When he was a teenager, Zach Fiksel could have never predicted his hours helping his mom bake challah for Shabbat dinner would be the prelude to his full-time career at age 35: being co-owner of the food truck Chimney Stax, where he sells hand-rolled, rotisserie-baked bread.
For two years, Fiksel and his business partner Matt Lindzon, 30, have been driving around Toronto with a truck chock full of savoury and sweet chimney cakes, a dessert made popular hundreds of years ago in Prague, Hungary and Romania.
Now, Lindzon and Fiksel are enjoying a profitable business that has inspired them to create their first bricks-and-mortar site, at Dufferin Street and Steeles Avenue in North York, to act as a company headquarters.
“We want a scalable business and didn’t want to live and die in that truck,” says Lindzon in a joint interview with Fiksel in a downtown restaurant.
“We’re excited for this summer,” adds Fiksel, “because now we’re getting recognized and people are saying ‘Oh yeah it’s you guys!’”
If you frequent downtown Toronto concerts or events, chances are you’ll spot their truck and that smell of fresh baked bread. They’ll be selling their “stax” at the Good Food and Wine Festival April 23 and 24, at the Field Trip Music Festival June 3 and 4, and at Molson Amphitheatre concerts such as the Dave Matthews Band on July 19.
What makes their product unique is how simple it is, while also being fun to eat. Baked and never fried, the dough is rolled around in various ingredients, depending if the treat is savoury or sweet. The cheesy garlic bread option is often quite popular, as well as sandwich-type stax filled with meat and vegetables. Fiksel notes future stax will include high-quality ingredients such as brisket, and they also plan to launch braided challah stax in September.
Why are stax fun? You can peel off the dough like you’re unraveling a spiral, chowing down on strand after strand.
“What sets us apart is we don’t go overboard with ingredients,” notes Lindzon. “We’re not making a 15-ingredient garlic aioli. We like to keep it simple.”
Lindzon and Fiksel became friends in Ryerson University’s business program and quickly began to work on school projects together. When Lindzon travelled to Austria on business, he spotted a booth making chimney cakes and sent Fiksel a WhatsApp message at midnight, Toronto time.
It simply read: “We are doing this!”
Chimney Stax was quickly born, with the duo opting to go the food truck route instead of launching a physical site in early 2014.
“With Toronto’s growing love of food trucks, getting in the market with a truck was a great way to launch this at various events and a good way to scale into an industry,” Lindzon says.
It also made strategic sense: they had to prove their concept was going to win over Torontonians, and investing in a restaurant would be too risky. Educating foodies about these chimney cakes was an essential first step, and something that could be done easily with a food truck parked at dozens of arts and food-related events.
They have brought their truck to many concerts and sites such as the Christmas Market at the Distillery District, where they caught attention of Michele Henry of the Toronto Star and received some impressive media attention.
The pair say their skills complement each other, which helps them organize their schedules efficiently. Fiksel manages the operations side of Chimney Stax, such as running the hands-on management of the truck and the customer outreach. Lindzon applies his finance management background to the business, and is in charge of finding new opportunities.
Working together has enlightened both of them on their own entrepreneurial spirits.
“What I learned about myself is that I work better with a partner,” says Fiksel. “And we’re both great problem solvers, so when an issue comes up, we see them as challenges, not hindrances.”
The truck has an aggressive summer schedule ahead, says Lindzon, and “I know we can pull it off, because we have faith in each other. And accountability is self-motivating.”