaurant. I wanted to offer the people of Riverside/Leslieville authentic Indian street food with mainly vegetarian and vegan options.

I opened Indian Spice Room at 717 1/2 Queen Street East but, while being in a good location, it had no kitchen. The previous eateries that occupied the space provided juices, smoothies, vegan sandwiches, etc. I needed a full-service kitchen and dine-in area so patrons could enjoy fresh, hot food while seated inside.

We created an all-vegetarian and vegan menu with more than 80 items (some gluten free) prepared right on site. After almost nine months of preparation – from signing the lease to construction, staffing and setting up apps – we finally opened on  December 18, 2019 .

The local community was supportive. Patrons tried the food and provided genuine feedback. Then, several months later, COVID happened. Like everyone else we were caught in the storm. All our original hires left, and we were at a critical stage in March. However, I decided that we would not shut down…not even for a day. Despite dismal sales in March and April we remained open for delivery and takeout. In fact, I used some of this downtime to fine tune the menu.

I am happy to report that we survived the pandemic and although still far from breaking even, it gives me satisfaction that we provided employment and continued to serve our customers every day.

Making Space: Art by Bareket Kezwer and Yshmael Cabana accompanying Rohit’s story on the west-facing window at 800 Queen Street East

Making Space: Art by Bareket Kezwer and Yshmael Cabana accompanying Rohit’s story on the west-facing window at 800 Queen Street East

About the Humans of Riverside: Giving Voice and Making Space for BIPOC” Storytelling Series:

The Riverside BIA – located along Toronto’s Queen Street East from the iconic bridge over the Don River to just past De Grassi St – is proud to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness with this story-telling series.

The project launched in summer 2020 as part of the Main Street Art Challenge and collaborated with writer and editor Grace Cameron, artists Bareket Kezwer (@bkez) and Yshmael Cabana (@_yshyshysh) to bring public art and launch this story-telling series in partnership with local businesses in the Riverside BIA. This project is supported by STEPS Initiative (@STEPSInitiative) as part of their Main Street Art Challenge.

The “Humans of Riverside: Giving Voice and Making Space for BIPOC” story-telling project makes physical space in storefront windows for BIPOC artists, and gives voice to stories from local BIPOC community members in Riverside. Each piece of art and each story shared has a bigger meaning that connects to the local business/window and to the BIPOC community member by sharing a link/QR code to their full story online. The Main Street Art Challenge brings this new and ongoing storytelling series to life, and the art produced for the challenge will continue to live virtually beyond the Main Street Art Challenge as part of the ongoing ‘Humans of Riverside‘ storytelling initiative.

Everyone Knows Riverside’s George The Barber

Story Contributed by Aarti Sharma 

A Story from the diary of the Storefront Window at Riverside’s Broadview Beauty Parlour:

I am the window pane at the Broadview beauty parlour, at 741 Queen St. East. I give passers a look into the hair salon run by George Iliadis, the seasoned barber of Riverside since 1964.

Caption: Me (the window) with George the Barber

For more than 55 years now, I have been the delighted onlooker to the transformation of the Riverside neighborhood – from a working-class, industrial hood to a trendy locale that now hosts award-winning restaurants, over 100 mostly small-independent businesses including eateries with diverse cuisines, retail shops with locally-sourced products, and many other stores and attractions. The Riverside BIA, one of Toronto and Canada’s first BIAs (then called the Queen Broadview Village), came along in 1980 and has played an instrumental role in the development of this area.

While the outside view of my world has witnessed many changes, the inside gives me an eye to my diligent, constant, George, a native of Greece who moved to Canada in 1963 at the age of 18. He reflects on his childhood days and says, “I have been working since I was 10 years old. After school, I would help my father cut tobacco in the farm. I often went to the mountains too, to cut wood for the winters. It was only in 1957 when my father suggested me to learn a skill, that I learned hairdressing as a 14-year-old apprentice in my hometown Agia Kyriaki, Greece.”

Since then George’s pair of scissors has been gliding through the hair of regular and new customers whom he delights with what he calls as ‘top service at half the price.’

George featured on the Riverside Quarterly Magazine in Spring 2006

He is called as a kind guy by many, not just because of the complementary gifts like pens, lights, key chains and Christmas calendars that he gives to his customers but mostly because of the interesting conversations that he strikes with them. He likes to talk about sports, weather, history and geography. Some customers even get treated with some Ouzo (a Greek liqueur).

George’s wife worked with him for 25 years, I must admit that I could have used a small couple-fight- of course, for entertainment purposes only. Alas, the couple disappointed me on that front.

Nevertheless, our famous George offset that by giving me the exclusive and close up view to the many honorably savage chess games that he has played with his customers or with any itching pedestrians who were up for a game. Some people have even stopped to watch and take pictures.

Do not overlook that I mentioned ‘famous’.  Besides his barberly skills, George is also popular for acting parts in 14 movies & commercials including My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Cinderella Man. I remember the time when TD bank approached George for renting this parlor for a commercial, and ended up putting him behind the camera. Now he is an ACTRA member. His seven grand children from his three children feel very proud and say, “Grandpa is a movie star!”.

When George is busy acting, he puts up a ‘Gone for acting’ sign at the parlor.

The idea of retirement seems indigestible to George as he likes being busy. Sitting around makes him stressed. Even on slow days, he comes back and forth to me to look outside or to make small talk with people in the neighborhood. However, the straight out of a movie COVID-19 lockdown was the longest break George has ever taken in 55 years. I can bet that his hands were itching to get back to the business of hair and chess .

As George says, “Many businesses have come and gone but I am the constant here as no one does it like George the barber”.  He is happy to be back to work now and I am enjoying my unwavering inside view again. I am positive that the footfall in the area will get back to normal soon. I am hankering for some chess games!

Georgios (George) Iliadis gets his hair cut by his wife of 50 years Kalliopi, councillor Paula Fletcher, and his daughter Helen Konstantinidis during a celebration to mark 50 years of business at his barber shop


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The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.



Riverside 40 Years, 40 Stories: ‘De Grassi Street’ vs ‘Degrassi Street’

Right here in Toronto’s Riverside neighbourhood, there’s De Grassi Street: originally named for the soldier, Filippo “Philip” De Grassi (1793–1877) was an Italian ‘soldier of fortune and influential player in the Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada’.

Then there’s’ Degrassi Street’! The street was made famous locally and internationally after it inspired the hit TV series franchise, including: the Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, Degrassi: The Next Generation (which starred now famed artist Drake), and Degrassi: Next Class…

De Grassi Street Sign

Kids of Degrassi Street

Yes, De Grassi Street is located right here in Riverside, and has a wonderful historical residential character. Many of its homes date back to the 1880s and were built in the distinctive tall, narrow bay-and-gable style. It runs one-way northbound from Queen Street East north to Gerrard Street, and is located approximately halfway between Broadview and Carlaw Avenues.

Also known as workman’s cottages, these (see example at 52 De Grassi) were built originally for workers in the many manufacturing companies that operated around these parts; before the turn of the last century, they comprised the most common form of small house in Ontario. Take a self-guided walk and learn more about the architecture of these homes with our Riverside Architecture Self-Guided Walk.

Example of a Workers Cottage at 52 De Grassi Street

At the corner of Queen and De Grassi Street sits Bonjour Brioche, a famed cafe locally and Toronto-wide for over 25 years. But did you know, the cafe appears in ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’?

Fun fact: The train underpass at De Grassi Street appears in ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Orphan Black’ (Side note: are you a Film/TV buff – we’ve got the Riverside’s Film/TV self-guided walking tour. Check out the rest of the stops here!)

Bonjour Brioche  – Photo credit: Lana Malykh (

Scene from ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ inside Bonjour Brioche

Bruce Mackey Park, located on De Grassi Street, just north of Queen Street East, was officially dedicated to a founding friend and supporter of the hit Degrassi TV series in its early day: Bruce Mackey. He opened his De Grassi Street home to young filmmakers, Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood, who were making a short children’s film from which the Kids of Degrassi Street was ultimately born. Bruce’s enthusiasm for his diverse neighbourhood led to many De Grassi Street homes, and local parks and schools being featured in the early episodes of the ‘Kids of Degrassi Street’. Click here for a rare copy of the film company ‘Playing With Time Inc’s notice of filming and promotional materials about the series along with a thank you note, kindly shared by the Queen & Saulter Library Branch.

Plaques in Bruce Mackey Park tell the story of Bruce and the Degrassi series.

The world famous De Grassi Street has been an integral part of Canadian arts and culture and a much celebrated part of the Riverside community and we are proud to share this snippet of its colourful story and encourage you to go explore it for yourself.


The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.



Nell & Natasha: Riverside’s Community Builders

As part of this ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ series we’re pleased to share this story from Toronto’s Riverside neighbourhood:

One cannot celebrate 40 years of the Riverside BIA without recognizing Nell Bradshaw and Natasha Varjacic’s contributions to this vibrant neighbourhood. While Nell and Natasha, our local mother-daughter real estate team of Real Estate Homeward Brokerage, are definitely not the new kids on the block. Their growing family, born and raised here, has certainly added some little ones to the community!

Nell moved to Canada in 1968 and lived on 1st Avenue. Here she attended the local Dundas Public School and Queen Alexander Secondary School. She worked in property development and management in her later years of adulthood. Nell has been practicing real estate in the neighbourhood for over 30 years.

Nell shared, “It has been incredible to grow up in this neighbourhood. To see and be an active part of all the change and transformations over the last 50 years. I have been so fortunate and am so proud to have raised my family – now in our third generation – right here.”

Natasha was born and raised in Riverside.  At a young age, she developed a passion for real estate and involvement in real estate investment and development. This led Natasha to earn her MBA at the Schulich School of Business in Real Estate Development and Infrastructure, joining the family business as a Real Estate Broker. She has also been involved in development since the age of 21 and has built three family homes down the street from her office. “It is very important to be rooted in your community and we are here to stay,” says Natasha.

Beyond running their successful Real Estate Homeward Brokerage branch at 807 Queen Street East, both Nell and Natasha have always been generous with their time and support to the community. They  frequently give back to numerous local charities and causes, such as St. Matthew’s Church, Dundas Public School, Nellie’s Shelter, the Rivertowne Breakfast Program and many more. They also support international causes, one of them being  a monthly donation from a portion of their monthly sales, to help build classrooms and provide essentials for a village in Kenya.

For years, Nell has been an avid organizer of many community events, all of which have raised funds for the many local causes the duo support. Nell and Natasha’s popular Annual Easter Egg Hunt, Summer BBQ and Halloween Pumpkin Giveaway  are community favourites which draw hundreds of people of all ages. For a number of years the Halloween event and complimentary  summer BBQ & Blues have been held in partnership with the Riverside BIA and other community partners, such as Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre.

“We believe that investing our time and resources into our community will make a difference,” says Nell, “and the creation of a sense of community will make everyone feel like they belong, and are part of something special, and we can all grow together.”

As a member of the Riverside BIA Board of Directors since 2007, Natasha has contributed countless hours of her time to projects to improve the streetscape, and marketing initiatives for the business area as a whole. She has always been a big supporter and fan of local businesses. Na tasha often caters her open houses with local food from Bonjour Brioche, plans outings to the bar I’ll Be Seeing You , grabs lunch at Tabule Middle Eastern Cuisine or takeout at Siddhartha  Indian Cuisine, and other popular local spots.

“I think it is important to be involved in your community,” says Natasha, “and I am honoured to be part of all the positive changes and initiatives that have helped foster this vibrant neighbourhood, that has created awareness and a name for itself as Riverside. It’s become a destination in Toronto with the support of the BIA and all of its dedicated members and volunteers. “

This dynamic duo’s tremendous work in the neighbourhood is much celebrated and is an important part of the heart of this business-community.

The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.



Beaches International Jazz Festival’s ‘Sounds of Leslieville & Riverside’

The Beaches International Jazz Festival has been a sought-after summer tradition for the past 32 years. The festival has brought life, music, culture and drawn crowds into Toronto’s east end communities.

Traditionally held in The Beach area of Toronto, in 2017, the festival partnered with the Riverside and Leslieville BIAs to expand along Queen Street East. The ‘Sounds of Leslieville & Riverside’ kicked off the popular festival in 2017 and 2018 in Jimmie Simpson Park.

Based on early success, the ‘Sounds of’ was expanded in 2019 into a free multi-block party in Riverside and Leslieville with the hub at Jimmie Simpson Park. Local businesses got involved by hosting live music, sidewalk sales and food specials along the street.

In 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic , the Beaches Jazz Festival is powering through as Canada’s only virtual jazz festival, including ‘The Sounds of Leslieville & Riverside’ on July 23rd! Check out some local memories from years past and learn more about the festival below:

‘Sounds of Leslieville and Riverside’ in Jimmie Simpson Park- 2018

Riverside Burgers taking part in the festivities, 2018

‘Sounds of Leslieville and Riverside’ Block Party at Riverside’s Saulter St beside the Queen Garden Centre- 2019

When the Beaches International Jazz Festival first began in 1989, local jazz artists would perform at Kew Gardens. The festival has grown to be one of Canada’s largest free jazz festivals attracting thousands of fans and promoting talented Canadian jazz artists.

This year, the virtual festival is collecting donations for the Michael Garron Hospital, in support of front-line workers.  From July 17-26th. You can stream the live performances, workshops, and interviews from the comfort of your own home. Featuring over 300 artists such as  JP Saxe, Aiza, Commmand Sisters,  Sean Jonesand Tyler Shaw.

The overall festival will kick off with a night of festival favourites on July 17th, followed by segments ‘Groovin’ in the Living Room’ on the 18th and a Latin Carnival on the 19th. The festivities continue the following week with ‘Sounds of Leslieville and Riverside’ live on July 23rd, a virtual ‘Street Fest’ on the 24th and finishing off with a host of artists performing in the weekend series from July 25th-26th.

The festival will look a little different this year, but the spirit of the event will remain the same. The annual event will continue bringing communities together- virtually. You can stream the event for free on their website, Facebook Live or YouTube Channel.

Take a look at this year’s program and find out how you can participate in this year’s Beaches Jazz Festival! Beaches Jazz Festival Program 2020

Riverside BIA is proud to be part of this incredible musical event and looks forward to the shows!

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The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.