TORONTO - For 45 years, Dimitrios “Jimmy” Tsirimokos has been serving tasty breakfast and lunch at the corner of Princess and Adelaide with his legendary scowl that is actually a smile.
But it’s not easy for him to smile this week as he gets set to fry his last egg, cook his last famous burger and serve his final souvlaki.
His Olympos Crow-Bar Restaurant, known by Sun staff as Jimmy’s, will close Friday at 3 p.m.
“I am up and down,” Jimmy said. “I love being here but my lease is up. As I said to my wife, Helen, ‘what can I do?’”
It’s unknown what’s next for this old-time Toronto diner, but it would be difficult to imagine it without Jimmy, who could have been the model for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.
“That’s him for sure,” cook Theo Balis said. “But more lovable. He barks first and hugs you later.”
Needless to say the east side of Sherbourne St. has changed a lot since 1971 when a young immigrant from Halkis, Greece, took over the tiny corner restaurant, with five tables and 12 stools, attached to an auto shop.
“It was always a great neighbourhood,” said Jimmy, 70, known as the King of Princess St.
Today, new condos and cranes building more of them dwarf the deco-style building.
“When I started, coffee was 10 cents, a sandwich was 50 cents and breakfast was $1.”
The old price board hangs above the grill and fryers — the old prices covered under pieces of hammered-on wood.
But at Jimmy’s you can still get a breakfast for $5. If Jimmy likes you, he’ll just say “give me $4.”
Throughout the years, he’s had many wing men/short order cooks. His final helper is Balis, 50, who worked in his dad’s Charlie’s restaurant since he was ten.
“Jimmy’s a legend, so I jumped at the chance,” he said. “What we cook is real food. Real roast beef. Real chicken. No fake meat or cutting corners. Fresh everything. A restaurant is closing, but closing with it is a part of Toronto.”
If it looks like a movie set, that’s because it is. Dozens of productions have been shot here. Stompin’ Tom Connors ate here, so has former mayor Rob Ford, and U2 superstar Bono preferred Jimmy’s breakfast over the fancier buffet set out at a studio across the street.
“Jimmy wasn’t even sure who he was,” teased Theo, laughing. “Every customer was Jimmy’s favourite customer.”
Construction workers like Marco Romao and Drini Lrti and office workers like Eric Hong and James Greeley are all Jimmy’s people. My first time in there was in 1991 with Sun legends Bob MacDonald, Les Pyette and Phil Johnson. Later I would go with Alan Cairns, Kevin Hann, Jonathan Kingstone, Jamie Wayne, Jack Boland, Tom Godfrey, David Menzies, Adrienne Batra and Ross McLean.
It’s been part of my Sun journey and I never had a bad meal in 25 years. The best memory is getting to know the character Jimmy.
“I love my customers,” Jimmy said. “I came from Greece but I am three-quarters Canadian and one-quarter Greek.”
The restaurant looks the same as it did when it first opened in the 1950s and that’s the way Jimmy and his customers liked it.
“I don’t like change,” Jimmy said.
One change he didn’t mind was when the Toronto Sun moved in around the corner on King St. in 1974.
“I love the Sun,” said Jimmy, who always has half a dozen Suns on the counter and, for decades, SUNshine Girls on the back wall. “Doug Creighton ate here and so did Peter Worthington, Bob MacDonald and Paul Rimstead.”
Everything iconic has its time.
The Toronto Sun itself is moving to Bloor St. at the end of the month.
The bad news is everything ends. The good news is there’s two more days to enjoy one last great lunch or breakfast at Jimmy’s Crow-Bar.