Many of Toronto’s famous restaurants have shut down in the past year due to the pandemic. Weather not enough customers or not enough staff, many of these restaurants have struggled to get by and pay their bills and employees. 

With the help of the Toronto Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, comes a charity called Last Dish. This charity took place with restaurants and local artists coming together to raise money for the fund. 

These pieces are created of each of these restaurants’ most famous dishes. A pepperoni slice from Vesuvio (1958-2020) or a plate of Penne from Kit Kat Italian Bar and Grill (1987-2020). These paintings represent Toronto and the food people have come to love and grew up eating, showing that it means more to people than food in their mouths, it shows traditions and authenticity. 

With the help of this charity, these collector items were put up for auction on May 17th, with all proceeds going to the TRWRF.

See below for HOLR’s conversation with TRWRF founder, Arianne Persaud.

How many restaurants in Toronto have been affected by the pandemic, and what is the goal to reach for this charity event? 

Since the start of the pandemic, over 150 restaurants have had to permanently close their doors – impacting thousands of restaurant workers from across Toronto. Our goal for Last Dish isn’t necessarily a specific number, but to raise awareness and additional funds for the Toronto Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, to support restaurant workers who have lost their jobs throughout the pandemic. So far, we’ve been able to provide over $150,000 in grocery gift cards for restaurant workers in the GTA but as the pandemic progresses, the need for money to support only continues to grow – so our goal is to raise as many funds as possible through this initiative to take on more applications. 

Where did the idea of ‘Last Dish’ come from? What made the restaurants that were affected want to participate? 

The idea was initially presented to us by lg2, a Toronto-based creative agency who wanted to show support for the Toronto restaurant industry and highlight the famous ‘last dishes’ served at these establishments. 

The restaurant industry is a big part of Toronto’s vibrant culture and having so many close their doors is not only devastating for the thousands of people who lost their jobs but it affects the whole city. Through this initiative we have heard so many people share their experiences at these establishments and how these restaurants are a key part of some many cherished memories. 

We wanted to reach out to some of the most iconic Toronto restaurants that were forced to close during the pandemic. Once we narrowed down the list, we began getting in touch with restaurant owners for their permission. It was challenging reaching some of them because when they shut down, so do their websites, their social handles, etc. That said, the owners we managed to contact were very receptive. We all have special memories of certain restaurants, but these restaurants were these people’s lives, their family businesses—sometimes for generations within a family-like Vesuvio, which opened in 1958. 

In what ways does the TRWRF help these workers, and what is expected to be given to them after this auction? 

Toronto Restaurant Workers’ Relief Fund provides support to restaurant workers through providing ongoing grocery assistance through FoodShare Toronto or Green Circle Food Hub – and access to therapy through our partners Ebi Ambek and Jhanelle Peters. Our grocery gift cards are given out in denominations of $200 or $225 and can be renewed every three weeks. And we cover 2-3 therapy sessions a month which cost $140 each. 

With the money raised via Last Dish, we’ll be able to provide even more restaurant workers from across Toronto the services they need during these challenging times with the goal of taking on more applications for those affected.

As this charitable event brings awareness to the restaurant workers and helps them, in what ways does it help the restaurants themselves, especially those that have closed down? 

Our goal is to commemorate some of the many restaurants that have had to permanently close their doors by paying tribute to their signature dishes and recognizing their contributions to our vibrant culture here in Toronto. A large majority of the employees of these establishments find themselves out of work and even as the world starts to open, many will not have jobs to go back to. It’s important to remember that these restaurants may be gone but the people who helped make those places special can still be helped. The more funds raised for the Toronto Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, the more we can support restaurant workers in need.

After the auction has ended, prints are available to shop or donations can be made directly through the website.