Andrew has been coming here for over a year, ever since he heard about them when he used to work in the area. These sandwiches are an institution in the area and you'd be hard pressed to find a more welcoming lunch-time customer service experience, where a smile is always accompanying your sandwiches. This is Adhela's story. Photo credits belong to Alex Chen
Andrew: How is business going these days?
Adhela: Business is going good! One day at a time.
Andrew: And how long have you been open here?
Adhela: It’s been about 20 years now.
Andrew: Oh wow. I noticed that you serve sandwiches and shawarma, is there any particular reason why you serve that kind of food? Or was there anything else you wanted to serve?
Adhela: No, our base was to start serving sandwiches. Something very simple, so people could just grab and go. We previously decided to go with that, and at the time I had two kids, and we knew we couldn’t just live off of one income, so we thought with a nice little sandwich we could make a better income. So we found this location which was ideal for a sandwich place. Homemade, from scratch, Halal. At that time, in the downtown core, there wasn’t really anything Halal. If it wasn’t in the East End, or Indian, that was it. Those were your Halal options. My husband’s very creative, he likes looking at different menus and stuff for sandwiches.
Andrew: So is that what you want people to know, that you were one of the first Halal offerings downtown?
Ad: Well, they offer a different kind of variety. I wouldn’t say we were one of the first Halal offerings, but we offered a different kind of stuff from the standard Middle Eastern food. We offered a couple of Middle Eastern items, but we offered a whole new Halal menu that wasn’t out there. We created this whole new menu that didn’t have its Halal options out there. Today yes, but twenty years ago, there wasn’t a Chicken Asparagus Avocado that was Halal. And the homemade was very important. As natural and as hands on as possible. My husband was in the industry for a few years, and he just hated that things were bought processed and stuff.
An: So that’s the story of how you guys started.
Ad: Yeah, my husband actually is a mechanical engineer. But to finish school he had to start cooking right?
An: So what would you say is the most popular sandwich you guys have? Or some best sellers you might have?
Ad: I think it’s our steak. Because of the value. The shawarma, the falafel, because it’s very filling for the value. If you ever have the falafel it will fill you up.
An: Is there anything that you particularly enjoy making when someone orders it?
Ad: No, we enjoy making all of it. Because we do end up making everything, every sauce, all the meat, we enjoy all of it.
An: So your restaurant is called Somethin’ 2 Talk About is there a story behind that name?
Ad: When we started off we always used to talk about our dreams. We would talk about offering different deals. The idea was to offer a 2 for 1. Meaning that someone buys 2 sandwiches and gets 1 for free. So I said to my husband ‘Oh, we should call the restaurant Somethin’ 2 Talk About’, with the number 2, but when you finally figure out affordability and cost effectiveness things change. You know that Bonnie Raitt song ‘Somethin to Talk About’? That was on the radio when I came up with the name ‘Somethin 2 Talk About’. It was really funny, because it wasn’t because of her song, I was just discussing with my husband and 10 minutes later, it comes on the radio and he says ‘Wow this must really be an omen’, and so that’s how it came about. And the ‘thin’ instead of the ‘thing’ was because of the focus on the healthy option. That was the idea, everything grown, homemade, things like baby spinach, things that are healthy, not too much out of the deep fryer.
An: So what is your story, how did you get started with this business?
Ad: I came from South Africa, I’m South African, my Mom’s a mix of Indian and Malaysian background, my Dad’s Indian, but all born in South Africa, our ancestors go back to South Africa.
An: So how did you decide to get into the restaurant business?
Ad: Well my Mom had a restaurant. It was a little takeout place and she had met my Husband first actually. He was here alone obviously. Him and his friends would go to my Mom’s restaurant because they worked around the corner, and she got to know them, two or three guys. My Mom’s like me, very talkative and everything, and one night she was like ‘Why don’t you come and have dinner at our place?’ And that’s how we met.
An: And now what is it about Toronto that you love?
Ad: Oh I love Toronto. I love the diversity, the environment, the people. You don’t find a better city. You can find everything in Toronto. You know people travel, to find exotic foods, or exotic things, you’ll find it in Toronto. People constantly ask us, ‘What do you want in this country?’ You know we don’t need anything, we have everything here. Toronto has that.
An: What is your favorite place to eat at in Toronto? What kind of cuisine do you love to eat when you’re not here?
Ad: My favorite cuisine is Mexican.
An: Is there a favorite spot that you like going to?
Ad: I haven’t found a place that I really really like. Because I find a lot of places aren’t consistent. So I’m always exploring, maybe because when I first came to Toronto you always went to eat in the Mom and Pop places, and there’s very few of these. It’s mostly become very franchisey or very big locations. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in this business for 20 years, you hire so much staff, and they all come from the franchisey and the big places, and you find that a lot of things are not homemade. So I’m always looking and searching, and it’s time as well. We don’t have that much time to go out, we do go out, but unfortunately, because of time most of my Mexican food experiences are in the States when we do go. Because they still seem to keep that little bit of authenticity from what I see.
An: Do you happen to read reviews online of your restaurant or do you concern yourself with the online presence and reviews?
Ad: I do sometimes.
An: And what would you say is the general consensus based on those reviews?
Ad: We have very good ratings. I try not to read too much because I end up focusing on the bad ones. And it really gets me upset. And then I started realizing that ‘Okay you want input, but you want positive criticism’. You start realizing also after so many years that some people are giving you input not necessarily because they want you to get better or make a better thing, they are just being mean. I find that the world is not made up of people who really care, or they don’t realize what goes on in the background of a business, of a small business especially. They don’t realize that the effort and difficulties that people face, so when they’re writing these things they don’t sit down and think about it. It becomes very hurtful and mean. It affects you to the point where it depresses you. I had to start learning how to stop reading the reviews so I wouldn’t be affected that way. To tell you the truth, mostly now it’s my customers telling me ‘Oh my God you had such a nice review!’ So I basically read my reviews once every two-three months just to make sure I haven’t offended any customers. If they’re very hurt or offended I’ll try to reply to them. If I see it’s just vindictive, I’ll ignore it. But I do get upset about it I can’t lie. It’s human nature.
An: Yeah that’s a common theme we’ve heard among restaurant owners, is that they tend to focus in on the negative reviews. Even though they know they have a great product.
Ad: It’s because we try! Well you don’t necessarily think you’re the best at everything right? That’s conceited and that’s arrogance. And I sure hope we don’t ever give out that feeling. But we definitely try to give our best product. We put everything into it. And then for somebody to come in and tear you down…if I’ve done something wrong, please come and see me right away. I will do everything I can to fix it, or at least explain myself to you.
An: Has business always been great? Was there a time where it was tough time to go through?
Ad: Oh sure. The first three to four years were very difficult you know? We barely lived. But the business is great now. But it’s not like we’re laughing and relaxing. We have to work hard to keep our business going. We have to do volume, because at these prices our profit margin is very low. So yes we have customers, but we’re always maintaining it, no matter how busy we are, we’re making sure we’re keeping the quality, we’re keeping the customer service because we want to make sure it stays that way. Never take anything like that for granted because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But yes, at the beginning it was difficult, very very difficult.
An: What about it was very difficult if you don’t mind me asking?
Ad: Well we had no funds. We didn’t have funds at all. We basically started a business with no money. We borrowed money to be honest. And we had to pay off more bills. The bills are much higher nowadays but thank goodness we have the revenue to pay it. We are the kind of people who don’t like debt. So we become obsessed with lowering our debt. Suppliers give you no leeway when you start off. No leeway at all. It’s very sad because when you start your business nobody wants to open doors for you, they basically shut the doors on you. And then when they see that now you’ve been in business for a while, now they want to open their doors to you, which is like ‘Well I don’t really need you now. Because now I’ve been around for so many years, the doors are opened for me now. When I started I needed you.’ We didn’t have a paycheque, we were basically living just to pay our rent, it was hard but we got through it. It’s your attitude right? I keep telling the people I hire, ‘I will train you in everything, but attitude is half the battle.’
An: What’s the best part about this job? What do you love the most about it?
Ad: Oh it’s the customers! We have the best customers. So many of them have been with us for 15-16 years, they’ve seen our children grow up in front of them. Like literally. Some of them have seen my son being born here. We’ve had customers who were dating, and then they got married, and now we see their children and we’re seeing their children growing up. So yes we have that five percent who really treat us like we don’t deserve respect because we’re cooks but honestly, if you count the other people who treat us with the greatest respect and kindness and in our hearts they are our family. Our customers are our family.
An: Yeah I can see that every time I come in here.
Ad: Once, one of our new guys, Leandro, he’s been here for a month now, and the one Friday he was here it was crazy. He said to me ‘I have never worked in a place where there were line ups out the door, and you were still talking to your customers. I’ve never seen that. You were still laughing and talking to your customers and you had so many orders in front of you.’ And I said ‘But without the customers what are we? We are nothing. They are why we are here.’
An: What was the best piece of advice you heard that really helped you when you were starting out with the business?
Ad: From my husband. He said ‘Know how to do every part of this job.’ How can you direct your staff if you don’t know every aspect of the job? You cannot be a boss if you don’t know how to do every part of this job.
An: For people looking to open a restaurant today, what would be the piece of advice you would give them?
Ad: My piece of advice is ‘Be prepared to work hard.’ And if you work hard, and if you enjoy it, you will be okay.
Somethin' 2 Talk About
78 Gerrard St West