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grilled cheese challenge

Upcoming grilled cheese festival sparks drama in Toronto neighbourhood

A food festival held annually in South Etobicoke has the neighbourhood up in arms this year as local restaurants express an interest in being able to offer their own specialty dishes rather than the only one sanctioned by the local BIA for the occassion: a grilled cheese sandwich.

The fest, for which a section of Lake Shore Blvd. W near Islington is shuttered to traffic, asks the public to weigh in on which of the area's establishments cooks up the best toasted sammy, with awards for best tasting, most unique and best gourmet.

As lovely and nostalgic as a good ol' grilled cheese is, businesses that offer something other than basic North American fare appear to be hoping for a more varied menu for the event, similar to the Taste celebrations in neighbourhoods like the Danforth and Little Italy.

One resident and local business owner took it upon himself to ask fellow storefronts in the area to get their thoughts on the topic.

And, according to his post in the South Etobicoke Community Facebook group this weekend, the vast majority would rather the neighbourhood not have an event dedicated only to cheese melted between two slices of bread.

"Having spoke with a large number of the businesses owners on this street, over 95 per cent are not in support of the grilled cheese festival set up by the local BIA," Your Neighbourhood Barbershop owner Andy James Dinner wrote in the group on Saturday.

"These business owners would prefer a chance to showcase their own dishes. [For] restaurants in this area who make Caribbean and Thai food etc., grilled cheese just doesn’t make sense. For an event that costs tax payers give or take one hundred thousand dollars, I would like to take the results of this poll directly to the head of the BIA."

According to the poll results, a total of 769 people voted for a general Lake Shore food festival. Another 37 voted for no food festival and to "spend the money better," while 36 showed support for the existing grilled cheese fest. There were a few outlying votes for other options, such as a vegetarian food festival and "doesn't matter to me, not planning on attending."

Clearly, the responses prove a point, as do the comments on the post, which show many residents do have a desire to try out different foods from more spots in the area.

But, the discussion does show some division, with a few people calling the current event fun and unique, and the grilled cheese an easy and accessible food for businesses — even ones that aren't restaurants, like the local funeral home, which has participated in past years — to make.

"My favourite part of the Grilled Cheese Challenge is seeing just so many people in the street enjoying our neighbourhood and business community," Lakeshore Village BIA board member Laura Baughman comments, admitting, though, that it "sounds like a discussion of the name of the festival might be in order as it is way more than just a Grilled Cheese Challenge."

She also points out that the festival, which has tons of entertainment beyond grilled cheese, sees approximately 20,000 attendees each year — far more than the BIA's more general Shop the Shore event.

"The BIA hired professionals that helped come up with the idea that would draw as many people as we could for a day to discover our community... It definitely accomplished what we had asked," she continues. 

"We all love our community and we aren't all going to agree on everything."

Postponed due to COVID-19, the next Grilled Cheese Challenge is slated to take place in summer 2022.

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