Fran's Restaurant owner looks to more than 80-year history in the wake of a fourth pandemic wave

Brunch served at Fran's Restaurant in Toronto, which originally opened in 1940 at Yonge and St. Clair (Supplied).

In 1940, a modest 10-stool diner serving eggs, bacon and coffee 24-hours a day opened at Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue. Now, the local chain that’s taken on the name Fran’s Restaurant has weathered more than 80 years in Toronto, from the Second World War to the fourth pandemic wave.

“It was tough during the war,” G. Francis Deck, son of the diner’s original owner, told CTV News Toronto. “My dad was worried about the war and being drafted.”

As a five year old, he watched his father drive to Buffalo to purchase a coffee urn when many products were rationed during the war in an effort to draw customers in for a cup of caffeine for a nickel. 

In just a couple years, Fran’s expanded from 10 stools at Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue to 20 stools at Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue.

After decades of developing the status of a Toronto staple, in the late 90s, the diner’s ownership was handed over to the Kim family who now face public health restrictions that ban indoor dining as the province grapples with a fourth pandemic wave.

Yet, the diner’s deep-rooted history keeps them grounded.

“I think that’s what keeps driving us. There’s so much history at Fran’s and so much of our own personal history involved in this business,” said Robert Kim, co-owner of Fran’s.

After his parents purchased the diner, he grew up perched at the back tables before and after school, eventually graduating to the ranks of the dish pit where he spent weekend rushes washing and stacking plates. When he told teachers at school his family owned Fran’s, they jolted to life, launching into a story about how the diner was their hangover joint or family brunch spot.

“Everyone has a story that has to do with Fran’s,” Kim said.

While Kim said he feels in his bones that the tail end of the pandemic is nearing, Fran’s has not been left untouched. After 10 years of flipping burgers and pressing waffles, their Yonge and Front streets location was forced to close in December 2020.

“We were devastated,” he said.

But, it’s customers like this one that keep him hopeful – for years, a man sat at Fran’s Yonge and Front bar every day and ordered the orange chicken. When the location closed, instead of abandoning his daily ritual, he started venturing north to their location at Yonge and College streets.

“I think that’s why we’re so optimistic that Fran’s will continue,” Kim said. “It’s not just about food. It’s about people’s memories that they hold of that place.”