Fred's Not Here
By Karen Lloyd

Fred's always there

Located in the heart of Toronto’s Entertainment District, Fred’s Not Here has been a restaurant in the King Street spotlight for nearly 30 years. With two stories connected by a spiral staircase and a sprawling patio, this iconic west-end bistro is hard to miss, and if you’ve ever attended shows at one of the many theatres in the area, you’ve probably enjoyed a steak or seafood dinner at Fred’s Not Here and appreciated the restaurant’s close proximity to these attractions.

“Theatre is very important to us,” says owner Fred Luk. The rich menu and cool spacious ambiance with swank art on red brick walls, open kitchen, and friendly service make Fred’s Not Here a desirable pit stop for downtown diners. And, despite what the restaurant’s name might suggest, Fred — the restaurant's operator, dishwasher, reservation taker and chief cutlery polisher — is always there. “I’m an active manager of the restaurant,” he says. “You have to like what you do.”

We still have tons of loyal regulars coming and new neighbours experiencing our restaurant for the first time. This is what keeps me going. - Fred Luk, owner
Fred Luk, the owner of Fred's Not Here, says Fred is always there.
The rich menu and cool spacious ambiance with swank art on red brick walls, open kitchen, and friendly service also make Fred’s Not Here a desirable pit stop for downtown diners.

Success is a science

Fred fell into the restaurant business by accident and then he fell in love with it. “After graduating university with a science degree, I didn't know what I wanted to do,” he says, explaining how his career in the restaurant industry came to be. “Desperate is the word that comes to mind.”

Before Fred’s Not Here, he opened the Whistling Oyster, a seafood restaurant located a few doors to the west, but after a few years he decided to close the first business and jump wholeheartedly into the success of his namesake bistro. King Street West was hot and Fred’s Not Here was hopping.

“This strip has gone through some really great times,” he says, reminiscing over the early years. “We had our moments for about 10-15 years.”

Once upon a time King Street West offered cheap, plentiful above-ground parking, he remembers, and the area was easy to reach. Today, full-sized towns and villages have emerged away from the centre of the city with their own restaurants and theatres, and people have more choices closer to home. “The area has changed so much, with an ever-growing residential population,” he says.

While business has tapered off somewhat since the early years, Fred’s Not Here is still busy enough to think about making reservations on weekends, especially when there’s something big happening in downtown Toronto.

Seafood Paella, photo courtesy of Fred's Not Here
Crispy Pork Osso Buco, photo courtesy of Fred's Not Here

Entertaining retirement

At this point in the game, Fred is only beginning to think about retirement. "While I enjoy the excitement of this ever-growing and changing neighbourhood, I do look forward to a time where I'll be able to collect my CPP and play golf and that's it," he says. In the same breath he also hints at the idea of opening a smaller restaurant: “when it’s in your blood, it doesn’t leave you. I am always inspired to try new menu items, and the notion of a smaller place with a different concept is appealing to me.”

However, as long as Toronto's Entertainment District continues to draw crowds, Fred says he has no plan to close Fred’s Not Here. “Obviously you can’t call a 30-year-old restaurant hot anymore,” he says. “But we still have tons of loyal regulars coming and new neighbours experiencing  our restaurant for the first time. This is what keeps me going.”

Fred's Not Here has been a popular restaurant on King Street West for over 30 years.
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