2019 RRR Host
When I was a little boy I wanted to own a restaurant. Restaurants were magical places. Places where hungry people arrived, told someone what they wanted and got fed. They were places of celebration and community. Places where families gathered and broke bread. They were cozy and fun. For whatever reason, I put away that dream and forgot where I put it. In time, I lost it. But as I approached my 40th birthday I found it again.
The deli of my youth was Switzer's Deli on Spadina Avenue about a 10-minute walk from my own deli today. It's no longer there. My Papa Sam Hershorn used to take me there after work on Sundays. He was in the shmatah business. That is, he manufactured women's' wear. On Sundays, he's taken me to the factory with him where I'd hand out candies to the customers, sharpen pencils, sweep floors or hand out flyers. After work, we went to Switzer's for corned beef sandwiches, fries and cream sodas. The fries were "our little secret" that I wasn't to tell Nana. Bernice was always our waitress. She'd pinch my cheeks and call me her little boyfriend. Sometimes I'd help her run food.
The next 30 odd years are a bit of a blur. A normal sort of a blur. I graduated from university, worked in politics then worked in scrap metal. After that, I spent almost 5 years traveling the world. It was during this time that I started to remember my dream. I worked in restaurants in Sydney, Australia, London, England and Fernie, B.C. I took cooking lessons in China and opened a chai shop in the foothills of the Himalayas. Ok, maybe not really a normal sort of a blur.
I returned to Toronto following my travels and attended chef school at George Brown College. Upon graduation, I started a software company and became one of those dot com millionaires of the late 1990s. I married my business partner and divorced her a year later after the business fell apart.
The next few years were difficult and lonely. I reached back into my childhood to find clues about who I am. I remembered my love of restaurants. To support that I took a job as a fry cook until a management position became available at another restaurant.
In the summer of 2007, I asked numerous friends to bring me back Schwartz's smoked meat from Montreal. Each one disappointed me. Out of the lustful anger for that flavour, I decided to make my own smoked meat. I took it to the restaurant I managed and everyone loved it.
I decided to quit my job and start a small shop selling smoked meat sandwiches. Located in the legendary Monarch tavern, this shop is considered Toronto's first pop-up restaurant. I cured spiced, smoked and hand-sliced briskets of beef. We hand-cut the fries. Out of the meat scraps we made meat gravy, knishes, and cabbage borscht soup.
The first year was a mad crush of customers, media and hard, hard work. During that time a group of customers stepped forward and offered to invest in me to open my own deli on College Street. We opened our doors at 356 College in 2009. That address is 2 doors away from where my great-grandfather had a hardware store and 2 blocks from where my other great grandfather had his kosher butcher shop. It's also in the same neighborhood where my great-grandmother made and sold deli sandwiches many years ago.
Since then, we've become an institution in Toronto by serving only handmade, homemade Jewish deli food just the way my mother and grandmother taught me.
In 2011 we launched Toronto's first modern food truck. We celebrate Jewish food culture with our "Battle of the Bubbies" series of competitions. I have appeared on numerous television shows including "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives", "You Gotta Eat Here", "Eat Street", 4 episodes of "Dragons Den" and two seasons as a judge on Food Network's "Donut Showdown".
Last year we launched our own line of mustards in grocery stores. More grocery products, tv shows, and franchises are on the way. But the most important thing to know about Caplansky's Deli is that quality is everything. We only serve the best possible food and provide the best possible service. If mistakes are made we take responsibility, apologize and do our best to make amends.
I believe that our success can be found in our authenticity. I became my authentic self when I rediscovered my childhood dream, changed my name from Caplan to Caplansky and devoted myself to following in the footsteps of four generations of Caplans and Caplansky's who have served the food I love to the city that I love.