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Much More Than a Dairy Delight

by | Feb 15, 2024 | Deep-ish Dive | 1 comment

If you’re Jewish in Toronto, you’ve probably eaten at United Bakers.

And if you haven’t eaten there, you’re missing out. Stop reading this immediately and swipe over to your calendar. Create an event called “Eat at United Bakers.” Pick a date and make it happen. I’ll wait.
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United Bakers is much more than a dairy delight.  Its history mirrors the story of Toronto Jewry since its earliest days in this city, best captured in the ambition of a young couple from Kielce, Poland who came to St. John’s Ward in 1912 and decided to open a bakery/coffee shop. You can read all the glorious details HERE. (Their website, by the way, is also a delight.)

My father (z”l) was a finicky eater. When he (and my mother) first came to visit me (or more like his grandkids and then, arguably, me) from the United States, it was a challenge finding a place to take him to eat. (And it’s not like I didn’t feed him at my home. Sometimes it’s nice for someone else to cook, clean up and do the dishes, especially with two small children running underfoot.)

This was 15 years before Uber Eats and COVID, when dining out didn’t cost hundreds of dollars and most of the food prepared in the kitchen was actually for people in the restaurant.  In those days (as it is now), Toronto did not lack for dining-out options. More than half of the people who live in this city are not from here. And many of those people brought the food they ate back home to their new home – just like Aaron and Sarah Ladovsky did in 1912.  With all the culinary choices before us, I peppered my parents with questions about likes and dislikes, curiosities and contempts. This process went on for a while. In my mind, going out to eat meant venturing forth from the familiar into  something unique, something wild. What I suspected and quickly confirmed was that my father detested the different. At this point I said: “Ok, let’s go to United Bakers.”

Now this might sound like a dig at UB, but it’s not. United Bakers is not primping for a Michelin Star. For generations of Ashkenazi Jews, UB serves up home. And they’ve been doing it for over a century.

And for my father, it proved to be a perfect choice. When we arrived, he slid tentatively into a booth in the back. The coffee soon set him at ease. And when he hemmed and hawed over the menu, it was NOT because he couldn’t find anything to eat. He dithered because there were too many options that “look[ed] good.”

Inevitably, he started with pea soup, followed by a cabbage roll and a latke dinner. With each subsequent visit to Toronto, and return visit to UB, he managed to work his way through a good portion of the Dairy Delights section with an occasional foray into the sandwich platters. His visits to Toronto were incomplete without a meal at UB.

When my father died in 2010, we sat shiva in Chicago where he lived and was buried. On the second day, I turned to my brother and joked that we should have ordered catering from UB.  “He would have liked that,” my brother said. I realized in that moment that I would have liked that too.

1 Comment

  1. Angela

    We too have fond memories of united bakeries. My favourite was the cold white fish.

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