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Monday, December 29, 2014

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Bathurst Street landmark Daiter’s up for sale

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Stephen, left, and Joel Daiter [Paul Lungen photo]

TORONTO — Daiter’s, the family-run deli and market that has been a fixture on Bathurst Street since 1964, will be closing its doors.

The Daiter family announced last week that it has put the building up for sale. According to the multiple listing service of the Toronto Real Estate Board, the asking price for the property is just under $5 million.

The family will be selling the building but not the business, said Stephen and Joel Daiter, the brothers who operate the market. Though they are the third generation of their family to run a retail outlet under the family name, none of their children are interested in continuing the family legacy.

“We’re the third generation, but we don’t have a fourth,” said Joel.

The family is not intent on turning over the business to someone else to carry on.

“My dad worked very hard, he was a hard-working man,” said Stephen. “He said, ‘Don’t sell the name because you don’t want someone to harm the name.’”

The store is a landmark in the Bathurst Street corridor. With 3,000 square feet of retail space it provides traditional Jewish fare, including blintzes, gefilte fish, schmaltz herring, locally crafted cheeses, pastry, and more contemporary items such as salads and sandwiches.

Though the brothers are closing the retail outlet, the Daiter name will continue to be associated with the food business. Stephen and Joel said they want to devote more time to catering and wholesale sales, though from a new location.

Selling prepared foods such as soup and other items to big box grocers has become an important part of the business, they said. In addition, their catering business for simchahs and shivahs has grown as well.

 Altogether catering and wholesale accounts for half the business.

The store is not losing money. “We’re not locking and walking,” said Joel, adding it’s unclear how much longer the store will be open for business.

Retail sales are still important, but the business is so demanding that they don’t have time to grow the wholesale and catering aspects of the company, they said.

Working in a cash business means they have to be at the store for long stretches at a time.

“I started today at 5:30 a.m. and will go to 1 or 1:30. That’s a half day,” said Joel. Stephen also started at 5:30 and will go to 7 p.m., and the next day, the shifts will be reversed, with him working the long day, Joel said.

At their ages – Stephen is 54, Joel is 58 – they don’t want to put in the time anymore.

“We find we’re both getting older. It’s hard to work the hours,” Joel said.

The sale of the building will mark the end of a family retail business that traces its roots back generations.

The Daiters’ grandfather, Harry,  opened the first store in 1937 in Kensington Market. A graduate of the agriculture program at what’s now the University of Guelph, he started out renting a dairy and producing his own cheeses. He sold them out of a baby carriage, but that enterprise was closed down by provincial authorities. He then opened Kensington Creamery, selling the cheeses he had manufactured.

Daiter’s is still known for its Lana Brand Cheeses, made in small batches without fillers or preservatives, in the traditional European style.

In 1959, Joel’s and Stephen’s father, Ron, moved the family to Bathurst Manor, which was then largely farmland. Seeing a large Jewish population north of Lawrence, he opened a store at 3519 Bathurst, where Tov-Li is now located, just down the street from Daiter’s current location.

Joel began working in the store at age nine, storing items and packing customers’ parcels.

The brothers learned the business from the ground up. Their mother, Rene, was also an important fixture in the family enterprise. She could be found in the kitchen, adapting family recipes for such items as gefilte fish from 12 portions to 300. “She had to tweak it,” said Joel.

The business continued to grow and in 1964 Ron Daiter, Joel and Stephen’s father, acquired the current property at 3535 Bathurst Street, which includes a parking lot in the back. At one point, Daiter’s boasted eight retail locations, but without the hands-on presence of family members, service was not up to their standards, the brothers stated.

“Nobody is like an owner,” Joel said.

What will follow at 3535 Bathurst, the brothers can’t say. Addressing those customers, who no doubt will miss the traditional items available at the store and the “Cheers-like” atmosphere, where shmoozing is part of the shopping experience, Stephen said: “Nothing is around forever. Everything has its time.”

A Bathurst Street institution will soon be coming to an end.

 

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