East of York Gourmet Food Co. Interview

Ashvin and Shanta

Ashvin and Shanta

We found out about East of York through an email and were eager to try the restaurant located on the Danforth. This place is a true gem and Ashvin and his mother are one of the most criminally underrated secrets of our city. The mother-son duo combine old and new to create incredible meals that you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the city. Ashvin was kind enough to indulge our questions as well.

Sadi: So how long have you guys been open here?

Ashvin: Three years here as ‘East York’.

Sadi: And has it always been a successful business?

Ashvin: Yeah we don’t own any debt…so we’re doing pretty good haha.

S: A lot of restaurants that we’ve spoken to have talked about a rough time they had to go through at the beginning. What helped you guys avoid that?

Ash: Okay so we’ll have to start at the beginning. I was working Bay Street for the better part of a decade. I portfolio managed finances for large enterprises. Just pure portfolio management. I thought I had what I wanted when I was thirty. Corner office, had the view, had everything I thought I had everything I needed, but nope. Not happening. I can’t do this for thirty, forty years. I’d kill myself. It just sucked the life out of you. There was nothing in it for me. Cooking was one of those things for me like…you know when you sit at home and watch those TV cooking shows and you’re like ‘Oh I would’ve done this, I would’ve done that differently. Oh that guy did that wrong, that guy did this wrong,’ well I’m a guy who’s always ‘Put up or shut up’, so I walked into my Boss’ office and said ‘Thanks,’ gave her a hug and left. I had no back up plan. I had just bought a house, married. I picked up my wife that day and I was wearing sweatpants, and she said ‘Oh you got home early today’ and I said ‘Oh guess what I did today, I quit my job!’ She took it in stride. The next day, I went to St. Lawrence Market with a friend, bought stuff and fed 25 people that night and I told them, ‘Guess what I did. We got some news!’ and they were all like ‘Oh you’re pregnant!’ and I was like ‘No! Stop thinking about that. I quit my job!’ and they were like ‘Really!? Mr. Corporate quit his job? What are you gonna do?’ and I was like ‘This! This is what I’m going to do.’ And then I had my first order that night, and soon I was catering five days a week, successfully, from my house. There were points where I didn’t even sleep. Just work all day, every day. It just became something new and different. It’s really cool. The successful part is very nice. And I’ve never actually worked in a restaurant. Not a day in my life. I just knew that when I was working at Bay Street, I wanted to know more. So I did go to George Brown. And I did a 3 month stint of Food History. But the worst thing about College is that it moves at the pace of the slowest person in the room. I grew frustrated so I just started doing it on my own. I had the book, I knew the answers.

S: What made you decide on this neighborhood for your restaurant?

Ash: I grew up in this neighborhood. I’ve been hanging out in this area for the last twenty years. I’m put up or shut up. If you’re going to tout your neighborhood, why live here, and open a restaurant in west Toronto?

S: Are you getting enough sleep these days?

Ash: I’d like to tell you yes and no. Our fridge compressor died, so that was not allowing me to sleep for a little bit. Because you’re on someone else’s schedule, and I wanted the repair guys in, fixing it right away.

Andrew: What’s the most popular dish here?

Ash: Every day has its own thing. Jerk chicken could go lights out today, and then you’ll see Butter Chicken Schnitzel all day tomorrow. It’s hard to predict. Most days it’s a nice even mix.

Andrew: Just because it’s most popular doesn’t always mean it’s the dish you’re most proud of serving. Which dish are you most proud of serving?

Ash: Probably when we do our hidden menu stuff. On this week, not on next week. Those items have an attachment to me because you’re not going to get them anywhere else. We’d build our menu, and then just for shits and giggles, we’d do something for ourselves in the back. People would smell it down the street and come in and ask us about it and say ‘How come it’s not on your menu’ and we’d say ‘Oh we didn’t even have time to put it on the menu, we weren’t planning on making too many of it.’ They’d say ‘Okay I want one. Give me that.’

Andrew: What do you like to eat when you’re not here?

Ash: If I want the best pizza in the city I go to Buca. I want the thin crust, the thinnest crust, so thin with the handmade cheese…just really well done. If I want good old fashioned Italian, believe it or not Trattoria Mercato does a great job of pretty much everything on their menu.

Chana

Andrew: Let’s say you had to have a last meal on Earth. What would your last meal be comprised of?

Ash: Oh wow. Okay if I’m on Death Row, and I had to have a last meal. I’m starting off with Breakfast, and I’m having my Mom’s Bake, which is slang for fried bread, which is soft, pillowy, rolled out thin and fried. It’s got a crispy exterior. I’ll stuff that with like an Indian omelette, or a curried hash, and a smoked tomato salsa. A little bit of my Mom’s hot sauce in the tomato salsa. I’ll sit there for an hour and eat as much as you can give me. And then…lunch dinner. Because if I have one day, I gotta go all out. So my Mom’s Potato Roti, really well seasoned, super thin. Take my Mom’s home style curry chicken, throw it in, wrap it up, or just tear up the roti and eat it like that.

Chana (above) and Tomato coconut curry chicken (bottom right)

Andrew: Do you read reviews of your restaurant? What’s the general feedback if so? Do you guys pay attention so something like that?

Ash: We actually haven’t had a bad review. One guy gave us a two but he hasn’t actually been in here, so he was a troll. His friend had an axe to grind with me. It’s my responsibility to know everyone who comes in here, get your name, your spouse’s name, your dog’s name if you have one. He didn’t actually eat here. Do reviews matter? No. Look. There’s a reason people eat here. I know that. If you get caught up in reviews, you’re never going to focus on your job. My job, I know what it is. Make sure every piece of food that comes out of that kitchen is perfect. You know what the bigger review for me is? Not one person in three years has ever sent the food back. Not one person has ever asked me to make it over. No one’s not finished their food. In three years, not one person. If I see food on the table I ask them is something wrong? They say ‘No I’m just full’.

S: What’s the most overrated food you can find in Toronto right now?

Ash: Everything that’s clickbait. Not to hate on people for doing what they do but stuff like ‘Black Ice cream?’ Bullshit. ‘Sweet Jesus?’ Bullshit. All those bland Mexican places? Bullshit. I can guarantee I can sit there and make Mexican food better then you, and I’m not even Mexican. I have a bigger pepper collection and know what each one’s use is and when to use them. So there’s those. Any chains as well. Anything too big to fail. Anytime a restaurant gets bigger than 2000 square feet. Like do we really need this? Why do we need this?

Bacon wrapped dates

S: Where do you love getting your Ice Cream then?

Ash: There’s a place in Yorkville. Summer’s. They make all our ice cream homemade. Great.

Andrew: What about underrated food? What’s a food in your opinion that people don’t know enough about in Toronto?

Ash: I don’t know if anyone’s doing anything crazy underrated right now in Toronto, but I do think there are regions in Toronto that need to be recognized. They need to start coming East. I’m tired of downtown, there needs to be that one restauranteur that comes out and is like ‘Okay, first place in the East.’ They do that, then you’ll see the migration start to happen. But I’m not that name brand, I’m nowhere near that.

Andrew: You have an interesting name here, was there a story behind ‘East of York’?

Ash: East of York was an homage to where we are. It’s not just a place it’s a destination. We’re east of the city known as York, downtown. I also have an East Indian background as well. There could have been three other names for this place but we chose that because we wanted this to be a destination. Putting your name on a place gets you recognized. We wanted the destination to be recognized. Nobody knows anything about East York. You talk to people in Toronto they’re like ‘Where’s that? Scarborough?’ Like 'No!'

Andrew: How have you seen the neighborhood change in your time here?

Crispy Pork Belly

Ash: When I was growing up here, you didn’t want to be here at night. It has changed though, you are no longer seeing the quintessential 3 dollar beer bar. That place, that hole in the wall that frankly you don’t want to walk into. Doesn’t look appealing from the outside, doesn’t look appealing from the inside. We’re seeing more family friendly places, different types of businesses moving in.

S: Was there a piece of advice that anyone gave you, or anything anyone said that really helped you or stuck with you all this time?

Chicken Schnitzel on a Rosemary Cheddar Waffle

Ash: No not really. Actually, Vikram Vij did me a huge solid. He said ‘Asvhin, you’ve been working 24 hours, it’s Sunday morning, go get yourself a damn restaurant. Open it already. What are you doing? You’re sitting at home, catering from your home successfully, just go get yourself a place. Just open it already!’ It’s a risky proposition, restaurants fail 99% of the time. But that kind of stuck with me, I was outgrowing my house. And now there’s proof in the pudding. People compliment us daily, it’s the reason they keep coming back. They love the food and they just want more of it. That they keep coming back is the testament that we’re doing something right.

S: Let’s say somebody was going to open up a restaurant today. What piece of advice would you give them?

Ash: This is not supposed to kill you. It’s supposed to feed your soul. Take your time with it, breathe. Get really good at it. We were never as good on Day 1 as we are today. If I had to give any advice to anybody? Be the best, do it the best way. Answer the why, don’t leave the why on the table. I shouldn’t have to ask you ‘Why?’ after eating something you made. When I had Khao Soi at Sukhothai for the first time years ago, I didn’t ask why. I had it. I knew why.

Andrew: What’s the best part of your job?

Ash: (Laughs) I get to have an advanced relationship with my mom. Not that everyone wants that. It can be frustrating, unnerving. But it’s a time in my life I’ll never get back. My mom’s not going to live forever but to be able to see her excel at something she was always meant to do, especially at her age, where she’d never done this before either, is remarkable. In her mid 60’s, she’s opening a restaurant with me. I get that time with my Mom that not many people get to have on a daily basis. Yeah we drive each other crazy, it’s not even close to perfect! But the food that comes out of here? You don’t think twice about it. You know we cooked it, you know it’s the best.

Andrew: I think that covers it for us. Thank you so much for sitting down with us!


 

East of York Gourmet Food Co.
1904 Danforth Ave.
(416) 421-9990
www.eastofyork.com