The Jew And The Carrot

Toronto’s United Bakers Dairy Restaurant Celebrates 100 Years

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of United Bakers
A photo of the shop in the 1920’s

They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s perhaps a cliché, but it is true of Toronto’s United Bakers Dairy Restaurant, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. While the menu of this, the oldest family restaurant in the city, has changed with the times, it has also remained faithful to the dishes that attracted its first customers in 1912.

“Young people like old food,” posited Philip Ladovsky, who co-owns the restaurant with his sister, Ruthie, as a main reason for the restaurant’s longevity. As a reporter for The Jew and the Carrot sat down with the siblings over a bowl of United Bakers’ famous beet borscht and a boiled potato, they recounted how the business got started and reflected on the food that brings approximately 1,000 patrons — many of them regulars — through the door every day. They believe that it is their menu’s balance between traditional “dorfishe cooking” (Middle and Eastern European country cuisine) and current standard family restaurant fare, along with the famous Ladovsky hospitality, that has kept United Bakers going strong for three generations.

Ruthie and Philip’s grandparents, Aaron and Sarah Ladovsky, immigrated to Toronto from Kielce (then part of the Russian Empire) in 1908, and by 1912 they had opened the 25-seat United Bakers on Agnes Street in the crowded inner-city immigrant neighborhood called The Ward. In those early years, it was known as “United Bakers Quick Lunch and Coffee Shop,” and its clientele were mainly workers who stopped in for an inexpensive, hearty midday dairy meal that reminded them of home. Aaron had brought his professional baking skills over from Kielce, and used them to make fresh challah, buns and bagels.

There was no formal menu in those early years, but patrons asked for gefilte fish, lox, herring, baked carp, pickled pike, blintzes, kasha with onion and noodles and cottage cheese. These are all still available today at United Bakers. A bowl of cottage cheese topped with a spoonful of sour cream was also once a favorite dish. This is no longer on the restaurant’s menu, but Phil and Ruthie are happy to oblige particular patrons who still come in asking for it.

In 1920, Aaron and Sarah moved the business to a new 60-seat location on Spadina Avenue, near the newer Jewish neighborhoods of Kensington Market and what is now called The Annex. In their new restaurant, referred to by patrons simply as “Ladovskys,’” they continued to serve the same kind of heimishe foods.

Hearty, thick soups have been a menu staple from the very beginning. While there are no longer any takers for noodle, rice and milk soup (which customers used to season themselves with sugar, salt and cinnamon), United Bakers still sells huge quantities of its famous green split-pea, vegetable, barley bean, and potato soups. Borschts remain popular, with cabbage and beet (hot or cold) varieties still on the menu. A menu saved from 1960 indicates that at that time Ladovskys’ also offered cold cherry borscht and spinach borscht, in season.

In the late 1970s Philip, now 60 and Ruthie, 61, took over the business from their father, Herman, who had succeeded Aaron and Sarah. In 1984, they opened a second restaurant at Bathurst St. and Lawrence Avenue, which by then had become the geographic heart of the Jewish community. Two years later, they closed the downtown Spadina location and concentrated all their efforts on the new spot.

The decision to open for business on weekends (the downtown locations had always been weekday-only restaurants) and the ensuing patronage of families with children dictated a change in the menu. Over the years, standard family restaurant items like grilled cheese sandwiches, Greek salads, omelets, veggie burgers, sweet potato fries, tortilla wraps, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and grilled salmon with sautéed vegetables started to appear.

United Bakers’ top-selling dishes today reflect both the new and the old. “Number one is our soups,” Philip shared. “Then comes our gefilte fish, Greek salad and then our tuna salad.” The front of the 160-seat venue boasts a bakery counter stocked with high quality breads, cakes and cookies. However, very few of those items are still baked on site. “My grandfather was really the one who had the baking skills. The baking stopped in the early 1960s,” Philip explained.

Like any successful restaurateurs, Ruthie and Philip have needed to know when to be sensitive to evolving culinary tastes and trends. But the minute you enter United Bakers, the vinyl banquettes, linoleum tile floor and simple wooden tables signal that respect for the past is integral to their vision as they move into the future. They believe it is consistency that has gotten United Bakers to its 100th year. “You don’t abandon what you do well,” said Philip. “We know where we come from,” Ruthie added definitively.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: United Bakers, Toronto Jewish Food

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.