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FOCUS: Bloor’s Hungarian chapter closes (Summer 2023)

September 14th, 2023 · No Comments

Country Style restaurant closes after serving Annex for 62 years


By Chloe Robinson

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, a stroll down the stretch of Bloor Street running west from Spadina Avenue may as well have been a stroll down a cobblestoned boulevard in Budapest. Between 1956 and 1957, an astounding 37,000 Hungarians immigrated to Canada, fleeing the Hungarian Revolution and the Soviet takeover under a Stalinist government. These Hungarian immigrants sought refuge, opportunities, and a chance to rebuild their rich culture in a foreign land. Toronto was a favoured destination. By 1960, 8,700 Hungarians called Toronto home, with a large majority settling in the Annex.

Many of these Hungarian immigrants proceeded to open storefronts: barber shops, bookstores, delis, and most of all, cafes, bars, and restaurants. For many immigrants, access to comfort food from their homelands serves as a crucial cornerstone in preserving their culture and heritage. This is replicated all over Toronto, with Little Portugal, Little Italy, Danforth Greektown, and Chinatown. From bustling cafés serving rich espressos and flaky pastries to the lilting melodies of Hungarian folk music floating through the air, the Annex was soon dubbed the “Goulash Archipelago.” These Hungarian settlers wove their heritage into the fabric of our eclectic enclave, blending their unique history and warm hospitality into the Annex’s already captivating tapestry.

Over the years, further waves of change came to the Annex, slowly diminishing the presence of Hungarian culture. Gone are the streets lined with Hungarian restaurants serving schnitzel, goulash, and wooden platters piled with sausage. The Hungarian community in the Annex gradually dispersed to Toronto’s suburbs during the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in the closure of many local Hungarian businesses by the 1990s. Only one restaurant remained standing—the beloved Country Style which served the Annex for 62 years. On June 15, owner Katalin Koltai announced the upcoming closure on Facebook. According to Koltai, it was one of the first Hungarian restaurants on Bloor Street. In an interview with CBC news, Koltai expressed her desire to retire despite her still-booming business. 

“For so many years of my life, I did what the restaurant [wanted] me to do. Now I do what I want to do.”

After completing high school in Hungary, Koltai immigrated to Canada in 1971. She worked at a bank for five years, before transitioning to a waitress position at Country Style. With the support of her family, Koltai purchased the establishment and building in 2000, and she ran it for the past 23 years with the help of her daughter. The whopping 263 Facebook comments on the restaurant’s closure announcement are testaments to the many loyal customers Country Style embraced over the years. “They came with their family for years and years and [the] years when they were in university. Now they bring their grandchild[ren], everybody. Sixty-two years is a long time,” Koltai said. 

Growing up at College and Bathurst, Sarah Fowlie was one of Country Style’s longtime, loyal customers, and a witness to Bloor’s Hungarian past. 

“When [my family] moved to the neighbourhood in ’85, there were many Hungarian restaurants up on Bloor. There was the Korona restaurant, there was the Blue Cellar, there was Capital…Country Style was there too.” 

Fowlie said that as a student, she would head up to Bloor for a movie and then head to Korona or Country Style to split big plates of schnitzel with her classmates. Although Korona eventually closed, Fowlie continued to visit Country Style over the years. 

“[Once my wife and I had kids], we’d buy our Christmas trees at Sunny’s Christmas Lot. While we waited for it to be delivered, we would always go to Country Style. We had been doing that with the kids for 20 years. It’s a family tradition. It’s usually a dark Monday or Tuesday night after school. We’d go pick up the tree, then schlep it over to Country Style.”  

Fowlie no longer lives near the Annex, but she still treasures her fond memories of its Hungarian past. 

Although the Annex continues to change, Country Style did not change much over the past 62 years. Vibrant red and white chequered tablecloths and a menu brimming with authentic Hungarian delicacies transported all those who entered into a realm of enchanting nostalgia set in Central Europe. 

“I think my fondest memories of Country Style [are] just [visiting] on a cold night,” she said. “You open the door. It’s bustling. It’s full of people. The mother and the daughter greet you at the door and there are so many different types of people. You have a table of punk rock anarchists, then a table of U of T professors, then people who probably came in ’58 from Hungary. The door to the kitchen would open and close, and you get excited from the smells. It’s always there. It never changes, and every time you go, you have the same experience. It’s a really kind of magical thing.” 

Although Budapest’s spirit no longer dances quite as loudly on the streets of the Annex, many residents and visitors took the opportunity toglimpse Bloor’s Hungarian past and got a chance to taste their sought-after wooden platter before Country Style’s August 1st closure. 


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