In Business: Instructor still on her toes after 21 years

STRIKING POSES: Martha Hicks, namesake of the Martha Hicks School of Ballet, welcomed guests to her new location on Avenue Road with the help of ballerinas Danielle Filler,  left, and Nikki Richardson, right, during her grand opening party on Sept. 7.

STRIKING POSES: Martha Hicks, namesake of the Martha Hicks School of Ballet, welcomed guests to her new location on Avenue Road with the help of ballerinas Danielle Filler, left, and Nikki Richardson, right.

Last year Martha Hicks set her sights on finding a new location to house her ballet school, after realizing the protests against a condo development in her former spot on the second floor of Postal Station K were a losing battle.

Despite an initial plan to remain on Yonge Street, where she had been for the last 15 years, once she took her contractor to see a large space near her home on Avenue Road and Brookdale Avenue, she quickly realized she had found what she was looking for.

“He just took one look at the space and said, ‘What are you waiting for? This is perfect,’ ” says Hicks, who took her first ballet lesson at the age of five. “It’s a beautiful open space, there’s no pillars — which is really difficult to find because you need a lot of square footage without any obstructions, ideally, when you’re dancing — and there were eight skylights, and it was just fantastic.”

To celebrate the new location, which merged the Martha Hicks School of Ballet’s Fairlawn, Armour Heights and Yonge and Eglinton classes under one roof, on Sept. 7 Hicks held a grand opening party, complete with photography, face painting, a bouncy castle, cotton candy, popcorn and 250 pink balloons.

Dance classes went on all day in two studios, with some kids taking them as a trial, she said, noting a mixture of new and current students turned up, in spite of stormy weather.

“It just turned out really great. I think the rain may have encouraged people to stick a round, we had people that were here for two to three hours.”

After graduating from the teacher’s training program at Canada’s National Ballet School, Hicks started her own school in 1992, with about 35 kids. Today, more than 800 students take ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, tap and musical theatre classes.

Martha Hicks poses in one of her new studios featuring a grand piano since her ballet and creative movement classes are accompanied by live music.

One of Martha Hicks’ new studios features a grand piano so live music can accompany the school’s classes.

“There really wasn’t a lot in the neighbourhood at the time in the way of dance schools, so I just started this small thing and I had no plans, no idea that it would grow into anything close to this,” she reflects, adding that both her daughters have also gone through the school’s program and how she enjoys running into alumnae around the area.

The creative movement and ballet classes offered at the school are accompanied by live piano, which she feels creates a special environment, because professional classes feature live piano accompaniment.

A big draw for kids is the performance aspect. The school houses yearly productions at the 450-seat Centre for the Arts at St. Michael’s College School, at Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West.

“We put a lot of effort and money into making the shows quite spectacular, with really great lights, music and costumes, and it’s really gratifying for the kids,” she says. “They really feel professional when they’re performing.”

Since she now has more studio space, Hicks says she is excited to be able to offer the addition of adult classes at her school. She believes everyone will love to dance, if they allow themselves to experience it.

“I think it’s too bad if people think, ‘I don’t know how to or I’m embarrassed.’ ” Hicks says. “Once you get in there and just realize that it’s a natural thing to respond to music, you can have a blast, you can learn things and it’s a great workout. It’s a really great outlet for expression.”

This article was originally published in the September 2013 edition of the Midtown Town Crier.


Biz Battle: Neither side chickening out in battle of the wings


The first words Louis Nemes utters after being asked about the secret to his chicken wing recipe are: “If I tell you, then I’d have to kill you.”

As the owner of Bistro on Avenue and the founder of the St. Louis Bar and Grill chain, Nemes has established a loyal clientele over the last 30 years of business in North Toronto.

However, up the street on Avenue Road, at Haddington Avenue, a newer staple called Drums N Flats
has also garnered attention for its own unique blend of chicken wings. But what exactly sets
these local favourites apart?

In addition to letting customers decide between ordering all drumsticks, all the two, as well as choosing how smothered in sauce the wings come out, Drums N Flats owner Dan Ferracuti believes his chicken wings stand out from the competition because of another in-house specialty: double

“As far as I know, we’re the only people anywhere doing it,” he says during a chat in a booth at the restaurant and bar, which is ringing in one year in the neighbourhood this month. “The wings are deep-fried, tossed in sauce, thrown on the grill, then tossed in a second sauce, so you get four layers of flavour to savour.”


For Nemes, the magic all comes down to the sauce and seasoning. At his restaurant on Avenue Road
and Brookdale Avenue, in herbs and spices before being cooked in the deep fryer and served with the
restaurant’s own signature dipping sauce — a mixture of dill and garlic.

“People would come in and say, ‘Why would I go to Buffalo if I could get them here even better than
in Buffalo?’ so that gave me good encouragement,” Nemes says on a weekday morning before the restaurant opens for the day. “Even in Buffalo they don’t spice the wings; they just take the wings and cook it, but we actually marinate them, so they have some flavour to it.”

Despite word circulating on the street about the restaurant possibly closing to make way for a condo,
Nemes says he plans on staying onsite until he finds year, adding he’s been told by customers that closing isn’t an option and the business has to remain on Avenue Road to retain its namesake.

As for Ferracuti, he reveals the secret to his wing success is using fresh locally sourced Ontario
wings that are never frozen.

“You’ve got to start with a good product to finish with a good product,” he says.

As a point of interest, Ferracuti has determined there’s a 60:40 ratio of customers who prefer solely
drumsticks to wings.

Friendly competition aside, Ferracuti admits he’s eaten at the Bistro many times through the years,
and Nemes has also supported Drums N Flats by eating at the restaurant after it opened.

Drums N Flats Bistro on Avenue
Operating for: One year 30 years
Claim to fame: Owner Dan Ferracuti
also runs Safari Bar and Grill on Avenue Road since 1995.
Owner Louis Nemes founded St. Louis Bar and Grill in 1994.Pioneer of offering chicken wings in Toronto.
What makes the wings unique? Customers can select solely drumsticks or all wings. Offered in a double dipped option: wings are deep fried, covered in sauce, grilled, then sauced again. The chicken wings are seasoned and marinated before any sauces are added and are served with the restaurants own dill garlic dipping sauce.
Most popular flavour: Rajun’ Cajun BBQ Medium
Number of wing flavours: 12 plus four double dipped options Eight
Also known for: Live music on Friday nights, an assortment of other menu items including burgers and hand rolled pizza pies. Another popular menu item: the steam burger, as well as a Cheers like atmosphere. Mixture of a cocktail and family crowd.
Price point: $11.49 for a single order 1 pound $10.95 for a regular size wings and fries

This article was originally published in the September 2013 edition of the North Toronto Town Crier.