toronto small businesses

20 businesses in Toronto that gave back to their communities this year

This year has been undeniably difficult for anyone trying to run a business in Toronto, with constantly changing government orders forcing establishments to repeatedly shut down, open up and change service models with little to no notice.

But while many of the city's business owners faced frustration, debt and the possibility of shutting down permanently in 2020, some still managed to find ways to give back to their communities in small yet meaningful ways. 

Here are 20 Toronto businesses that made it a priority to help those in need this year.

The Lucky Penny 

This local grocery store, sandwhich shop and cafe on Shaw Street undoubtedly experienced plenty of challenges of its own this year, but owner Debbie Rix still found a way to support a man named George who was experiencing homelessness and living in Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Rix, her daughter and a regular customer of the cafe began providing George with free food and gift cards, and they also allowed him to use their outlets to charge personal items.

Eventually, George was able to secure housing thanks to a social service organization and the help of his friends at The Lucky Penny.

Stock & Row

Earlier this year, this cider company teamed up with bar Locals Only to offer home delivery, and they donated all profits to the staff of a different Toronto bar or restaurant each week.

Businesses that received a generous donation from Stock & Row this year include Vatican Gift ShopMelrose on AdelaideBar Poet and more.

Little India

This Queen Street West restaurant decided to start giving back to the community that supported it for more than 25 years after several customers came in saying they wanted to order a meal but couldn't afford to pay on the spot.

The owner began offering free meals to anyone in need, no questions asked, despite having already lost siginificant revenue as a result of the indoor dining closure. 

Little India also donated food to a number of local charities and food banks this year.

Irish Design House

In the early days of the pandemic, the owner of this store and sewing school in Toronto participated in the Million Mask Challenge by making and donating reusable masks to frontline workers. 

The owner also created mask sewing kits and gave them away free of charge to anyone who wanted to participate in the initiative. 

Irish Design House donated masks to both Michael Garron Hospital and St. Michael's Hospital during the days when PPE was hard to come by and greatly needed.

Farmhouse Tavern

This farm-to-table restaurant known for its brunches partnered with Romero House to feed four different refugee families every weekend

Owner Nancy Thornhill initially wanted to invite families staying at Romero House to her restaurant for weekend meals, but she had to adapt her idea when the lockdown came into effect. 

She then began driving the meals over to the families herself each weekend, calling it "imperative" that she give where she can during such challenging times.

Mission Lasagna

This Italian restaurant was originally called Ballaro but changed its name and mission when the pandemic hit. 

What was initially intended to be a fine-dining Italian restaurant specializing in seafood became Mission Lasagna, a restaurant serving 19 different types of lasagna, all named after nurses back in Italy as a way to honour their work throughout the pandemic. 

The restaurant also started partnering with local organizations to provide between 50 and 60 free meals each Wednesday to some of Toronto's most vulnerable residents.

The Box

This popular square donut shop began donating sweets to those in need early on in the pandemic, starting with hundreds of elderly residents and some healthcare workers. 

They later decided to take it to the next level and pledged to match customer orders by sending a box of donuts to frontline workers for every patron purchase.

Comal y Canela 

This wildly popular authentic Mexican restaurant started doubling as a food bank once a week back in May. 

The owner wanted to give back to all those experiencing food insecurity, as she herself did during her childhood, so she decided to purchase extra food and create grocery bags for any residents to pick up for free each Wednesday. 

Unika Swim

The owner of this Toronto swimwear company wanted to create masks that were specially designed to fit the needs of healthcare workers

Owner Betsy Campos spoke to some healthcare professionals and learned that they often receive just one N95 mask per shift, so she decided to create and donate masks they could wear on top of their N95s to prolong their efficacy.

In an effort to do so using sustainable and ethically-sourced materials, Campos reached out to Adidas to ask for any unused materials, and they ended up donating hundreds of brand-new, never-worn shirts.

The Oxley Pub

This Yorkville pub introduced the option for customers to purchase lasagnas to be donated to the Good Shepherd Ministries homeless shelter earlier this year. 

The owner then began making his own donations and taking the lasagnas down to the shelter every few days, and he also started donating any unsold bread to those in need as well. 

Naan and Kabob 

This popular halal chain partnered with Uber Eats to deliver between 50 and 100 complimentary meals to the emergency staff at St. Michael's Hospital earlier this year. 

The restaurant also made generous food donations to the healthcare workers at Centenary Hospital in Scarborough, Mount Sinai Hospital, Michael Garron Hospital, Markham Stouffville Hospital and more.

Ten Restaurant

This Little Italy restaurant started putting fridges full of food out front to help address issues of food insecurity in the local community.

They've since put up several different community fridges in various spots throughout the city, and they're accessible at all times, restocked daily and filled with fresh, healthy food. 

Wonton Hut

This wonton and noodle shop decided to give back to the community by feeding healthcare workers in the early days of the pandemic. 

Each Tuesday throughout the month of April, the restaurant made and delivered dozens of free meals to frontline workers in and around Toronto.

Kanto

Filipino street food restaurant owner Diona Joyce partnered with non-profit organization Adhika to launch a campaign called Feed the Frontline earlier this year. 

The aim of the campaign was to raise money and deliver free food to frontline workers across the city as well as households in need, and it quickly exceeded its fundraising goal and raised a total of $572,789. 

Your Neighbourhood Barbershop

The owner of this South Etobicoke barber shop, Andy Dinner, noticed how much local businesses were struggling and wanted to do something about it. 

At first, he paid it forward and bought 50 coffees at the Big Guy's Little Coffee Shop, but when that wasn't enough, he began offering a $5 discount to any customers with a receipt proving they had shopped at a locally-owned restaurant or bar.

Cafe Landwer

This Israeli restaurant launched a program with the aim of providing doctors, nurses and all those fighting the virus on the front lines with healthy lunches, with a little help from community members.

Landwer pledged to match every dollar donated by customers to the Landwer Lunch program, and they successfully donated dozens of meals to frontline workers in Toronto.

Dino's Pizza

The owner of this pizza joint is no stranger to giving back to the community, so it's no surprise Dino Ari stepped up and offered to donate free pizzas to anyone in need right at the start of the pandemic. 

Despite full knowledge that he would likely lose a substantial amount of money, Ari successfully donated hundreds of free pizzas to police officers, fire departments, healthcare workers and the homeless back in March. 

Mercado Negro

Carlos Oliveira, who owns the all-day cafe and Portuguese snack bar on St. Claire West, took it upon himself to begin delivering groceries to an 87-year-old woman who was creating food baskets for families in need this year.

Oliveira later started helping distribute the food as well, and he also collected donations to deliver to local food banks that were seeing increasing demand.

Kitchen 24

This one-of-a-kind business that offers commercial kitchen space to startup companies and aspiring chefs began giving back to the community early on, providing free meals to those living in homeless encampments. 

But when the demand quickly grew, the owner and his volunteers partnered with a number of different shelters and food banks to produce over a thousand meals a day for those in need.

Nosso Talho

When the owner of this Portuguese grocery store and butcher shop recognized that so many people were struggling with food insecurity in Toronto, he offered to lend a hand without judgement.

The owner pledged to send someone from the store to deliver a free meal to any family struggling to put food on the table, no questions asked. 

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim at Dino's Pizza


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