Trendy kosher food may now be just a parking spot away – or at least that’s the case for Toronto’s two kosher food trucks, MASAeat and the Kosher Pickle, serving customers around the city with fully equipped kosher kitchens zooming around on four wheels.
In the last few weeks, both trucks have made efforts to set up shop in the city’s downtown core, where kosher options are sparse.
“I think it’s phenomenal and I hope they keep it up downtown,” said Arieh Bloom, while waiting for lunch outside the MASAeat truck, which was parked in a lot at 244 King St. E.
Bloom works at an office downtown and said it’s difficult to find certified kosher food in the area. His default options are often King David Pizza at Mount Sinai Hospital or grab-and-go sandwiches that he buys from Bannock restaurant, near the Hudson’s Bay on Yonge Street and Queen Street West.
With MASAeat making the effort to serve downtown, Bloom admitted that it’s “nice having some diversity” in his options.
Joie Hindri, the owner of MASAeat, runs the business with his wife, Nelly. The mobile kitchen, which serves up favourites like shwarma, burgers, and schnitzel, has spent part of the last few weeks parked at the King Street East lot, which is equipped with picnic tables.
“Slowly, slowly, we want to give everyone a taste of us,” said Nelly Hindri, explaining that they are constantly in the process of finding the best locations to run the business.
She said the decision to come downtown is a result of comments from customers requesting that they serve the area to compensate for the lack of kosher options.
MASAeat – the Hebrew word for “truck” – opened shop in September 2018, marking the first time that a kosher food truck’s wheels hit Toronto streets.
Apart from catering various private events – from bat mitzvahs to Purim parties to serving hundreds of people at the 50th Walk With Israel in May – they’ve spent much of the past year parked across the street from TanenbaumCHAT, where they would be a go-to spot for the high school’s students during lunch hour and break periods. Nelly Hindri said they even bundled up and braved the winter with the help of a portable heater.
Since the school year ended, they’ve been testing the waters just north of the city, at Thornhill’s Chabad Israeli, and more recently in Toronto’s downtown core.
“Every day that passes, you’re learning,” said Joie Hindri. He added that being able to scout out the best place to run the business is the advantage of a food truck, but it can also be a challenge. At the end of the day, he said, “it’s all about demand” and being mindful of customer suggestions.
For Toronto’s other kosher food truck, the Kosher Pickle, the philosophy is similar.
The business is the brainchild of the Jewish Youth Network’s (JYN) executive director, Rabbi Shmuli Nachlas. It started serving up trendy Jewish deli foods around the city in May, after around nine months of planning, said Shlomo Shoshan, who manages the operation.
Since its inception, the truck has been constantly on the go, but Shoshan said that actually means veering away from predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods and specifically targeting areas where there are limited kosher restaurants.
“Every place in town, there is a pocket of Jews that need kosher food, and that’s how we roll,” Shoshan said.
The truck has spent the majority of the last six weeks serving downtown Toronto and changing locations frequently following customer suggestions, reaching areas like Liberty Village, Queen West and the financial district.
The constantly changing schedule is part of the “adventure,” Shoshan said, and the result – spreading Judaism around the city – is rewarding. He recalls a time when a non-observant Jewish customer sparked up conversation with him after noticing the Hebrew writing on the truck – the first time the man had seen it in years.
“I’m happy because I’m getting two birds with one shot. I’m doing what I love and I’m spreading Yiddishkeit,” said Shoshan, who also runs his own catering company.
But running around doesn’t come without challenges, especially downtown. Having to constantly meander around busy downtown streets and tricky road closures, Shoshan said he often has to send a “runner” to hunt for parking spots, and that person sometimes has to wait hours at a spot until the truck arrives. He added that the effort is worth it, and customers appreciate it.
But to keep Toronto’s kosher food trucks operating downtown will require effort not only from the businesses, but consumers as well, noted Shlomo Assayag, founder and administrator of the Kosher King, an online community boasting nearly 20,000 combined followers on its Facebook and Instagram pages, with the goal of promoting and bringing awareness to kosher options in the Greater Toronto Area.
Being well-versed in Toronto’s kosher scene, Assayag said he agrees that the food trucks are filling a void downtown, as alternative options are limited in the area. But, he added, downtown can be a tough gig for kosher eateries when it comes to demand, so it’s essential that customers do their part, too.
If people downtown “want that service around, they’ve gotta go out and support these (businesses)”, he said. “Or else you’ll never get kosher downtown.”