After two years of fighting to keep his small business alive under unprecedented circumtances, Toronto cafe owner Philip Chan was forced to fight for his own survival while preparing to reopen.
Chan is the owner of Crimson Teas, one of the city’s top-rated tea cafes and a popular spot among hungry U of T students. Located in Chinatown at Spadina and College, just steps from campus, Crimson has been serving up immunity-boosting drinks and tea-infused noodle dishes since 2015.
The cozy space is known for hosting community events, being student-friendly, and for having a passionate, friendly owner who’s always happy to recommend a specific blend for whatever ails you.
“I promote teas and healthy meals to raise awareness about kidney health and mental health — after my jobs with a national charity for kidney health and a community mental health agency,” says Chan, who holds an MA in psychology and met his current suppliers (Indigenous tea farmers from China) while doing earthquake relief work overseas.
It wasn’t easy, but Chan says he “stubbornly sustained Crimson Teas” for two years throughout the pandemic, racking up $80,000 in debt to keep the socially-conscious business and micro-community alive for his customers.
Then, just as he was preparing to reopen for good in early April, something horrible happened.
“Three seemingly students knocked at my backdoor and lured me out to the shop’s backyard the afternoon of April 12, 2022. These young men somehow managed to conclude me as the culprit who smashed their vehicle’s windshield,” wrote Chan in the description of a GoFundMe campaign created this week.
“My explanations were in vain; I was brutally assaulted like a pest, a cockroach in bright sun light, because of a piece of windshield.”
The beloved business owner sustained a severe concussion and fractured his lumbar spine.
“I am now challenged by prolonged standing as well as focusing and remembering things. These hugely compromised my capabilities to carry on with Crimson Teas,” reads Chan’s GoFundMe page. “I have accepted to walk away from my invested efforts and not to face the ordeal any more.”
But the story doesn’t end there.
“Amazingly, my customers and community partners reached out to me,” says Chan. “They encouraged me to recover, come back, and carry on Crimson Teas as a survivor of violence in the community. Furthermore, they are to work with me to deliver a message of not giving in to violence in face of the challenging area.”
Chan is asking locals for support in helping him turn this horrible ordeal “into something meaningful for the Spadina/University/Chinatown community that we cherish.”
He needs about $2,500 for medical treatment (including new eyeglasses that were destroyed with one punch during the assault), as well as $15,000 for rent and property taxes. Another $2,000 is needed for accessibility modifications and he wants to raise about $2,500 to improve lighting and security in the area.
“My computer science student customers are eager to enable the online accessibility of the surveillance information. Signs will be set up to inform people their accountability in the area,” he notes.
Sixty-one donors have already contributed more than $12,000 toward Chan’s recovery and improved safety efforts.
“I’ve had such peaceful times sipping tea with my friends at Crimson Tea. I really hope you find the strength to stay open,” wrote one donor. “Wishing you wellness Phillip.”
“Hey Phillip! I’m so sorry to hear that something so awful happened to you. You’ve been on my mind throughout the pandemic, so I hope this helps you get going again to do the things you love for a community that loves you back!” wrote another. “We’ll see you soon.”