dirty food toronto

Popular Toronto brunch spot closes as owners feel unsafe amidst worsening pandemic

Leslie Wilks and Jonathan Iskiw, co-owners of the Toronto brunch spot Dirty Food, typically start their day off listening to the news. 

But the restaurant owners say it's been harder to stay tuned-in over the last few weeks. News about the worsening COVID-19 situation in Toronto has been fuelling their anxieties, making it harder to work, says Wilks. 

As of this weekend, the couple have decided to temporarily close Dirty Food. The closure will last for the next week, but likely extend longer than that. 

Wilks, who opened the Junction restaurant with Iskiw in 2016, says the decision to close their doors wasn't made lightly. 

"Essentially what we're doing is cutting off our only source of income, which is scary," she says.

"But the idea of getting sick or unintentionally getting someone else sick is also scary." 

Since May 2020, Dirty Food has been operating exclusively through takeout. 

The restaurant specializes in comfort foods like chicken 'n' waffles and pancakes, but they've had to shift their offerings to items that can survive more than 20 minutes in a takeout box.

For the last year they've been running a scaled-down and rotating menu of grilled cheeses and eggs Benny, and they've reduced operating hours.

And they never hired back any of their staff, meaning it's just been Wilks and Iskiw helming the restaurant for over a year.

Patio dining has never been an option: there's a bus stop sitting right outside the restaurant's entrance, so Dirty Food never got to participate in Toronto's CafeTO program. Plus, Wilks and Iskiw opted not to reopen for indoor dining when it was briefly allowed last summer.

"We didn't feel comfortable doing that," says Wilks."It felt like the wrong decision, touching people's dirty dishes, I wouldn't want to ask someone else to do that for me." 

But with rent, utilities, insurance, and the province's ongoing closures and reopenings, the Dirty Food owners say they've been left feeling overwhelmed and scared. 

They've been fortunate with their landlord situation and were able to receive government aid, but the situation has taken a toll on their mental health, especially when even the closest relationships have been reduced to long distance.

"It's hard going through this for everyone and not being able to hug your mom," says Wilks. "I haven't seen my sister in nine months 'cause she doens’t live in the city." 

"Both myself and my partner, we got into this industry because we love it, but it's definitely been exhausting.... It was just becoming harder to serve the public." 

"I just think looking after your own personal health is of utmost importance. Sometimes, in doing so, we have to make tough calls." 

Dirty Food will remain closed until further notice. You can keep up to date with their reopening plans through Instagram or on their website.

Photos by

Jesse Milns

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