California Sandwiches: A delicious gem in Downsview

Tucked away in an industrial mall at the north-west corner of Sheppard Ave. W. and Chesswood Drive is California Sandwiches where they make the best hot Italian veal sandwiches on this side of mama’s kitchen.

It’s a family business that reaches back into the history of Toronto and the heart of little Italy.  In 1969 Christina and Giuseppe Papa opened a small grocery store at 244 Claremont Avenue between College St. and Dundas St. -a block away from where I grew up on Clinton Street. It was a typical mid-block grocery store that served the local neighbourhood.

Their timing couldn’t have been worse.   The area’s first supermarket, the Power Store, had just opened on Bloor Street and as more people bought cars and refrigerators their shopping patterns changed.  The local mid-block grocery was dead.  With seven kids to feed they had to do something to survive.   The answer came out of Signora Papa’s kitchen.  It was hot juicy Italian veal sandwich with a ‘to die for’ Sunday sauce that nobody could resist.

They began making the sandwiches at the rear of the store.  In the early days, Gina Severino, one of the five daughters (who now operates a California Sandwich shop in Woodbridge) remembers her brother hustling orders for sandwiches in pool rooms and at construction sites which she helped delivered on her bicycle.

As the fame of the sandwiches spread, deliveries expanded with orders from as far away as the downtown area.  California Sandwiches became a favorite of many Bay Street law firms. Toronto Council often ordered them when the meetings extended through the dinner break.

In 1993, two of the sisters, Mary and Yolanda open a second California Sandwich shop here in Downsview which has been dishing out sandwiches: veal, chicken, steak, smothered in mama’s sauce, onions cheese and mushrooms, since that time.

Before she died, their mother made them promise that the business would never be franchised.  There are now 12 California Sandwich shops each one owned by a different member of the family.  Everyone has their own unique décor but what they all have in common is the family recipe and a devotion to quality.

So how is a California sandwich different from any other sandwich?  Everything is made to order, fresh and from scratch.   It doesn’t sit there waiting for you like a burger in a fast food chain:  Each sandwich is made to your specs.  You can order your sandwiches hot (spicy), medium, or sweet with a side of olives, rush it to your table and wash it down with a bottle of pop or an ice cold beer. Enjoy!

The Economics of Flushing your Toilet

Water is free. It falls from the sky. So why is the water bill so high? When you think about it, we have a pretty amazing system. You flush your toilet, it flows down to Lake Ontario where it is cleaned at a disposal plant before it is dumped into the lake. They then suck it up from the lake, purify it, pump it up to your home where you open your tap and drink it. The price of the water is determined by how much it costs to clean it, deliver it and take the waste away.

The Toronto water system, through most of its history, operated at a loss. Downtown homes didn’t even have water meters. You paid a flat rate for water based on the number of taps in your home. In 2005 the city made a conscious policy decision to restructure the water payment system so that the cost of water would rise until it reached the point where it actually covered the costs of cleaning, delivering it and removing all waste. Right now in the Keele St. and Finch Ave. neighbourhoods the sewer system is being rebuilt. It’s the water rate that is paying for this upgrade.

The 2005 decision included a policy of annual increases in the water rates. Between 2005 and 2016 the price of water rose from $1.35 per cubic meter to $3.45 per cubic meter, an increase of 255%. The expectation was that as the price rose and water became more expensive people would start to take measures to conserve it. Apart from wanting to cover the real cost of supplying water, the city’s secondary objective was to get you to use less water. Toronto council has increased the price of water by an average of 9% a year each year since 2005. If they had done that with your property taxes or TTC fares there would be a revolution to rival the Boston Tea Party.

The standard toilet most people have in their homes uses seven gallons (US liquid gallons) or (26.5 litres) of water to flush. In 2005 it cost you three and a half cents to flush that toilet. Today that cost has grown to nine cents a flush. If the average household size is three people and each flushes the toilet three times a day, the actual cost of water to flush the toilet in your house is $296 a year; up from $115.00 in 2005.

Modern low flow toilets use a fraction of the water. The new standard six litre toilets use four times less water than the toilet most people sit on. The water bill for flushing this toilet is $ 69. That’s a savings of $227 a year. If you buy one of the new three litre ultra-low flow models your savings increases to $261 a year.

The cost of a new low flow toilet ranges from $112 to $568 with the average around $270. If you can install it yourself, all the better. If not, allow around $200 for installation charges.

That means that your new toilet will pay for itself in about two years.
Get off the pot, go to your local hardware store, pick out a low flow toilet and stop flushing your money down the drain!

Cutting grass or shoveling snow: What would you prefer?

One of the most frequent comments I received as a councillor was: “I cut my lawn and maintain my property…why should I have to cut the grass on the boulevard in front of my house? It belongs to the city.”
That boulevard is there to make life easier for you. In the early years on North York Council, whenever it snowed heavily I had a strong urge to hide under the bed and not go to work. That’s because I knew I would get at least 30 telephone calls that went something like this:
“I spent two hours shovelling my *@#% driveway yesterday and last night your &%#@+ snow plough came along and filled it up again. It froze and I can’t get to work this morning.”

The pile of snow that obstructs your driveway is known as a “windrow.” Until I was elected to office I didn’t know the meaning of the word “windrow” let alone that I had to find a way to deal with them.

In the 1980s North York invented the “snow rid.” It was a gate at the end of the plough, a sort of a short blade or scoop that the operator lowered when he came to one side of a driveway and raised it after he had pushed the windrow to the other side.

Streets downtown don’t have a grassy boulevard -the sidewalks are built to the curb. The city doesn’t even plough the streets downtown. Suburban areas, on the other hand, have boulevards as a place to store ploughed snow. In North York, not only are the streets ploughed but so are the sidewalks.

For downtown residents, there is a bylaw that requires every homeowner to shovel their sidewalk clear within 12 hours after a snowfall or face a fine of $125. There is no bylaw that requires North York residents to cut the grass on the boulevard. Most people, because they care about the appearance of their neighbourhoods, do it by unwritten convention. More importantly, if we didn’t have the boulevards the City couldn’t provide the great snow clearing services that they do.

When amalgamation arrived in 1998, those of us from North York knew that we would have the fight of our lives to keep both sidewalk ploughing and driveway opening. Downtown councillors were chomping at the bit to save money by cutting these services. Why not? Their residents didn’t get them. Same went for Scarborough and Etobicoke councillors who were only too happy to make the budget cuts. Neither of these municipalities had them. We knew that the only way to keep them was to spread these, what some called “cadillac” services, to Scarborough and Etobicoke. Once established, we knew that their councillors would never vote to take them away.

When my neighbour moved to Downsview from downtown he spent his first winter shovelling the sidewalk in front of his house until he learned that he didn’t have to. So next time, when you are out there cutting the grass on the city boulevard, think about how lucky you are. You could be shovelling snow instead.