TASTE: Canvas Art Bar

By Peter Bailey

Former professional soccer player Giuliano Frano, 29, has had surprising success starting a local restaurant with little experience, no theme and just a hunch.

Frano, who played for the Seattle Sounders for three years, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Hamilton’s Forge FC, says he and his business partner decided to open a restaurant following the shutdowns during the pandemic.

His scholastic background was in finance, which he studied at Boston College in Massachusetts. But he decided to try something different in his hometown of Mississauga. “We had time to plan, and we waited for an opening to become vacant,” he explains. “When we found the location at 80 Lakeshore Road, East, I looked at the garage door at the back and thought, ‘What if we brought a car into the back of the restaurant and had an artist spray paint it?’”

Unfortunately, the city wasn’t keen on the idea and ordered the door to be sealed off, so they opted to turn the bar/restaurant into a place where artists and performers could express themselves.

And thus Canvas Art Bar was born, and now in business for one year.

The restaurant, under the auspices of chef Ben Osmow, initially served “international” tapas and spreads, to keep prices low, but has now expanded into other items such as pizza, maple glazed salmon, Spanish pimento shrimp, Dali’s Strip Loin, Picasso’s Peri Chicken and Gogh’s Shrimp Tacos.

The restaurant’s focus, says Frano, “is making sure there is that wow factor. We can’t claim credit for the artwork. We’re first a restaurant/lounge. But we’re also an art gallery. All our artists are local and their names are prominently displayed. They set the prices for their work, which range from $200 to $15,000. “If you notice, even our tabletops are works of art.”

In the beginning, the owners partnered with a company called Figuration, bringing in a live model to be painted by an artist. Customers can also paint the model. Art classes cost $35, including materials. That tradition continues, with regular sessions listed on the restaurant›s website.

The long, narrow structure features paintings on the walls, which are for sale. QR codes beside each work provide additional information about the artist. One code, beside a portrait of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, comes alive when you point your phone at it (with the Artivive app), morphing into different portraits shown from different angles and in different colours. “That’s called Augmented Reality,” Frano explains. “Pointing your phone at the QR codes also brings you to a website where we have a video profile of all the artists,” Frano says. “We also use it to showcase their work.”

The art bar rotates artists every three months or so, to bring in new talent. “We also like to showcase artists we haven›t worked with,” he adds.

It should be noted that Canvas Art Bar also features dancers and comedians on different nights. The professional comedians come from as far away as Scarborough to hone their craft, and Frano says they›re a popular feature with diners.

The lounge also features Bachata lessons with a professional dance instructor, where customers can learn Latin dancing, including salsa.

In addition, the restaurant holds regular Mixology classes, where guests can learn to make different types of cocktails, which are a highlight of the menu. Each person gets to make cocktails, and the session costs $50, including materials. “On Friday and Saturday nights we have a DJ, usually accompanied by a musician,” Frano adds. “The DJ provides the main sound, and the musician accompanies him. We also bring in an artist and customers can watch him paint a canvas. It’s a relatively unstructured activity.”

The schedule is posted on the Art Bar’s website and is updated weekly. “Every night, we try to do different events,” Frano says.

Another interesting event the restaurant has offered is a private function in co-operation with local men’s clothing store “Cloth Talk,” a fashion show that was so popular Frano plans to repeat it several times a year. “Other businesses are approaching us now,” he says. “Same thing with the artists, now there’s a big waiting list for them to show their work.”

Canvas Art Bar can accommodate up to 270 patrons, and in warm months offers a rooftop patio. So far, it has accommodated eight corporate events and has hosted birthday parties of up to 100 guests.

The restaurant’s food is all supplied locally, and the wine list features mostly Italian wines.

Frano has certainly started an ambitious project with Canvas Art Bar. Few other venues offer the number of events, performers or artists that he’s presenting.

The bar has been raised; no pun intended. Experience what Canvas Art Bar has planned to tantalize your palette and see what results from the artists’ colour palettes.

For more information visit Canvasartbar.ca