Its importance in the upcoming U.S. election notwithstanding, mail delivery isn’t nearly as central to North American society as it once was, meaning that the great post office buildings of the past have been ripe for repurposing. In Manhattan, work has been underway since 2017 on the conversion of New York City’s primary postal facility — a magnificent colonnaded structure by McKim Mead & White on Eighth Avenue — into a grander train hall for much-maligned Penn Station across the street. In Cambridge, Ontario, meanwhile, a formerly derelict 1885 post office was successfully transformed by Canadian practice RDHA into a much-lauded public library for the 21st century (among its various accolades, the digitally focused project won the inaugural AZ Award for Adaptive Re-Use last year).
Now, in Toronto, Giannone Petricone Associates has pulled off a similarly transfixing feat of reinvention, although theirs serves neither rail passengers nor library patrons. Rather, the award-winning architecture and design firm led by Ralph Giannone and Pina Petricone, whose numerous high-profile hospitality projects include Eataly’s first and only Canadian outpost, has recast a historic Art Deco post office in the city’s midtown area into a temple to the culinary arts. STOCK TC — a collaboration between two of GPA’s longtime clients, the pioneering Italian-cuisine group Terroni/Sud Forno and the high-end butcher chain Cumbrae’s — incorporates a bakery, a butcher shop, grocery and prepared-food areas, a casual-luxe bar/bistro and a top-floor event space under the artfully camouflaged original ceilings of a three-storey “theatre of food, from raw to refined.”
According to GPA, which not only created the new concern’s home, but also helped conceptualize its raison d’etre, the emporium’s name was chosen for its many connotations to food and hospitality: stocked shelves, stockyards, beef and chicken stock. Fittingly, the raw/refined dichotomy embodied by Terroni and Cumbrae’s extends to the design program itself: a progression of delicious spaces and details juxtaposed against the largely untouched shell of their 1930s setting.
On the ground level, for instance, high exposed ceilings and original floor motifs set the stage for a bountifully stocked market and takeaway area — “raw architecture,” in the words of the designers, “filled with raw and personally chosen ingredients and comestibles.” Warming up the harder edges is a monumental strip of furled felt capping the butchery and bakery counters — one of the various “overarching prosceniums” on all three storeys of this gastronomic playhouse. (In the second-floor bistro, the proscenium is composed of glass mosaic, while the top-level event space features one made of plaster.)
From the market area, a graciously wide staircase leads to the bar and bistro, where the more “refined” aspects of the design kick in. Here, jewel-toned banquettes with ribbed upholstered backs line the room’s perimeter, while a monumental bar with a stepped marble base anchors the centre. Hanging from the ceiling are elegantly geometric wood and glass pendant lights, custom designed by GPA.
In nods to the building’s previous functions, the noise-buffering ceiling framework suggests folders within a filing cabinet, while the deckle edging of the tile flooring evokes the perforated edges of postage stamps.
Above the bar and restaurant is a purpose-built event space offering expansive rooftop views. This flexible “garden room,” contained within glass walls, is surrounded by a lush terrace running alongside the vintage cornice of the limestone-clad building. It overlooks Montgomery Square, a longtime neighbourhood meeting place revamped as part of the site’s redevelopment (a condo tower now rises above both STOCK TC and the square) by Janet Rosenberg & Studio.
Although the square’s name alludes to a long-ago tavern owner, it’s another man — Edward VIII — that makes the site historically unique. When it was opened in the 1930s, the post office became one of the few in the world to have been launched in Edward’s name before he abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson. That unusual historical detail, coupled with its Art Deco splendour, prompted many in Toronto to campaign for the building’s retention when the site was slated for redevelopment. As its new occupant, STOCK TC more than does justice to both its history and its place in the community, returning it to prominence with style and integrity.
It also gives patrons much food for thought as they pick up a bistecca for dinner or savour a glass of amarone in the bar.
Opening image by Riley Snelling, Riley Snelling Photography 2020
Housed in a thirties-era former post office, the three-storey culinary emporium features sculptural noise-canceling ceiling fixtures and flooring that evokes postage stamps.