foc foods toronto

Friends of 20 years working at Toronto label start business during concert standstill

Two guys who have been friends for 20 years wound up working for the same Toronto record label before lockdowns, but when concerts were at a standstill due to restrictions they found themselves with some extra time on their hands.

Thankfully, they had other things they were passionate about and talents in their toolbelt as well.

FOC Foods was started up by Albert Zgarka and Mike Mangov in March 2020, although they'd had the idea of starting a business together for a while.

Though they have a relatively short product list right now with just two items (salt-cured chilies in oil and peach fermented hot sauce, $12 each), their list of stockists (about 65 and counting) is already almost as long as Zgarka's resume.

In addition to running the record label Culvert Music, Zgarka has worked as a chef in Toronto, California and Parma, Italy. Mangov is a professional photographer and reconnected with Zgarka when he started doing photography for Culvert.

"No more live music and no more photography gigs so we began revisiting the idea of a food business," Mangov tells blogTO.

They had originally thought of starting a food business together, and while they initially thought of tackling farmers' markets, lockdowns meant that those weren't open either.

"The name FOC comes from the word focaccia," says Mangov. "The original business plan was to bring Albert's cast iron baked focaccia to farmers' markets and slowly introduce the sauces."

Due to not being able to introduce their products via farmers' markets, they changed gears and moved ahead with online and retail sales of their chilies and hot sauce. 

"The salt-cured chilies in oil are a family recipe. We brought the idea to Albert's Uncle Mario, tweaked it for retail, got the blessing and happily made it our first release. The salt curing process allows them to keep their beautiful vibrant colours while keeping a fresh crunch for added texture to meals," says Mangov.

"The peach fermented hot sauce became an idea after having an incredible ripe Ontario peach for the first time in a while. Growing up in Toronto the use of scotch bonnet was a no-brainer. It's always been a staple in our kitchen as well as for many friends and family. We love the complex flavours fermentation brings to the table."

FOC is grassroots through and through, with every aspect of the process from production to bottling, labelling and packaging done by hand. Their formidable list of local stockists built up by hitting the pavement and meeting people face to face.

"The first location to work with us was Tony and Claudia's on Fallingbrook in the Upper Beaches and we've been grateful for their guidance ever since," says Mangov.

"Landing a staple in the city like Cheese Boutique has also helped open the door to many opportunities as well. Doing in-store samplings and connecting with customers is always a blast for us."

Their future plans include moving into a new facility and selling a new product, a milder fermented verde sauce. And of course, now that markets are back full force, you can find FOC there as well as in local stores and online.

"Lots of markets are planned for the spring where you'll find some more small batch goodies we've been working on," says Mangov. "Retail space, collabs, pop-ups. It's going to be an exciting year."

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