How I forgot my dream, and found it again

Topaz ?
Author Topaz ?

When I was a little boy I wanted to own a restaurant. 

Restaurants were magical places. Places where hungry people arrived, told someone what they wanted and got fed. 

They were places of celebration and community. Places where families gathered and broke bread. 

They were cozy and fun. 

For whatever reason I put away that dream and forgot where I put it. 

 In time, I lost it. 

But as I approached my 40th birthday I found it again.

The deli of my youth was Switzer's Deli on Spadina Avenue about a 10 minute walk from my own deli today. 

 It's no longer there. 

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The next 30 odd years are a bit of a blur. 

 A normal sort of blur. I graduated university, worked in politics then worked in scrap metal. After that I spent almost 5 years travelling the world. 

It was during this time that I started to remember my dream. I worked in restaurants in Sydney, Australia, London, England and Fernie, B.C. I took cooking lessons in China and opened a chai shop in the foothills of the Himalayas. Ok, maybe not really a normal sort of blur.

I returned to Toronto following my travels and attended chef school at George Brown College. Upon graduation I started a software company and became one of those dot com millionaires of the late 1990s. 

 I married my business partner and divorced her a year later after the business fell apart.

The next few years were difficult and lonely. 

I reached back into my childhood to find clues about who I am. 

I remembered my love of restaurants. To support that I took a job as a fry cook until a management position became available at another restaurant.

In the summer of 2007 I asked numerous friends to bring me back Schwartz's smoked meat from Montreal. 

 Each one disappointed me. 

 Out of the lustful anger for that flavour I decided to make my own smoked meat. I took it to the restaurant I managed and everyone loved it.

I decided to quit my job and start a small shop selling smoked meat sandwiches. 

Located in the legendary Monarch tavern, this shop is considered Toronto's first pop-up restaurant. I cured, spiced, smoked and hand-sliced briskets of beef. We hand-cut the fries. Out of the meat scraps we made meat gravy, knishes and cabbage borscht soup.

The first year was a mad crush of customers, media and hard, hard work. 

During that time a group of customers stepped forward and offered to invest in me to open my own deli on College Street. We opened our doors at 356 College in 2009. That address is 2 doors away from where my great-grandfather had a hardware store and 2 blocks from where my other great grandfather had his kosher butcher shop. It's also in the same neighbourhood where my great-grandmother made and sold deli sandwiches many years ago.

Since then, we've become an institution in Toronto by serving only handmade, homemade Jewish deli food just the way my mother and grandmother taught me.

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In 2013 we launched our own line of mustards in grocery stores. 

When I rediscovered my childhood dream, changed my name from Caplan to Caplansky and devoted myself to following in the footsteps of four generations who served the food I love to the city that I love, I became truly me.

Images: 

My fourth grade class,  Mrs. Trigits, thanks to Annette Halasz. I'm on the top row, second from the left!

Passover 2015. My favourite holiday of the year. Three Seders. One wedding. Tonnes of catering. Even more love and joy. Special thanks to Kristen Bachner for making it happen, and Gordon Hertzman.

Slicing backstage 2011 at Dragon's Den by Gregory Macdonald.

Food truck photos by Angela Smangela and Michael Zweig.

Mustards by Arlene Cohen.

First Seder, 2015. Me and Meredith Caplan Jamieson.

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