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Toronto food cart owner selling pastrami sandwiches aiming for diverse industry

Click to play video: 'Toronto food cart selling new meat on the street'
Toronto food cart selling new meat on the street
WATCH: Toronto food cart selling new meat on the street – Aug 24, 2022

Stopping at a food cart in Toronto usually means getting a hot dog, maybe some fries or a burger, but now you can grab a pastrami sandwich, too.

And not just any pastrami sandwich, the special this week has blueberries on it and is only five dollars.

“There is an art to food, there is an expression to sharing it with other people,” said Alexander Dalgliesh-Switzer, owner of Swizters. “Pastrami, the reason was easy cause I love it.”

The response has been overwhelming with various sandwiches selling out every day in their three-month long history. On Wednesday, when Global News interviewed Dalgleish-Switzer the sandwiches were gone within an hour.

“The response has been overwhelming, I thought I’d be making a living, but I can’t keep up with the demand. It gives me the confidence to put blueberries on it,” he said laughing.

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In May, the 35-year-old ditched working in a traditional restaurant after 18 years to open up his own venture. He had considered it about eight years ago, but it didn’t feel right at the time, but he wanted to be able to connect with the people he was feeding.

“You don’t get to do that when you’re working a brigade or when you have investors or owners that disagree with the chef. The infrastructure can disallow a chef’s creativity,” he said.

 

Dalgliesh-Switzer is also Jewish, so being able to make pastrami sandwiches, like the classic with just mustard or new-age versions of the sandwich was important to him.

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“You get to share culture. It sounds hokey, but it does matter,” he said.

While being able to get creative and cook the food he cares about is endearing, there are simpler reasons, such as low wages and long hours that had him looking for an exit from the traditional restaurant industry.

“It’s the worst job for no pay. I’m tired of the excuse that it’s a labour of love and that’s why you do it, which is true, but I need to pay rent,” said Dalgliesh-Switzer. “We don’t pay our kitchen staff, work them ragged, then hope that our patrons will pay us. Which is why there is a dearth of cooks.”

While the costs are not outrageous, it’s the red tape that can weigh you down, according to Dalgliesh-Switzer. It’s the reason why he didn’t open up a cart years ago. This time around he has all the licenses and vendor permits to operate on private property and can apply for a sidewalk license but can’t plan to ever move downtown given there is a moratorium on food carts, in place since 2002.

“The permission to vend on streets hadn’t been given out for twenty years. I was fighting the city on that for a year specifically,” he said. “I didn’t get it.”

Alexander Dalgliesh-Switzer, owner of Switzers, a food cart in Toronto selling pastrami sandwiches. Ahmar Khan / Global News

Despite the financial reasons to open the cart, Dalgliesh-Switzer thinks it’s one of the best ways he could continue to work in the industry and also take command of what he was cooking.

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“Carts are really the only venue for a lot of cooks to have their business, not have a boss, make a living, and not have to work 60 hours a week,” he said.

But, it doesn’t stop there, the pastrami-loving Jewish chef wants more of his colleagues in the industry to be self-proprietors and take greater ownership. He said the startup costs for the entire venture were about $8,000.

“I want there to be more carts, so I hope this is a message and shows people this a venue for you as a cook,” he said.

While he does eventually want to move around the city more freely and is tired of the bureaucracy, Dalgleish-Switzer is telling fellow cooks to come to his neighbourhood insisting that healthy competition will breed excellent affordable food.

“Set up next to me, I sell out already in a few hours, I want the competition,” he said.

And plans are already in motion to help other chefs secure carts and set up selling different foods like Vietnamese subs, banh mi and other commonly sold street foods.

“I’ve already been talking to a bunch of them about it, build some carts, start some carts, set up a food cart guild,” he said.“

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