When we visited The Symes, a new event space in a 1930s heritage building on Symes Rd. near St. Clair Ave. W. and Weston Rd., a client was about to come in and set up two indoor soccer fields for a corporate event.
A previous event, a wedding, featured real palm trees.
The venue has two massive event spaces — 5,600 square feet on the main floor and 4,100 on the second — with soaring ceilings of 17 and 22 feet respectively, plus tonnes of natural light. They’re huge, blank slates that event planners can set up any way their imaginations like.
“That’s the best thing about this space, you can do what you want with it,” says Caitie Yue, one of the founders of The Symes.
She and partners Viviana Kohon and Namita Tandon-Walsh say the architecture of the space — and its view of stunning sunsets — also means simple events with white tablecloths and candles look pretty fabulous too.
The space housed its first event in late October and the partners held a grand opening in early November. Since that event, “We’ve got hit with tonnes of calls,” says Kohon.
Competition, clearly, is not a problem. While the space is not central, it’s TTC accessible and has ample parking. (Most visitors come by cab or Uber.) Few downtown venues have this kind of square footage.
Kohon and Tandon-Walsh met while working on the Giller Prize gala — Tandon-Walsh worked as the catering sales manager for the Four Seasons Hotel while Kohon did production management for CTV. “We used to spend a lot of time together over that event,” says Tandon-Walsh.
They ran into each other later and Kohon asked if she could get some advice about the event planning business. “No, I want to be your partner!” said Tandon-Walsh — so they launched Blast Events in 2014.
A year later, Kohon answered an online ad for a pair of blue Michael Kors heels. She hit it off right away with the seller, Caitie Yue, who wanted to “pick her brain” about the events business. Yue was an entrepreneur and investor who had worked in real estate and now was an investor in Henderson Brewing.
We had always dreamed of owning our own venue,” says Kohon, who shared the idea with Yue. The trio met up, got along instantly, and felt they had the skill set to pull it off.
They saw a few spaces with promise, but when they visited this place in early 2016 — covered in graffiti, abandoned for years — they knew it was the one. At the time, Tandon-Walsh was in India. They called her in the middle of the night anyway to rudely wake her up with, “We found it!”
This architectural gem was built in the 1930s as a garbage incinerator in what was then the outskirts of the city. It was decommissioned by the 1970s and used as a depot. By the 1990s, the place was abandoned. In 2013, the city declared it a heritage building.
The current landlord had been waiting for the right tenant and soon signed a lease with the trio. Then, it was a year of work on the landlord’s side: work made slower because this is a heritage site. But he didn’t skimp, installing things like high-quality skylights.
It was nearly a year later, in spring 2017, they began their own renovations in earnest. They funneled their years of experience in events — balanced with Yue’s understanding of real estate — to develop a space that was customized for party planners, designers and caterers. A cargo elevator, two kitchen, two green rooms and lots of easy access became a priority.
“We tried to keep as many original features as we could,” says Kohon of the renovation. Exposed brick and concrete are everywhere. The main floor kitchen still includes the spray-painted (and mysterious) warning “No firearms beyond this point.”
They actually kept part of the garbage-weighing scale original to the building. They had the 900-pound feature covered with graffiti and stationed it in the main floor space.
Outside of moving that thing, the partners are open to trying just about anything to house an event.
“We are in the business of saying yes,” says Yue.
So you can bring in a car or a boat (not a plane, they couldn’t make that happen), build an ice rink or plant vegetation. This trio is all for it, as long as it’s appealing, entertaining and fun.