If one deli represents both the bright and dark sides of Toronto’s bittersweet deli story it is Shopsy’s. For years, Shopsy’s was the granddaddy of the Toronto corned beef scene, ruling over the corner of Spadina and Dundas (now home to King’s Noodle) for many decades. It was our equivalent of Canter’s or Katz’s or Ben’s, and people knew and respected it around the country. Great deli men like Yitz Penciner (aka Mr. Yitz), cut their teeth there, and it fed corned beef to millions of Torontonians, both Jews and non.
But Shopsy’s then is no Shopsy’s now. The Shopsowitz family sold out first to a soap conglomerate (Unilever), then to investors and hedge funds. They branded and hawked their products to large meat makers, which now includes Shopsy’s bacon…the foremost sign of selling out a deli can do…kosher or not!
In the 1980′s Shopsy’s departed their original location for a downtown office building, and the empire truly began its decline. The deli feel of the place, which once included giant salamis (I recall my mom winning a 5 ft one), was absorbed into general restaurant fare. They opened other locations, sold again, and really lost that special feeling. These locations opened and closed quick as illegal DVD stands in Chinatown, and any sense of community was gone. As any deli owner in Toronto will tell you “Shopsy’s hasn’t been a deli for years.”
Still, there’s some nostalgia and a special feeling left there, at least for die hards, which is why today’s story in the Globe and Mail was tough. The downtown location…by far the oldest and most accesible to the city, will be closed at the end of the year due to a rent dispute. It may signal the end of Shopsy’s in Toronto, and even though the soul of this deli is long gone, it’s body’s death is still sad.
Shopsy’s ordered to quit Front Street
When Gavin Quinn’s family-owned business bought Shopsy’s Hospitality Inc. a couple of years ago, he had big plans for Shopsy’s flagship delicatessen at the corner of Yonge and Front Streets. But those plans have been quashed because of a dispute with the building’s landlord that ended up in court and left the Quinns facing a deadline to get out within six months.
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