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Eat & Drink

Is The Zappi Factory the Dawn of the Toronto Street Food Revolution?

Posted by Devon Scoble / November 25, 2009

zappi factory toronto street foodRadek Maj is the owner of The Zappi Factory - a portable kitchen complete with running water, electricity and a convection oven - and he wants to revolutionize Toronto's street food scene. He's not alone.

Toronto's A La Carte program was born of similar cravings. But the project, designed to expand the city's street food beyond the humble hot dog, has been mired in bureaucracy since its inception. Eight months after launching, proprietors of the city-issue stands fear they are falling off the cart, citing licensing costs and cumbersome breakdown-prone vehicles as the recipe for their demise.

the zappi factory toronto street food

zappi factory
Ostensibly the most multicultural city in the world, Toronto should be able to draw on all its culinary cultures, serving the tastiest street treats from the world over. But so far it seems our tendency towards regulation has trumped our skill at sourcing and serving authentic international street treats. Although we'd hoped for so much more, hot dogs still rule the roads, and the A La Carte program is starting to smell like old sauerkraut.

An outspoken critic of A La Carte's problems, Radek Maj developed his alternative street food model for an independent study at Ryerson. To comply with food safety requirements, Maj designed his own portable kitchen, a self-contained unit complete with running water, electricity and convection oven. Although he won't disclose the grade he got at Ryerson, he hopes to score an A with Toronto foodies.

The Zappi Factory - currently found outside Dundas West subway station at the corner of Bloor and Dundas West - specializes in customizable versions of Polish zapiekankas, open-faced baguettes traditionally garnished with mushroom and cheese. I opted for a twist on the original, ordering a pesto-feta base with mushrooms, cheese and spring onions. The result was delicious, each crispy bite of toasted St. Phillip's baguette topped with a medley of salty feta, chewy mozzarella, savoury basil and earthy grilled mushrooms.

zappi factoryAlthough Maj warned me that his sandwich concept has been trademarked, I do make similar cheese toasties at home - and have been serving them to guests for years. To me, this is one of The Zappi Factory's strengths - that it brings healthy, gourmet home-cooking straight to the street. And lest you worry that all the dishes taste like kitchen-favourites, try the sweet potato fries. Impossibly light, and perfectly crisp, I only wish I could pull these off on my own.

For redeeming my hopes for Toronto's street food scene, The Zappi Factory earns my A+. And while I look forward to eating there again, I hope the city will take note of this success, and work to replicate it. In my dream for Toronto, The Zappi Factory will be just one among a network of amazing, successful street-stalls, and we will finally take our place as the world's number one street food city.

For more on the history of Toronto's street food legislation, check out "The Edible City", available at Coach House Press.



Chester Pape / November 25, 2009 at 09:30 am
As I understand the provincial regs this isn't going to work, he has to provide at least portapotties for customers if he wants to serve anything but "french fried potatoes" and precooked rewarmed things ala dog cart fare.
Miller Sucks / November 25, 2009 at 09:58 am
First, I commend this dreamer for trying to make a difference to Toronto's street food and also make a political statement all at the same time. But I think Chester is right, he will need the potties to comply with legislation.

And let's not go overboard here. I know we're all excited to have diverse street food but let's not crown every Joe that tries to do this with "the best" moniker. And by the way, those sweet potato fries may taste good, but they look like McCain frozen sweet potato crinkly fries to me. And when did a baguette dripping with cholesterol ladden cheeses and oils become "healthy, gourmet home-cooking"? Let's not get crazy now.

Oh and btw, everyone has one person to blame and that's: John Filion, Toronto City councillor for screwing up this A La Carte program. In fact he screwed it up so bad that they just took the program away from him.

But until we start playing like grown ups in this city, we'll never progress. PEOPLE: wake the fu*k up and on OCT. 25 2010 make your voices heard about the shitty job the city's doing and VOTE. It DOES make a difference. If only enough people will go out and do it. Then we can start cleaning up this city.

BTW, look no further than NYC to see what street food can really be, and thank Mayor Bloomberg for not crushing the entrepreneurial spirit.
Zap / November 25, 2009 at 10:01 am
The last thing we need is the City or Province to take notice of the Zappi Factory's success -- it's a sure-fire way to ensure he's shut down.
MK replying to a comment from Miller Sucks / November 25, 2009 at 10:52 am
From his blog:
"I've started efforts here in our lovely Toronto, to start a healthy food kiosk."

Riiiiiight. Poutine, sweet potato fries et al are the cornerstones of a "healthy" food kiosk.
Ian / November 25, 2009 at 10:55 am
What a great place to put this too! I'm going to try this out for sure. . .
Meh / November 25, 2009 at 11:03 am
Bloor & Dundas? Really?
anna / November 25, 2009 at 11:17 am
yummmm, zapiekanki in the streets of Toronto! At long last!
jack / November 25, 2009 at 11:55 am
i think the city was charging like $15,000 to $20,000 for the monthly rent... it was ridiculous, lol.. there's no way that these small operations could even break even.. what a joke.. everywhere else in the world, people can have tons of street food, but of course, not toronto.. so predictable
Foodie replying to a comment from MK / November 25, 2009 at 11:56 am
Maybe by "healthy food kiosk" he means "a food kiosk that can actually earn money in the City of Toronto"?
mmmm / November 25, 2009 at 12:04 pm
Reminds of me of the Chinese "van food" you can find up and down St. George street, on the University of Toronto campus. Hope the portable kitchen concept continues to spread!
Rich / November 25, 2009 at 12:10 pm
The city always has to have there greeeeeedy little hands in on it!
charging rent for a spot or a permit thats Bull#$%t.

It needs to be regulated i agree but, lets bring some great cool tasty food to this city...Hotdogs...sausage...fries...BORING..

what about fresh fruit stands in the city also!!!

we all need to vote and get this pathetic council out of power in the city...

Vote change!
Colin Mochrie / November 25, 2009 at 12:14 pm
A few comments:

1) Echoing a previous commenter, how does the Reviewer conclude that any toasted cheese on bread combination is "healthy" or "gourmet"? Only if you were born and raised in a Taco Bell would this perspective be true.

2) I ate my first "zapi"-branded toasted cheese on baguette with garlic butter in Krakow, where I was introduced to it by a proud Pole who exclaimed "It's Polish!" I laughed then and laugh again reading this. What is Polish about toasted cheese and condiments on a baguette? Not only had I made this before at home, but I'm sure the French - who invented the baguette - or the English - who invented the sandwich - or the Americans - who mastered fast food gluttony - beat me to it.

3) You can't trade-mark a "sandwich concept". You can trade-mark a word or logo associated with the provision of a ware (good) or service. But what has Mr. Maj trade-marked exactly? I did a search for both Maj and "zapi*" in the CIPO Trade-Mark database and came up with nada. My guess is that he's trade-marked nothing.
Tom / November 25, 2009 at 01:09 pm
I probably don't know enough about the situation, but why did Toronto's A La Carte program want to control everything from the top down? It seemed like the city was dictating every tiny part of what vendors could sell, approving every piece, etc.

Why couldn't they just loosen the regulations a little so those serving other foods than hot dogs and fries could do so, while still ensuring that it was cooked and stored in a safe manner?
JJ Gites replying to a comment from Tom / November 25, 2009 at 01:27 pm

There seems to be this core problem with the City of Toronto in that they think THEY know what's best for everyone. Rather than just open the field for a wider choice of foods, (and just sticking to policing and enforcing health by-laws, both municipal and provincial).

I think it's because they genuinely believe that the country and the world look to them to lead the way. Notwithstanding the fact that it seems every major city across the globe has a wide variety of street carts operating effectively and not poisoning its customers, they seem to want to do it their own way, and fail miserably at it. That failure tells them that there's clearly no market for different foods and they use the proof of their incompetence to illustrate the point.
Joanne Dale / November 25, 2009 at 03:00 pm
Wishing you every success in your efforts, Radek, but you may want to rethink your logo/font. Looks like The Zappi Fartory to me, and that may not be a good thing. ;-)

Seriously, though, all the best!
Kid Specific / November 25, 2009 at 03:26 pm
Why is Toronto ostensibly the most multicultural city in the world? I thought it WAS the most multicultural city in the world. Didn't Nat Geo do the world wide city survey back in the 90's, and didn't Toronto come out on top for the most amount of distinct cultures in ONE city? Has something changed? Who beat us, I wanna know.

Also, Istanbul has f***ing AWESOME street food. Like, for serious.
Jack / November 25, 2009 at 04:10 pm
hong kong, taipei, bangkok, singapore, tokyo, etc etc.. all have amazing street, we are stuck with expensive Wanda's fucking pie in the sky
Radek replying to a comment from Chester Pape / November 25, 2009 at 09:56 pm
Ladies Gents Foodies ...

I'm behooved to reply to your commentaries.

Seems like some of you are foodies others I think speculators.
What I am doing is what no one dared to do.
Zappi Factory - WALK EAT TALK is a TM - to you there Colin, its in the processing ;) and you're right you can't TM a sandwich not exactly - You gots to improve your research... my wares are pretty cool though.
Wow Colin you were in Krakow, that's good for you, its where I'm from;) You may laugh and laugh and I'm laughing for my own reasons, but for an informed sounding person you're not informed all the way.
Obviously everything came from somewhere else or got influenced elsewhere its the way of the world. Fact - Zapiekanka is from Poland and that's where it originated. English invented the sandwich WOW ! I'll bet that some Ape made one too, I bet a lot of other ethnic folks will beg to differ with ya, just a thought. Our baguette is actually Artisan made and more ...
I think you might be searching for some other foods that inspire your pallet, power to you. Oh, and you don't have to get the cheese;) or veggies or artisan bread or soup or sprouts etc. etc...
You could just go grab a Hot Dog. Smacznego.

Of course poutine and fries are not cornerstones of healthy food kiosk MK. Its a transition type of food, do you know how much de-programming has to happen for people to shop elsewhere, especially kids ??? Well, perhaps you can give me some pointers.
All I'm trying to do is add to TO's taste of ethnic food and its meant for all people.

Hey ZAP, we're a sure fire to show that having a choice is possible out there ... " Everybody knows " "Everybody knows" ;)

Chester-Miller sucks, hey how about you guys copy/paste that legislation for me since you're all up in that. Let me see now, how many coffee shops, pizza shops and a plethora of other licensed establishments in the city don't provide a washroom and you think I should put a portaputty, by-laws don't. WOW ! WOW ! you guys are on a good tripp..
I've been to many cities all over the world including NYC and didn't see any portaputties there, would you like them to appear down in Manhattan as well? Idea: if Bloomberg gets them I'll get it too, deal ?

Like Bloomberg did, don't crush the Entrepreneurial spirit, enthuse it ! Oh, and nothing is rewarmed mate, its all made fresh and toasty in front of you ;)

I hope that we all can learn from each other and make things better and encourage change and empower democracy, not squash it.

Meh - we'll try for a better location soon.
JJ Gats - dude you practically nailed it with that .. ;)

By the way, I'm thinking of making some soup. Any suggestions foodies ??? Look forward to more of your inputs, and hope to learn from all of it. Jack, Wanda isn't a street vendor.
Glad to get the sprouts growing.

Thanks to all ... and Devon thanks for the positive input.
Radek replying to a comment from Mark Dowling / November 25, 2009 at 10:03 pm
wow, like that a lot.
Where can we put one of these in TO, and looks like a good concept.
My kiosk is still afar from what I think the design should look like, it's more for pilot purposes.
Badbhoy / November 25, 2009 at 11:36 pm
Wow. I was intrigued by your sandwich but not after reading your post. Dripping with more arrogance than the cheese on your zapiekanka.
Chester Pape / November 26, 2009 at 02:01 am
I stand slightly corrected, because that thing presumably has wheels on it is exempt from the sections of the regulations that require a bathroom. But if the premise doesn't have wheels on it if you serve food you are supposed to make bathrooms available.

You want links, here you go, fill your boots
Section 16 of the health protection act

and the related regulations

You did inform the health department about this little business I hope.
Miller Still Sucks / November 26, 2009 at 09:33 am
Wow. Where to begin?

First, I'm assuming you are a 'youngin' since I think the story (which I'm not going to waste time re-reading) said that you were a recent Ryerson grad? So, I will take your cocky attitude with a grain of salt and chalk it up to being a child still.

Dude, you just alienated a TON of potential customers. Why did you think that this was a good idea to insult your potential customers in a public forum? Have they taught you nothing at Ryerson? Or are you one of those know-it-all little shits that thinks he's smarter than everyone else?

As someone in the communications field, I will now give you a FEW BIG and FREE pieces of advice, I guess because I feel you need it bad and might be worth saving. I like your passion but you need some serious polishing up on your PR.

1. If you are ever lucky enough again to get any sort of press, STEP AWAY FROM YOUR COMPUTER, and DO NOT reply to that press. What you've just done my friend is shot yourself in the foot by sounding unprofessional, alienating a HUGE amount of potential customers that may have floated you for a while and basically came off sounding like an asshole. Which, you may or may not be.

2. On the assumption again that you are young, you should really take the time and learn your trade and craft before you start spouting off like you really are "the expert" after a class project. And don't be stupid, you don't know and understand municipal codes. I got news for you bud, not even City Hall staffers know ALL the municipal codes, that's why they have reams and reams of those books. You will be checked, and you will be ordered to conform to the by-laws. And btw, those coffee shops, cafes, etc that you mention, DO have washrooms. Some just choose to not allow non-customers to use them, but by law they do need to have them.

3. You DO know now that you've pissed enough people on here after reading your pissy rant that they will now try to nail you with the health dept, don't you?

Anyway I will end with this: I'm trying to figure out if your professors are to blame for your stupidness or if you're just like this on your own. Either way, stop it. It's not helping you further your business. The internet is FOREVER my friend. Shut up and WAKE UP.

READ THIS ONE CAREFULLY: Again, this is free PR advice I'm giving you, I think you should take it: Come back on here and explain that you are young and maybe you got a little over-enthusiastic and overly-passionate about your new business and felt the need to respond. APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR PISSY REMARKS. And state that you still have alot to learn, most of which falls under customer relations (although your food might also be shitty, I don't know).
Invite people over to your box and try to repair what you've just screwed up. Be contrite. Show some humility. And maybe, just maybe, you will come out of this one ok.

If you choose to ignore this advice, good luck.

The TTC Still Sucks replying to a comment from Miller Still Sucks / November 26, 2009 at 06:36 pm
Wondering if anyone would bother to follow your "advice" after seeing how cocky and insulting you present yourself as, if not 10 times more cocky and insulting.

Amazing how easily any blog comment thread can degenerate.
Radek / November 26, 2009 at 08:51 pm
Hey Guys,

Miller sucks just gave me some good advise, and I shall take it cause I am young but do have an old soul and do have a plethora to learn in my life still. In the future I will not get too emotional about people's comments and which ever type they may be. I am an emotional person, with a strong personality and I do come across at times a bit harsh.

So, if I have offended anyone on this forum, I do apologize. My remarks were meant to get back to your comments and not meant to be arrogant or insulting. Definitely not.
My comments were directed towards the message that the blogs were portraying, and I think there were some mean comments towards my efforts for even trying to put something different out there.

There's nothing better than being able to express yourself freely, and I think we are all adults and are able to understand what's being said, at large.

I wish to invite you all to my kiosk for a Zappi and for some deeper conversation, cause I can tell you are all insightful.
Once again, no harm meant.

Miller Still Sucks Today / November 27, 2009 at 10:19 am
TTC: First, don't be a copy cat with the names. Second, it's called tough love, ass-kicking, whatever you want. But it was needed here.

Radek: Good on you for seeing the light. Now you make people actually want to help you.

Nobody is trying to crush your entrepreneurial spirit, in fact, many are cheering for you to succeed. Just don't mix up "passionate" with "jerk". And remember a little humility goes a long way as you can see. It's ok not to know everything. But if you follow the "no asshole" rule, you'll do well in business.

And one other thing: street food is not equated with "healthy". So don't worry about trying to be the world's first healthy street food. It doesn't matter. Just serve good, well-prepared, fresh ingredients and you'll be ahead of the game. Give a couple freebies and be excited about what you're serving. Good luck. I will try to visit.

Chester Pape / November 30, 2009 at 04:18 pm
Radek: We do want you to succeed, but some of us oldsters have developed a healthy bit of cynicism around the issue of "street food" in the city, that frustration may have been misread as a criticism of you, please don't read it that way. Now I will give you another piece of advice in addition to what's already been dished out here, because you seem like a nice guy who doesn't deserve to get in big trouble. I know this will be a hard one to take but trust me, big fines will be harder to take. You need to take some time right now to get your business right with the Health Department and city licensing and to do that you will have to shut down while you do it, and I mean right now, today. It will be painful, and frustrating (and you can thank the gods that you don't also have to deal with the AGCO) and it may take a long time and they will make you do some silly things but you don't have a choice, because if the city catches you running a food service premises without a license and a health inspection they will throw the book at you.

The hard truth is there's a reason there isn't a chip wagon in every parking lot in the city, they don't make this process easy but there are a few examples that would lead one to believe it's possible (there are for example some "chip wagons" selling "hazardous foods" such as hamburgers in some of the Canadian Tire parking lots).

There are few things in this world as frustrating as dealing with municipal bureaucrats but keep your cool, be polite and suck it up.

Yoza / November 30, 2009 at 05:23 pm
I was very excited to read about zapiekanki in Toronto. I was very excited to read about anything in Toronto that is not the same old, crappy and bad for you, politically correct & government supported hot-dog! Unfortunately, the obstacles of this ultra-conservative, lame, bureaucracy driven system will kill any attempt of becoming an entrepreneur of any kind. You can't afford to be original or rather said different than others - you'll be boycotted by masses and soon kicked out of business by the government (…ever read Orwell? BTW he was writing about capitalism not communism…) Sure, there are laws & bylaws and sub-laws and…whatever. Have you people taken a good look into how this city looks like? Do you eat 'em hot-dogs only in the middle of night when you can't see the carts? What kind of laws, regulations & health are we bragging about? 90% of all places in Toronto that serve food should be locked & burned to ground to disinfect. It’s just disgusting! I read a lot about the pilot program for ethnic foods in TO. What a farce! A bunch of bureaucrats in City Hall gathered, created a 'plan' and sold it for big, tax-paid bucks! Now, they're not the only ones to benefit, so soon there was a lineup of all kinds of regulators, health inspectors and a 'pallete of tasting judges' (kid you not). All these bastards got their share while charging simple people with a good idea and product, with loads of $$$ for ridiculous permits, carts, etc. Do you see any non-dog vendors on the streets? The program's still on, hello! So Radek, my advice (since everyone feels comfortable to give you one) is to be smart, hold your horses a bit for your sanity sakes but proceed with no compromise! This city will remain a dinosaur leftover of the imperialistic 19th century stale empire unless someone gives it a good shake! Even a greasy, yummy, cheesy one!

Radek / December 1, 2009 at 09:50 pm
Hey guys,

Thanx again for your inputs, Great, taking it all in.

Also just wanted to update you all. I've already had a couple of by-law officers visit me and I did have a initial health dept. inspection as well as another one the day I opened.

Basically someone in the community took the initiative to get me checked out and called Gord Perks office and one of his assistants took care of calling the MLS undercover.

All is in good standing, unless they come up with some creative by-laws over night.

Keep me posted.

JamesDucnan416 / December 3, 2009 at 02:25 pm
Wow! SO many negative responses. This city needs more people like this guy who are going ahead with new ideas that will help change our city. He's doing this despite the obstacles our own council has set up before him and others who may have had similar ideas. It's the start of a revolution that's nearly ended before it began!
TommyGunn / June 14, 2010 at 03:28 pm
hey! i would love to chekc out the food, is it still at the same location? cool idea!
Tony replying to a comment from TommyGunn / June 29, 2010 at 11:36 am
where is this located at?
where can i get more info about how to open one of veding?
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