In December, the Toronto Star ran a long feature on Motti Sorek’s “transcendent” soufganiyot at Haymishe Bagel Shop, the popular north Toronto shop he and wife Bracha have owned for 30 years. Yesterday, the Star reported on Haymishe again — but in more somber circumstances. The bakery was destroyed by a fire that started Sunday morning.
In November 2006, a four-alarm fire destroyed Perl’s Meat & Delicatessen, one of Toronto’s largest kosher purveyors, on the same block. As the Forward reported in November, the founder of that business launched a wholesale company from the ashes of his original enterprise last year.
There’s been no word yet on what the future of Haymishe will be. The Canadian Jewish News, which called Haymishe a “landmark”, said today that Ontario fire marshals will investigate the fire that took It took 17 fire trucks and 65 firefighters to extinguish. A public information officer told the paper firefighters will not have any information until water is cleared from the basement of the bakery and evidence sent to the forensics lab. “This normally takes a long time,” he said.
Despite its location in a heavily Jewish neighborhood, Haymishe was not a kosher establishment, but it was a staple of the Toronto Jewish food scene.
Neither Sorek nor his wife have commented publicly or on the bakery’s Facebook page, where customers had posted comments lamenting the loss of the bagel shop.
Ask Google about the Jewish food history of Toronto and you’ll get nothing. Ask author/storyteller Michael Wex about Toronto Jewish food history and he’ll talk about immigrants, Sabbath observance, and cholent.
With a population of nearly 2.5 million people, half of whom were born outside Canada, Toronto is the most multicultural city in North America, and one of the most multicultural in the world. You can travel around the world in one weekend without ever leaving the city. Some ethnicities even have multiple ethnic neighborhoods. A short 5 ½ mile walk will take you through four ethnic neighborhoods.
The e-mail came with a photo of an elderly man in a butcher’s coat next to the faded, black-and-white image of a tot. “At age 87, my father is re-launching his meat business — which for fifty years was a staple of the Jewish community in Canada,” Miriam Perl wrote to the Forward. “Suggested headline: Holocaust Survivor reinvents himself at age 87.”
Until a fire destroyed Herschel Perl’s kosher-foods business in 2006, it was indeed a mainstay of Jewish Toronto, supplying more than half the city’s market for ready-made kosher. The business, which started as a tiny shop in Toronto’s west end in 1953, eventually grew into a 60-employee enterprise. Its retail operation grew into Canada’s largest kosher meat store. Perl’s even opened a Glatt kosher fast-food spot called Bais Burger.
“Perl’s butcher shop and hamburger joint were icons in the frum neighborhood here,” Chad Derrick, a Toronto television producer and kosher consumer, told the Forward. “Perl’s was everywhere.”
Now, after a six-year absence, Herschel Perl is about to sink his teeth into the meat business again. This time, he’s launching a wholesale business to crank out beloved Perl’s products like salami, hotdogs, pepperoni, pepperettes, turkey and chicken deli slices. The kosher pioneer has already secured distribution in local kosher retail outlets; he expects the products to hit shelves in national chains like Loblaws, Sobey’s, Metro, Fortino’s and Costco within weeks.
With help from his daughter, the Forward caught up with Herschel Perl by e-mail in Toronto.
Food plays an important role in Judaism and in the First Narayever community. Food brings people together, connects us, and is an important part of holiday traditions and life cycles.
In 2006 the First Narayever Congregation launched the first Jewish Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Toronto in partnership with Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre. In 2008, we joined Hazon’s world-wide network of Jewish CSAs. This inspired us to look at what more we could do in our community.
Septuagenarian Fuad Haba was a long way from his birthplace of Iraq and his family’s famous bakery on Agrippas Street in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market as he made laffa bread in a taboon oven in suburban Toronto. But neither he nor the customers at the new Dr. Laffa restaurant, where the retiree is hard at work, seemed to be deterred by the freezing weather on a recent wintery night.
Fuad was in Toronto helping his son Sasi and Sasi’s business partner Yoram Gabay with their new venture, which brings the tastes, smells and atmosphere of the shuk to an unsuspecting location tucked inside a business park northwest of the city’s main Jewish neighborhoods along the Bathurst Street corridor. The kosher restaurant offers all the typical Israeli (meat) comfort foods, but it is the delicious, fresh laffa — a full foot in diameter — that is its biggest draw.
Sabrina Malach is an inspiring leader of the New Jewish Food Movement in her native Toronto. She is currently the Director of Outreach and Development at Shoresh, a grassroots organization that aims to build a more ecologically sustainable Toronto Jewish community. Having received inspiration from her experiences as an Adamah Fellow and her work at Hazon, Sabrina has channeled her passion and knowledge into new food projects in the Toronto Jewish community. Most recently, she is one of the coordinators of the Shoresh Food Conference coming up this February.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with her and hear about her work on the Shoresh Food Conference, and how the New Jewish Food Movement takes a Canadian twist north of the border.
When a stooped, ball cap-wearing elderly man buying challah, salad and stewed chicken fricassee at Toronto’s Harbord Bakery says, “they’ve been keeping me alive for years here,” he is by no means exaggerating. Indeed, the Kosower family, owners of this legendary establishment since 1945, have been provisioning loyal locals with exceptional quality breads, baked goods and Jewish appetizing items for generations.
Today, as the only remaining Jewish retail bakery in downtown Toronto, Harbord Bakery is still in its original location on Harbord Street and is still using its original family recipes. They are attracting the young Jewish singles and families who are moving back into the neighborhood, now referred to as The Annex and considered a prime, trendy residential area. It’s the kind of crowd that appreciates the fresh, artisanal and gourmet food offered not only by Harbord Bakery, but also far more recently opened neighborhood Jewish food businesses like the Israeli Aroma espresso bar and Caplansky’s Delicatessen.
When Torontonian Zane Caplansky was 16 years old, his then-girlfriend, who was from Montreal, introduced him to the smoked meat of the famed Schwartz’s Delicatessen. Caplansky broke up with that girlfriend many years ago, but his devotion to good deli has been abiding. “My love affair with smoked meat has been long lasting,” he declared.
Now 42, Caplansky, who opened his eponymous Caplansky’s Delicatessen in downtown Toronto a year and a half ago, has wedded his name and reputation to his own version of cured and smoked beef brisket. Not to be confused with corned beef (the pickled and boiled brisket for which Toronto is traditionally known), Montreal smoked meat is more like pastrami — the main difference being that the former is made from brisket and the latter from the tougher navel cut.