Kensington Market continues to be like no where else in the city. Today, it’s a concentration of many cultures within a just a few streets situated behind the north west corner of Spadina and Dundas up to College. It’s a neighbourhood where many feel at home and for others, a place that made you feel like you’ve travelled to somewhere exotic. If you’ve ever wanted food to awaken your senses, you’d get that here. It’s where I had many firsts — First empanada, churros, tamale, patty, kombucha, and gluten-free anything.
Andrew Menceles’s family arrived in Canada in 1957. His parents settled in Kensington Market and made the neighbourhood part of their lives for more than 50 years. They owned Fortune Housewares, Canada’s first kitchenware store on Spadina Road. The store catered to the needs of many ethnic groups, home chefs and restaurant owners. His father was an experienced housewares and hardware retailer and his mother was a masterful chef. Together they were able to offer their customers advice not only on kitchenwares but Lily, mom, gave her insight on how to make the best rolled cabbage or which dumpling maker, sausage stuffer to use.
Menceles learned to love and appreciate Kensington Market as part of his own heritage. Having been immersed in the area’s vibrant food scene he knew he wanted to someday create a food brand that showcases the diverse flavours. Kensington Market Street Food line of products is a dream come true. We had a chance to chat with him to find out more…
What are some of your fondest memories of Kensington Market when you were younger?
Saturday afternoons were always my favourite – Saturday of course was the busiest in Kensington Market but by 4 or 5pm things slowed down and all the store keepers had a look of a nice exhaustion after a good business day, and looking forward to wrapping things up. This is when I loved to visit the stores and pick up all sorts of things. Over the years I had met many of the storekeepers, and so, a time to say hi, as well.
The neighbourhood has changed but in many ways it really hasn’t. Do you feel that way too?
Interestingly, there is always a different audience but with the same mentality – people want to hang out in this genuinely authentic place, the last open air market of its kind in North America. They want to dress down and grab something to eat on the street, i.e. street food, and just enjoy, with friends and family. The buildings are the same and so is the casual easy going attitude, that has really not changed and in fact this is what people are yearning for.
What would you want people to know about the area who haven’t been?
There is this great history of different ethnic groups of people who flow through Kensington Market every number of years and leave their mark. Each group has left something wonderful and worth preserving, for example, the many colours of doors, windows, whole houses that added so much when people from Portugal settled in the market, and the history of vintage clothing that is still a part of the area.
Tell us about some spots in Kensington Market that you love?
I love the quality and creativity that Peter Managuan (Sanagan’s meat locker) and Simon Blackwell (Blackbird Bakery) brought to the market. Jumbo empanadas of course is the real deal run by a Chilean family. Tacos at Seven Lives – if you can ever get past the line-ups. Many more.
What made you decide to create this new food line?
My wife and I have spent our whole lives in marketing and product development and I, because of my mother’s cooking and baking talents was brought up in a home where the food was simply the best in world. My mother was unbelievable and she created miracles in the kitchen. When we moved to Canada, because of my fathers’s retail background and my mother’s understanding of food, they entered that whole world and they started what was at the time the first housewares/kitchenware store in Canada and it became a serious destination in the Kensington Market. (it was actually located on Spadina Ave at the entrance to the market). My wife Judy and I always wondered why we never became involved in the actual “food” business and then one day after my father passed away, I decided that it would be a great tribute and legacy to create a Kensington Market Street Food brand and have their image on the package, and ultimately, reproduce many of my mother’s recipes, which we will do.
What’s the story behind pickled cantaloupe?
Great question. The number one thing that I learned growing up in my mother’s kitchen is the all importance of FLAVOUR.
This idea was suggested to me and when I tasted the sweet and sour crunchy pickled cantaloupe, it just blew me away. It has this huge wonderful flavour and when people taste it, the reaction is great. As weird as I thought it was at the time, it achieved what I want all of our foods to achieve – big, bold, delicious and memorable flavour.
Tell us about the coffee roasts too?
Coffee is core to the Kensngton Market Street Food brand. Our customers love it and understand it and I am personally a huge coffee fan. It was in fact one of the first products on our hit list. Dark roasts and big flavours are again the important factors, and so we will be doing more and more of those.
Okay, where can we find the goods? Currently the line can be found at Longo’s, through grocery gateway.com and at independent grocers in Ontario. For more information visit www.kensingtonmarketfoods.com