By Keisha Balatbat
The endless food options surrounding the Ryerson University campus can be seen as either an advantage or a daunting task. With so many choices, it can be difficult to narrow down exactly what you want to eat.
While most students opt for big name fast food chains, some head over to the often overlooked food stands, located across from the Student Learning Centre, for a delicious meal or dessert.
Among the cluster of food stands and trucks, you’ll find Crumbs Patties, Choco Churros, and La Marquesita.
Crumbs Patties is a stand that sells patties, which are pastries that contain different kinds of fillings, most commonly beef.
“What makes us different is the options,” said Pierre St. Rose, founder of Crumbs.
Customers at Crumbs Patties love ordering the beef, curry chicken, or their signature beef and cheese patty. Apart from these, Crumbs also offers vegetarian options.
“We do a stuffed patty and a deluxe patty so it’s not just your standard patty shop. We have modernized it,” said St. Rose.
He believes in giving each customer great service. He enjoys talking to customers, asking how they’re doing and ending each interaction with a ‘pound’, also known as a fist bump.
“A thank you is one thing but also giving the pound is saying much respect, just from a culture standpoint,” said St. Rose, who is Jamaican and Trinidadian.
“Yes, in reality I’m a business and you’re a customer, but it should be more than just that.”
He typically runs the stand with his cousin and a few other employees. They were once located just across the street, but after a big restaurant bought the building, they decided to temporarily move over to the stand that they have now.
“It’s working but it’s small for the operation we have,” he said. He is currently working on opportunities to expand Crumbs.
This sentiment is something that is shared between the stands in this area. At Choco Churros, they are also hoping to expand the business. Sergio Herrera, one of the employees, said that they want to have a place with an actual cafeteria and provide more places for people to sit in.
The stand opened up in downtown Toronto in October of last year, but the business was actually started by Herrera’s cousin in the 80s in New York.
“What makes us special around this area is that no one else is selling this kind of dessert,” said Herrera.
Churros are fried sticks of dough covered in cinnamon sugar. This stand also offers different sauces on top, the most popular being caramel and chocolate.
Making sure their churros are affordable is one of the philosophies of the business. “You can get three big churros for less than $10,” said Herrera.
Their other philosophies include providing good customer service and ensuring that the food is always fresh.
“I come one hour before opening so I can make fresh dough for you guys. They’re actually the freshest churros in town and what’s a churro if it’s not fresh?” said Herrera.
Like Choco Churros, La Marquesita, the newest food stand to open up, also values fresh food.
Making authentic Mexican food is something that La Marquesita believes in. As many other places downtown lean towards Tex-Mex, Pablo Morales, one of La Marquesita’s employees, said they aim to “make everything fresh and create authentic Mexican street food.”
La Marquesita’s most popular dish are the taquitos, which are a tortilla rolled up around fillings like beef or cheese. Rather than the hard shell tacos that people are used to buying, the use of 100 per cent corn tortillas indicate that the food is authentically Mexican and not Tex-Mex, the Americanized version of Mexican food.
“In Mexico, we eat taquitos all the time - in the morning, brunch, dinner, every time - and we wanted to bring that to Toronto,” said Morales.
Their visible corner spot is an asset according to Morales, but like Crumbs and Choco Churros, La Marquesita also struggles with the small space.
“Sometimes many people come to eat but we don’t have too much space to get more people in,” said Morales.
Apart from the small space, the cold weather is also something that causes some difficulty for these food stands as people do not want to spend too much time outside during the winter.
This forces vendors to get creative with their stands. “We don’t have an indoor spot so sometimes I put the heater out here so people can get warm,” said Herrera, referring to a small heater that attaches to the counter of the stand.
“Being around a school, yes you have the traffic, but at the same time when there’s weather issues like the cold, you don’t have the opportunity to have people funnel into somewhere like a mall,” said St. Rose.
Food vendors and their relationship with Ryerson students
The convenience and closeness of the location brings a lot of Ryerson students to these businesses.
“I love this business because everyone is happy when they come get churros,” said Herrera.
He says students love sweets and the quickness of the service. “It helps them have better performances in their classes because of all the sweets,” he jokes.
“This is our first spot and you’ll be part of our story if you get churros from here,” said Herrera.
Despite the convenience of the location, bringing in new customers can be a challenge for these businesses.
“You just have to find ways to interact with the student body as far as just marketing from the same old spot or with social media,” said St. Rose. He said marketing on social media can be difficult.
“You have to be very constant, and how many times can I really say patties?”
However, he encourages students to try new things. “We offer a modernized food item that’s been around for so long and provide an option that has been remixed, along with other creations,” said St. Rose.
Students get 10 per cent off at La Marquesita, but they’re working on expanding the menu and creating new discounts that will be exclusive to Ryerson students.
“Many students have a budget for food and they don’t want to spend more money than that, so that’s why we want to do many specials for students,” said Morales.
The next time you need to satisfy a food craving, consider supporting these local businesses as they offer a great variety of food options for affordable prices.