Get a group of people together socially and more often than not the conversation will veer towards food. Usually the topic is restaurants. For foodies the talk may be culinary trends, and for young men, craft beer is all the rage.
Any discussion about Jewish food in Toronto often leads to the inevitable bagel debate. Montreal, Gryfe’s, Bagel World – everyone has their favourite. And that was no different for the six people who met for brunch at United Bakers Dairy Restaurant in Lawrence Plaza.
A presentation on the history of Jewish restaurants in Toronto
They had gathered for an event that focused specifically on Jewish food – a presentation on the history of Jewish restaurants in Toronto by Ellen Scheinberg, president of Heritage Professionals. They were taking part in a brunch that was a Heritage Toronto silent auction prize won by Irving Himel and his son, Andrew.
The Himels were the highest bidders for breakfast with Steven Paikin, host of TVO’s The Agenda; Toronto Star food writer, Corey Mintz; Toronto City counsellor and TTC chair, Josh Colle, and Scheinberg, a co-editor of The Ward (Coach House Books 2015) and the facilitator of the morning’s discussion. She and Andrew Himel are both board members of Heritage Toronto.
Also on hand to talk about their restaurant were Philip and Ruth Ladovsky, the brother and sister team who run United Bakers. The 103-year old establishment is one of the longest running family-owned restaurants in the country.
United Bakers was founded in 1912 by Philip and Ruth’s paternal grandparents, Aaron and Sarah Ladovsky, Polish immigrants from Kielce. Sarah and Aaron both had baking backgrounds. Their marriage united the two baking families, hence the bakery’s name.
As the brunch group consumed a sumptuous meal of scrambled eggs, blintzes, latkes, bagels, vegetarian chopped liver and United Bakers’ signature pea soup, Ruth Ladovsky gave a brief history of the restaurant.
Its original location was on Agnes Street in the Ward, an immigrant neighbourhood in downtown Toronto bounded by University Avenue and College Street, and Queen and Yonge streets. In the first decade of the 20th century, the ward was 80 per cent Jewish, Scheinberg said.
In 1920, United Bakers relocated to Spadina Avenue when the Jewish community moved to the Kensington Market area. Ruth said that Yiddish authors Sholem Asch and Isaac Bashevis Singer had both eaten at the restaurant.
In fact, in Singer’s trilogy, Love and Exile, United Bakers was supposedly the inspiration for a fictional restaurant, where “everyone spoke Yiddish and knew one another,” she said.
Scheinberg, pointed out that the first kosher restaurant was actually JS Goldenberg’s, which opened on Terauley Street in 1908. His brother, William Goldenberg, ran a kosher restaurant across the street.
The Goldenberg restaurants also moved to Spadina Avenue, which became a prime strip for Jewish eateries. W. Goldenberg continued operating until the mid ’50s.
Daiter’s Fresh Market, which closed its doors this year after more than 80 years, began as a dairy restaurant on Kensington Avenue in 1937. The establishment moved to Bathurst Street in 1959, following the migration of the Jewish community from downtown to the Bathurst Street corridor in the ’50s and ’60s.
Shopsy’s opened on Spadina Avenue in 1921. Down the block was Switzers, which started in the 1940s and remained at that location until 1991. United Bakers moved from Spadina Avenue to Lawrence Plaza in 1986.
Irving Himel, noted that pastrami and corned beef were more common in Toronto than smoked meat, which he said was a Montreal delicacy.
Mintz spoke about Caplansky’s Deli, a delicatessen on College Street, which opened in 2007. He said owner Zane Caplansky, who changed his name from Caplan to the original Jewish name, epitomizes a trend called reverse assimilation. Rather than lose their heritage and assimilate, people market their ethnicity, Mintz explained.