don chingon toronto

Three laid-off chefs in Toronto set out on their own with a Mexican pop-up

Toronto's newest Mexican pop-up comes to us from three chefs who were laid off and wanted to strike out on their own after facing job insecurity in the food industry during lockdowns.

Don Chingon is the brainchild of Aaron Okada, Oskar Diaz and Steve Fernandes, who met while working at Cactus Rosado, and were all laid off in March 2020 with the first lockdown.

Diaz is from Tampico, Mexico where he owned and operated five restaurants, and has worked at Carbon Bar and Harlem Bodega and been in the industry about 10 years.

Okada's 15-year career includes gigs at Rain, Little Sister, Lamesa, Virtuous Pie, Fat Lamb Kouzina and Bar'Kada, and Fernandes has worked at Hapa Izakaya and O&B restaurants.

"We got tired of always being at the mercy of other employers. Restaurants are being devastated right now, and owners have to watch their bottom line, which unfortunately makes employees disposable," Okada tells blogTO.

"If business is slow, we're unemployed just like that. The uncertainty drove us to want to make our own opportunities instead of hoping someone else will hire us."

The trio had all talked about opening a business together for a while, but the latest lockdown inspired Okada and Diaz to start talking about it again and keep an eye out for locations.

When The Depanneur suddenly had an opening available for weekends, they got in touch and after some discussions and very quick planning, Don Chingon soft launched as a Mexican brunch concept on May 15, and has been selling out every weekend since.

They operate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with some one-off days like a Victoria Day birria special, though they advise checking their Instagram for updates on whether they've run out of food and have to close early.

You can order a la carte from their full menu at their walk-up window, or you can preorder a brunch box for pickup on Sunday.

"Oskar, in particular, as an immigrant to this country, loves the diversity that Toronto offers," says Okada.

"He is inspired to to bring his true culture and cuisine to this city, while also having the freedom to learn from and use influences from the cultures that we have here."

Don Chingon offers taco, torta and tamales combos with a drink and pan dulce for $15, as well as esquites (Mexican street corn) or chips and salsa for $6. Brunch boxes are $45 and come with either tacos, tortas or tamales plus elotes, totopos and guacamole, fruit with Tajin and two drinks.

They're working on future plans for expansion with The Depanneur, will be offering their brunch boxes once a week at The Bentway during the summer, and are working on delivery options.

"Although we all love what we do, we just got tired of building other people’s dreams instead of our own. Having our own business means we can work with people we trust," says Okada. 

"It also allows us more creative freedom, and we can put our experience and our souls into our food."

Lead photo by

Don Chingon

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