Sunday, October 17, 2010

# 7 ~ Fran's Diner, Then and Now


NOW : The neon lights over Fran's Restaurant on College Street welcomes patrons 24 hours a day.

In my last entry, I talked about the history of Thanksgiving Day celebrations in Canada.  A tradition for me over the past several years has been to have at least one Thanksgiving Dinner at Fran's Restaurant, one of Toronto's cultural landmarks.  I've been going to the Fran's location at Yonge and College for longer than I'd care to admit, and am often there after late night ghost tours.  As with every Thanksgiving for more than ten years now, the second weekend of October marks three straight weeks of offering ghost tours, each and every night.  So, it's tradition, in a way, that I spend an evening there on Thanksgiving Weekend to launch my "Hallowe'en Season".  In the past couple of years, the sense of this being something near a solitary vigil has been broken, and I've been joined by a few friends.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Fran's really is a cultural Toronto institution.  The original Fran's Restaurant was opened in 1940, along St. Clair Avenue West, a few doors down from Yonge Street.  It was started by Francis "Fran" Deck, from whom it got its name.  The original Fran's diner had only ten seats, but the location soon expanded.  The chain expanded, too, with restaurant locations opening on College Street, just west of Yonge, and on Eglinton Avenue East, just east of Yonge Street.  Another location eventually opened in Hamilton, Ontario.

Fran Deck was tragically killed in a car crash in 1977, but his children carried on the business for about two decades.  In the 1990s, the entire Fran's chain was purchased by a group of investors, with the exception of the College Street location, which was bought up by a family in 1997.  The other locations were sold off, and the College Street location was the only one to survive.  In 1998, the owners of the College Street location bought up the rights to the name, and have started to open up new locations, breathing new life into the restaurant chain.  In 2004, a new location opened at Victoria and Shuter Streets.  In 2006 , a new location on Barrie's Bayfield Street was opened.  In 2009, Fran's opened up their first American location, in Kansas City, and 2010, a third Toronto location was planned for the corner of Front and Yonge streets.

Even in its early days, Fran's was known for being open around the clock, for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  That explains the convenient stop off after a long night of ghost tours, where I end my day sometime between 11:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.  Today, only the Toronto locations are opened all the time. As the sign on the front window of the College Street location proudly proclaims ... "Always Open".

Francis "Fran" Deck was the one who coined the term "Banquet Burger", and Fran's was the first restaurant to list the notorious hamburger with cheese and bacon under that name on its menu.  He should have slapped a copyright on the name, just as fast as he slapped the bacon and cheese down on the beef.  Other renowned Fran's menu items include their rice pudding and their chili, both of which have been winning food competitions in Toronto for seventy years.  In recent years, Fran's has added "fusion" cuisine to their menu, but it's always best to stick to what they're known for.  Diner food is their specialty ~ omelettes, hamburger, hashbrowns, and the 24-hour a day availability of a breakfast menu.


THEN and NOW : Forget the fusion cuisine.  Fran's is best known for "diner food".  Francis "Fran" Deck is the one that came up with the name "banquet burger", and their rice pudding, shown in this photograph, has been winning food awards in Toronto for decades.

Before the doors of Maple Leaf Gardens were closed for the last time, the College Street location of Fran's was a popular stop for hockey fans, either before or after the game.  Even after the tragic closure of the Gardens, the stadium's former clientele still continued to visit Fran's, for old times sake.

The most celebrated customer at the St. Clair Avenue West location of Fran's was probably the famous Canadian musician, Glenn Gould.  Gould, who remains one of the best known classical pianists of the twentieth-century, was also known for his eccentric lifestyle.  He lived in a small flat across from the St. Clair Avenue location of Fran's, and would come in almost every night, at 2:00 o'clock in the morning, and would always order the same thing ~ a plate of scrambled eggs.  Gould claimed to be hypersensitive to feeling cold, and would wear heavy layers of clothing, even in warm locations.  Done up in his standard dress of a coat, a hat and mittens, he was once mistaken for a vagrant and arrested while sitting on a park bench during a visit to Florida.  He would come into Fran's, on St. Clair Avenue, in the middle of the night, and eat his scrambled eggs while wearing a pair of gloves.


THEN : Glenn Gould, the famous Canadian pianist, was a notoriously eccentric regular at the Fran's on St. Clair Avenue.  He'd arrive at 2:00 a.m. and always order the same thing - a plate of scrambled eggs.


THEN : A 1940 menu from Fran's Restaurant.
For more historical information and images, please visit the Fran's homepage :


NOW : The bright lights of Fran's on College Street can't help but attract the passerby.  They're always open!

NOW : Fran's spelled out in the floor tiles at the College Street location.


NOW : The late night staff of Fran's on College Street are obviously a welcoming lot, especially the one hiding behind the bar.



NOW : Booth advertising, Fran's College Street location.




NOW : Fran's Thanksgiving menu, 2010.


NOW : Fran's Thanksgiving dinner, 2010.  Our party's "Fransgiving" celebration was made all the better because we ate at midnight on a Saturday night.  We also contemplated what it would be like to sit down to a full turkey dinner at seven o'clock in the morning.  Perhaps we should have spent several hours drinking coffee, and stayed for breakfast.


NOW : No Thanksgiving is complete with the pumpkin pie for dessert.  It's all the better since the dessert plate is inscribed with the Fran's name.



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Every night from now until October 31st, I run my "Hallowe'en Season" of ghost tours.  The two-hour "Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" tour runs every night at 7:00 p.m., and the shorter "Ghosts of the University of Toronto" tour runs every night at 10:00 p.m.  Both tours are held each and every night.  Make sure to reserve though, as some nights are already almost sold out.  Reservations may be made by contacting me by e-mail at richard@muddyyorktours.com, or by telephone at (416) 487-9017.  Hallowe'en is always a busy time of year, and I am thankful to all the people who help to keep it that way!

Sign up now, as some nights are already sold out!
For more information on either of the two ghost tours, please visit these links.
"The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" Tour
"The Ghosts of the University of Toronto" Tour

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the history of Fran's. I work a block from the St. Clair one ... it's a pub now.

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  2. your blog is very nice and informatic we are regular redear of your blog and waiting your next update best breakfast spot is tucked away in the Port of Toronto. & Best Lunch Spots Toronto

    ReplyDelete