Sharpfle Waffle reopens in Hintonburg after dispute on Wellington St. West

James poses for a photo inside Sharpfle Waffle.
Hintonburg’s Sharpfle Waffle has reopened at 173 Hinchey Ave. Owner James Choi said he was overwhelmed by the community support. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Charlie Senack

Sharpfle Waffle is back in business after closing up shop on Wellington Street West and relocating to a new spot in Mechanicsville.

The waffle and coffee shop was forced to close its doors on Wellington West in April due to an exclusivity clause a neighbouring business had with the building’s landlord. Sharpfle Waffle reopened at 173 Hinchey Ave. on July 15.

Owner James Choi said community support made all the difference. 

“It’s what’s been driving us to work that extra mile,” he said.  “I was very much surprised. We weren’t expecting so much care and love for what we did. I think it’s a once-in-a-business opportunity where you get to experience that kind of passion and admiration for what we do.”

The new space is bigger than the former location, allowing Sharpfle Waffle to offer indoor and outdoor seating. Kitchen space is also larger in size, allowing for better equipment. 

“The setup we have here means we can do much better,” said Choi. “We are very happy that we now have some space to invite people into a more cozy and relaxing environment.”

While circumstances worked out for the better, it took months to achieve. 

Sharpfle Waffle first opened their doors on Wellington West in December 2021. In April of this year, they announced their lease agreement would be terminated after Stella Luna, a gelato cafe located just a few doors down, enforced an exclusivity clause they had in place with the landlords, Tamarack Homes. 

In order to remain neighbours, Sharpfle Waffle would have needed to cut specialty coffee from their menu, but drip coffee and steeped or brewed tea could still be served. The restaurants dining area, which only sat eight, would also have needed to close, offering only takeout services. It wouldn’t have been a sustainable business model, said Choi. 

At the time, new Stella Luna co-owner Zachary Giuliani said they believed allowing Sharpfle Waffle to operate out of the same plaza was a breach of their landlord agreement.

A statement of claim filed in Ontario’s Supreme Court by Stella Luna said they were “suffering irreparable harm” and faced a “real risk that the business will not prosper or even survive in the presence of direct competition.” It also claimed the gelato shop paid a premium for the exclusivity rights.

The exterior of Sharpfle Waffle’s new location.
Sharpfle Waffle was forced to move locations after their former neighbouring business Stella Luna enforced an exclusivity clause. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Choi said he’s unsure where the legal fight stands but is trying to move on from the situation. 

“It’s not been easy,” he said. “I do not intend to blame anyone, but the situation itself was very difficult. I think there were moments where I felt like giving up would be easier.”

Exclusivity clauses in business are common, said Ian Lee, an associate professor of strategic management at Carleton’s Sprott School of Business. He said they are designed to prevent competition and are widely used in the retail and restaurant industries. 

“I don’t like them because I feel more competition is better than less competition,” he told Kitchissippi Times in an interview. “I wish they were prohibited but they aren’t. It’s legal and we are a rule of law country. Stella Luna is perfectly in their right to enforce that.” 

Lee compared exclusivity clauses to other types of legally binding agreements such as life insurance policies, job contracts and mortgages. 

Sharpfle Waffle specializes in croffles, which are Korean waffles made out of croissants. They offer a non-traditional approach with both sweet or savory options. 

“We are still working on ways to improve what we have and to understand the surrounding community better,” Choi said. “When the time is right we are hoping to expand our menu and to offer more exciting things.”

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