Toronto Jewish bakeries & restaurants on handling the pandemic and preparing for Hanukkah

Niv spoke to a few local bakeries and restaurants, to see how they’ve handled the pandemic from the first lockdown to the second, and how they prepared for Hanukkah. 

Harbord Bakery

Location: 115 Harbord Street 

Founded: 1945 

Spoke to owner: Susan Wisniewski 

Harbord Bakery / website

 

What has the process been like adapting to the pandemic from the first lockdown to now? And how have certain decisions changed with time? 

It’s all hard. I think I’m more used to it, but the exhaustion is more…I feel more tired than I did at the beginning because it’s hard to see an end in sight. It’s difficult serving all day while wearing a mask, and trying to hear people with the screens. We also now have a limit of five people for the employees now, so it’s hard I’m not sure it’s gotten easier. 

Your restaurant has dedicated customers that have been coming year after year, for generations, what has their response/support been like during this difficult time? 

They have been amazingly  appreciative. Very few have been fussy. They’re all very flexible, and have realized how hard the situation is. I’m not sure if you’ve been here on a Friday but it’s quite mad. The customers are why I do it, they’re an amazing bunch of people. 

Food brings people together, and Harbord Bakery is part of family traditions to celebrate the holiday. How do you hope to ensure everyone still has a chance to enjoy their Harbord Bakery staple? 

We make sufganiyot, latkes, Chanukah cookies…this year we’re doing little Chanukah kits for kids with icing and cookies, it’s a new thing for us that we’re trying out. At some point you need to stop taking orders, because we have one woman doing latkes and one or two doing sufganiyot, and we just have a small fryer to do them in. I thought it would be quieter but it’s gotten even worse. 

 

Harbord Bakery / website

What is your go-to choice from Harbord Bakery?

It depends on what time of the day it is, but I eat all kinds of bread. I just love it, I will always go for bread. 

How many sufganiyot are okay to eat in one sitting? We’re asking for a friend. 

One or two because they’re substantial 

Kiva’s

Main Location: 1027 Steeles Ave West, North York, Ontario (Restaurant and Bakery location). Bagel Bar Locations: 15 St. Clair Avenue West, 120 Eglinton Avenue East, 133 Richmond Street West. Bakery and Market Location: 2496 Yonge Street. 

Founded: 1979 

Spoke to co-owner: Steve Rafael 

Kiva’s/ website

What has the process been like adapting to the pandemic from the first lockdown to now? And how have certain decisions changed with time? 

Okay, so basically we have a restaurant and a bakery. And thank God that we have the bakery, because the restaurant is very tough. There was, there was a good time, there were some good times in the middle. But then when they said patios only, and then we’re combating the weather, and we have to, you know, we’re serving people outside in the cold, we have heaters, but it’s not as good as it could be. There’s only so much you can heat, outside. Basically, we’re just rolling with the punches. It’s been tough. But, but then again, thank God we have a bakery, we have takeout, so we just we just adjust, adjust every week, every day almost you’re adjusting. Adjusting and trying to find new ways of getting income. 

Have you thought about doing takeout orders like delivery? 
We’ve been doing delivery the whole time. Now we’re doing free home delivery. 

Your restaurant has dedicated customers that have been coming year after year, for generations, what has their response/support been like during this difficult time? 

Thank God for my regular customers. If I didn’t have my regular customers. I don’t know what I would do. Because they literally come in almost every day for breakfast or for lunch or for takeout. You know we have new customers as well but it’s mostly regulars.

  
Food brings people together, and Kiva’s is part of family traditions to celebrate the holiday. How do you hope to ensure everyone still has a chance to enjoy their Kiva’s staple? 

We’re still going to be doing sufganiyot, absolutely, we’re still doing latkes, catering. 

And what is your go to choice from Kiva’s? 

That’s a really tough question. The chocolate babka, it’s a real winner. 

Kiva’s/ website

Would you take it as far as doing Babka French Toast ever?

We do! We were the first restaurant in Toronto to do the Babka French Toast. We’ve been doing it for over a year.

How many sufganiyot is okay to eat in one sitting? We’re asking for a friend.  

Four. When those [ours] come out of the fryer, and they’re hot, it’s the best, best dessert I’ve ever had basically even better than the babka. It melts in your mouth, when the donut is still warm. 

Lox & Schmear

Location: 1030 St. Clair Avenue West (between Dufferin and Oakwood)

Founded: 2017

Spoke to owner: Lev Levine

Lox & Schmear / Facebook

What has the process been like adapting to the pandemic from the first lockdown to now? And how have certain decisions changed with time? 

At this point, I’ve become an expert at the consistent changes. We haven’t made any major changes since the middle of March when I decided to close down my doors immediately before it was mandated to do so, because I didn’t feel comfortable operating my business. It took a week or so of processing what I was going to do. I’ve never had that much spare time, then I panicked and became anxious at what I would do. But I quickly adapted, created an online store and system for customers to place their orders online. I do curbside pickup every Sunday morning. I haven’t changed from what we did then to what we do now. Curbside pickup and online ordering has gone pretty well.  

Your restaurant has dedicated customers that have been coming year after year, for generations, what has their response/support been like during this difficult time? 

I am so grateful and lucky. I have a really great following, and have built this community around the business. I wouldn’t be here without my really loyal customers, we’re nine months in and there have been so many unknowns and changes, with so many ups and downs. I couldn’t do this without their support. It’s kind of terrifying, seeing people get laid off, or take pay cuts. It’s scary to see small and local businesses close but people also see they’re necessary for neighbourhoods to survive in the future.

I’m well supported by a ton of people who come by week after week. I’ve had customers purchase food every week since I’ve done pickups… I don’t even do that. It’s become their new norm and a comfort in uncertain times that they can count on Lox & Schmear. 

Food brings people together, and Lox & Schmear is part of family traditions to celebrate the holiday. How do you hope to ensure everyone still has a chance to enjoy their Lox & Schmear staple?

I’ve always done most of the Jewish food for almost all holidays. I pride myself on being a quick service sandwich shop, but behind that I use my cultural Jewish upbringing to get Jewish specific foods to the greater Jewish population. COVID has really allowed me to expand my menu. I was making knishes, I have chocolate babka, I do the classic food in my own way. 

For Chanukah the demand has always been high at Lox & Schmear. I was making latkes a couple weeks leading up to it and this will be the final week. The recipe is simple but there’s technique, no one likes frying food at home—it’s a smelly situation. I’ve been doing it for two weeks now, this will be my third and hope to not do them again for the rest of the year. I’m excited to get them made for people…I sold out in 11 minutes this week. But I’m a one-person operation so I try to get out as many as I possibly can. 

 

Lox & Schmear / Facebook

What is your go-to choice from Lox & Schmear? 

I like to stick to the classics. I would go for the original house smoked lox. We do the whole process from start to finish. You can’t go wrong. I’m a small batch fish smoker. I want to be known for that. I think my smoked fish is where I truly excel. 

How many sufganiyot are okay to eat in one sitting? We’re asking for a friend. 

As many as you can. I don’t shame food choices. When you’re on the third that’s when you’re not feeling so great, but if you can keep going, then go for it. 

Header image design by Orly Zebak. 

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