It’s 30 minutes before puck drop at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and customers are lining up for a bite to eat at the Bay St. Deli, the stadium’s only kosher food stall.
Business is brisk at the booth, just as it is elsewhere in the arena, where people queue for a chance to grab a $7 hot dog, a $5.75 bottle of water or an $8 bag of popcorn.
The prices at the Bay St. Deli are a little higher than those elsewhere in the arena, though you won’t find popcorn on the kosher menu. Instead, one can find a Moroccan spicy sausage, the booth’s unique variant of cholent, marketed as Jewish chili, along with the opportunity to get a cholent dog and their other specialty, potato kugel served on top of a bowl of cholent.
Since he opened for the first time on Oct. 3, coinciding with the launch of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey season, caterer Barry Chaim is pleased with how well the Bay St. Deli has been doing.
Business has been steady – and profitable. The feedback he’s been receiving from customers has been positive. Interestingly, he said, he also has a substantial number of non-Jewish customers who enjoy the beef hot dogs and other offerings.
Chaim, who also owns the Edo sushi restaurant on Spadina Avenue, along with a sushi stand in the Scotiabank Arena, said that Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) approached him with the offer to become its kosher food vendor. He agreed, but won’t reveal any of the terms of the contract, such as its duration.
“They’ve given us an incredible amount of flexibility to do it,” he told The CJN.
The Bay St. Deli replaces the former kosher food vendor, Baldwin Street Kosher. As to the reasons for the change, MLSE would only say that, “At MLSE and Scotiabank Arena, we are always searching for ways to provide the fans with exciting new options and kosher is no exception. We are delighted to have Bay St. Deli and their delicious new options for the 2018-2019 season.”
In introducing Bay St. Deli to the arena as the “kosher nosh station,” Chaim said his priority was to provide “delicious food, as haimish (like home) as possible.”
“I want to provide great kosher food to the Jewish community. If it applies to the broader clientele, so much the better,” he said. “Our goal here is to be continually innovating. We (are) going to be introducing specials.”
Open two to three times a week, mainly during Leafs and Raptors games, Chaim noted that the booth is closed on Friday night and Saturday, two of the busier nights for food vendors. As a result, “We’re losing a lot of money,” he said.
Nevertheless, “I think our prices here are in line with the prices in any professional arena in the world,” he continued. “We’re no more expensive than other vendors here, considering it’s kosher.”
I want to provide great kosher food to the Jewish community.
– Barry Chaim
Meanwhile, on the Facebook page of Speedy Meaty – TO’s Kosher Guru, people came down on both sides of the discussion over the prices charged at the Bay St. Deli.
“2 hot dogs, 2 soft drinks $29.00 the other night. Had to call my bank manager to approve the loan,” quipped one poster.
Another, responding to a report that plain cheese pizza cost $40 in the arena’s executive club, stated, “just because a plain cheese personal pizza is $40 doesn’t mean a hot dog should be $15 either. The prices are outrageous!”
Yet a brief survey of other food vendors in the arena on game night showed that prices were high everywhere.
One vendor offered hot dogs at $7, fries at $7.50, a plain burger for $13 and bottled water for $5.75.
A second non-kosher vendor sold fries for $7, a hot dog and fries for $12.50 and popcorn for $8.
Hot dogs at two other vendors also sold for $7, with one offering a footlong for $11.75.
Bay Street Deli’s hot dog sold for $8, while its footlong went for $15.00. A Harry’s heimish dog topped with cholent sold for $12, spicy Moroccan lamb sausage went for $14, curly fries came to $7, a bowl of cholent was $14 and a turkey or pastrami wrap cost $15. Bottled water was priced at $5.75, the same as at other vendors.
Customers lining up to purchase their dinners before the game were undeterred by the prices.
I think it’s wonderful that we have an option.
Andrew Morris and his daughter, Jaime, come to the booth regularly. “It’s great to be able to come to a game and get kosher food,” he said, though he admits the prices are “a little high.”
Three other Bay Street Deli customers spoke with The CJN about their experience, though all of them declined to give their full names.
Lee said that he comes for the hot dogs, even though he is not Jewish. He enjoys the booth’s “comfort foods” and “it seems to be good quality.”
Aaron said he will only eat kosher food, even though “it’s a little more here. When you come here, you’ll spend extra for food.”
And a man named Zalman said, “I think it’s wonderful that we have an option.… It’s nice that there is this sensitivity to diet and they accommodate it.”
As for the price, he said that, “If we can swallow the price for the ticket, we can swallow the price for the food.”