News / Toronto

Man wins raffle for Toronto restaurant, opts not to collect winnings

The restaurant was closed and had a bailiff’s note taped to the window, noting it is in arrears of $6,367.50, “plus costs.”

Restaurateur and chef Shawn McKerness was drawn as the winner of a controversial restaurant raffle in December but decided to forfeit his prize.

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Restaurateur and chef Shawn McKerness was drawn as the winner of a controversial restaurant raffle in December but decided to forfeit his prize.

The winner of a controversial restaurant raffle says he has decided not to accept his prize.

Shawn McKerness, 40, a Windsor chef and restaurateur, was chosen in a Dec. 30 draw as the new owner of Das Gasthaus, a German gastropub on Danforth Ave.

In an interview with Torstar News Service, he said he “forfeited” the winnings after lots of thought and consultations with his lawyer.

And as of Jan. 28, 2016, the restaurant, itself, was closed and had a bailiff’s note taped to the window, noting it is in arrears of $6,367.50, “plus costs.”

Ruthie Cummings announced the contest to raffle off her three-year-old eatery for $150 a ticket late last year.

She said she was doing so to spend more time with her aging parents.

The restaurant was in the news again after Torstar discovered it is the subject of eight complaints filed with the Ministry of Labour since 2013, two of which have not yet been resolved.

Cummings has not responded to Torstar’s repeated requests for comment about the bailiff’s note, nor the raffle’s outcome.

McKerness, who owns several other restaurants and nightclubs with a group of partners, told Torstar by phone that he bought one ticket in November “on a lark” after hearing about the raffle on social media. He figured his chances of winning were about one in 4,000. He says he then forgot about his purchase.

“I was kind of blown away,” he said. “Totally surprised me. I thought someone was pulling my leg.”

After winning the raffle, McKerness considered expanding to Toronto. But it seemed too difficult, he said, to own a restaurant so far away.

“It’s not viable being so far from home,” he told Torstar. “It’s disappointing. It could have been an opportunity for the right person.”

McKerness says he didn’t sign any documents linking him to Das Gasthaus and isn’t responsible for what becomes of it.

Property manager Alex Stergiou told Torstar that Cummings is still “technically in possession” of the restaurant. Therefore, he said, she is on the hook for rent, which is about $5,500 a month, he said.

According to Stergiou the amount owing — those “costs” — could be much higher; even as much as the equivalent of four months’ rent. For now, he said, he is trying to recoup what he can. He has contacted a lawyer about whether he is entitled to money earned from sales of the raffle tickets.

But those funds are “tied up,” he said. “We’re waiting to see what happens. Things don’t happen overnight. At the end of the day, he said, he’d like to get the space rented and “move forward.”

Joe Syracuse, owner of Associated Bailiffs & Co. Ltd., whose company pasted the arrears notice on Das Gasthaus’s door, said he is waiting for the go-ahead from the property manager, to appraise the goods left inside, excluding what is leased, and sell it off.

Das Gasthaus’ liquor license was revoked Feb. 24, according to Alcohol and Gaming Commission spokesperson Eva Innes. That means, a potential restaurateur wanting to operate in that space would have to apply for a new licence and that could take up to eight weeks to obtain, she says.

When Cummings originally announced the raffle, she said she was aiming to sell about the number of tickets that would amount to $600,000, a sum she said was equal to the value of the restaurant. In mid December 2015, Cummings told Torstar about 500 raffle tickets had been purchased. It’s unclear how many were ultimately sold.