The Barto Residence story. How we turned a tear-down house into a tea shop in Edmonton.

The Barto Residence before it was renovated.

The story of the Barto residence starts 6 years ago, when Salar in I were in the very early, honeymoon stage of our relationship. We had met about 4 months earlier and we were in love, ready to take on the world together!

He was (and still is) the most talented chef I had ever met, and had dreams of owning his own restaurant. I had some cash in the bank and dreams of becoming an entrepreneur, but didn’t have a clear idea of what avenue to go down.

So naturally, we decided to open our own restaurant together. But we were going to do it differently. Restaurants have very very slim margins. What usually happens is once you’ve paid payroll, bought the groceries, and paid the landlord an outrageously large commercial lease, there is little to nothing left for the owners, let alone anything to reinvest for growth into the business.

We decided we were going to build a new model, and own the building ourselves.

Sure I had some money in bank, but not commercial real estate money! I had “starter home” money in the bank…

But we were building a new way into entrepreneurship, and wouldn’t take no for an answer as the hurdles came up.

That’s when we learned about Municipally Designated Historic Resources. There was a hidden and significant piece of gold there, but it was risky to get.


A Municipally Designated Historic Resource (let’s from now on call it a historic house) comes with special privileges, the biggest of which is a custom re-zoning.

But there’s a catch, you only get to rezone it, if you take the chance on an old house BEFORE it’s designated. Which means you buy an old rundown house, with the hopes that you’ve done your due diligence properly. You then have to write and put forward your proposal for the designation of your new (old) house to the City of Edmonton historic department board.

Then you lay it all on the line in your presentation for the board, with equal parts hope and confidence that they agree with you, and decide to grant you and your house designation.

If you proposal doesn’t pass, now you’re probably just stuck with a nightmare of a house that you can’t possible afford to fix or do anything with. But if your proposal passes and your house gets to become designated, you’re sitting on a golden opportunity – And a mountain of work ahead of you, with many other hurdles ahead.

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