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Burrito Bike Pedaling for Progress, and Pinto Beans

If bikers really are “swimming with the sharks,” good thing they’re not sharp-toothed burrito fans.

Sari Lightman has spent years crafting her signature burritos. They come in vegan or vegetarian varieties, with pinto beans, rice, homemade salsa, and optional cheese or chipotle sour cream. She even has corn tortillas for those giving up gluten. They’re steaming, scrumptious, and salubrious, she says.
They may also be the answer to some serious problems in this city.
Here’s her plan: every Friday night, starting this week, Lightman will take over a catering kitchen in Parkdale. She’ll prepare her burritos to order, while her friend/bike courier/fellow burrito enthusiast Sammie Rising will make deliveries to wasted clubbers waiting customers from 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., by bicycle, anywhere south of Bloor Street, north of King Street, east of Roncesvalles Avenue, and west of Spadina Avenue.

Well, maybe municipal wisdom isn’t refried along with the beans or mashed in with the guacamole, but that’s the sentiment behind Lightman’s new business venture, Burrito Bike, which she hopes will lead to her vision of a better Toronto: a bike-friendly city, with charming neighbourhood character strong enough to demolish the condo towers and commercial chains that are taking over the good old Mom & Pop establishments she used to know.
“I think there’s a feeling of hopelessness in Toronto right now. You feel the brooding presence of a condominium across the street from you, or the growing tension between bikers and drivers. It saddens me this expansion is happening at such a rapid pace and we’re just accepting it,” she says.
Lightman speaks specifically about her own neighbourhood of West Queen West, and the gentrification she notices between the boutiques and galleries she saw as a child with her aunt. After seven years of living and working in Halifax, she returned last year to developments and chains sprouting up throughout the neighbourhood. That’s why she has chosen the west end as the market for her after-hours Mexican munchies. Not only does this gentrification—and the pumping bars and clubs that come with it—provide an ample supply of ravenous ravers in search of healthy late-night snacks, but it’s also an opportunity to deliver a service that’s a little more home grown.
“I think it’s important to explore other neighbourhoods, but I also think it’s important to build up the community you live in in a sustainable way. As exciting as it is to have all these restaurants around…how long will it be until another area is the next place to go?”
And while we’re on the topic of sustainability, there is a reason why it’s not called Burrito Bus or Burrito Van, though that would probably mean better business. Lightman has made a conscious decision to use bicycles, especially fresh after the election of a mayor who has compared biking to “swimming with the sharks.”

Burrito Bike: Delivering sustenance and sustainability, with optional cheese and sour cream.

“I feel angered. We should be moving in a more sustainable way but our mayor, instead of trying to implement for environmentally friendly laws, he’s condemning bikers. It feels so backwards. We have to make our transportation more visible to people like Rob Ford. These are our streets and we have a place on them.”
These are some pretty high hopes for an idea that started as a way for Lightman, one half of the band Tasseomancy (formerly Ghost Bees), to supplement her musician’s income without having to “feed into the depressing system of being an artist and working full time at a café.” She and another musician friend started the original Burrito Bike in Halifax, which grew into a team of five to six bikers while the two creators handled the kitchen, sometimes selling over two hundred burritos in a night. Before she knew it, she was combining two of her passions, burritos and biking, to make ends meet (hold the meat), while spending a typical Saturday evening hanging out with friends.
The more she speaks about the social and environmental implications of Burrito Bike, the more impassioned Lightman gets. She mourns the loss of iconic neighbourhood establishments that have had to close under the shadow of the megatowers, and fumes over the disregard that drivers show their manually powered compatriots. Pretty soon it’s clear that, for her and possibly the city at large, the benefits of her business go deep like the levels of a good seven-layer dip (mmm, we may recommend that be next on the BB menu).
But with our city’s bounty of burrito booths around town, it’s unclear yet whether Burrito Bike Toronto will gain steam, especially with flyers, Facebook, and word of mouth as their only means of promotion. But, grandiose dreams of social change or not, the point of Burrito Bike is not to become widespread.
“We’re not trying to make this huge expansive business venture. The city is full of DIY projects like this, they can happen anywhere, to help people feel better about the changes. I think Toronto is an amazing city, lovely and vibrant, and I’m really glad to be back, but it’s an important time for Toronto to bank together.”
So this Friday night, if you find yourself in the west end pondering the poutine or sussing out the street meat, perhaps call Burrito Bike instead at 416-948-6676 before 12:30 a.m. And maybe you’ll have one less regret in the morning.
Photos by Sammie Rising.


  • http://undefined the_lies

    That is a wicked awesome idea!

  • http://undefined Matthew

    I don’t get the condo hate. High rises are a fuck ton more sustainable than sprawl.

  • accozzaglia

    York and Addy. Our old courier haunt. Oh, what a complicated space that is.
    If Rob Ford can be fed well by food from bikes, maybe he’ll be nicer to those riding bikes. A + B == C.

  • http://undefined DoinT

    I don’t really understand the hating of high-rises either, though I think it has something to do with the fact that many of the people in the areas where they are going up can’t afford to live in them.
    I know that if you came into my neighbourhood and put up all kinds of really expensive housing, pushing me out of the area in search of something I can afford, I would be pissed!

  • accozzaglia

    A practical issue facing Toronto planners is that development permits for much of the condo space added over the last decade insufficiently accommodates housing for anything more than very small families and bachelors.
    The prospect of a four-bedroom space being more than uncommon is still a pipe dream. Thus, any households with families larger than 1 or 2 children have far fewer options of housing stock from which to pick around the central city. There is a market for such condos, but most projects, when they include any at all, have usually less than 5 units that are configured with 3-bedrooms or more.

  • http://undefined the_lies

    They’re ugly, most are built to look like they’re made of that blue glass crap (boring, played out), they have to tear down mom and pop businesses (with character) to build these boring monstrosities. It’s prohibitively expensive to live in them (for a very large portion of torontonians) and they lack the character of a cool old building or house. It turns otherwise great character neighborhoods into cookie cutter garbage. Imagine no roncesvalles, queen west, etc etc. Vancouver is a good example of a city with lots of new condos, almost no old buildings; the glass city, boring architecturally, massive homelessness. Luckily they have kitsilano, the north shore and all that natural scenery, Toronto doesn’t.

  • accozzaglia

    With all due respect, the_lies, LATFH.
    In part, your rationale is a symptom of the anomie felt by many living north of St. Clair. It is the rationale of mid-stage gentrification giving way to later-stage.

  • http://undefined the_lies

    And those 3 bedroom units are ridiculously priced. Very little value for your dollar.

  • http://undefined james a

    This sounds awesome, and I’d love to give it a try, but alas, I live in a condo.

  • accozzaglia

    Supply and demand. One is very low, so the other is absurdly high.

  • accozzaglia

    See below comment on supply and demand. By accident, I didn’t directly reply to you.

  • http://undefined the_lies

    Nah, the buildings are just ugly and boring, there’s no underlying issue here, you don’t need to over-analyze my opinion. It is what it is, I think a lot of people would agree; blue glass buildings are boring and rampant, there’s a lot of mom and pop like shops that are more interesting than the chain stores etc that condos replace them with and old architecture is more interesting than the glass crap sprouting up everywhere.
    imo this
    is a lot nicer and interesting than this:
    condos bring money and investment, but imo, those condos can look a lot better and we could use a lot less of them. Someone asked what the problem is with condos, as someone that dislikes them I answered. If you disliek them for other reasons, that’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion. There are many reasons to dislike them.

  • accozzaglia

    Well, a couple of things:
    1) You like the Jane Jacobs approach of classic, walkable buildings (like houses south of Davenport and older bank buildings). A lot of people do. Unfortunately, not everyone can have that. Supply and demand once again. The alternative up to this point has been to build tract homes with increasingly larger lots, further and further away from the city centre. The most economically viable alternative to come out of the last twenty years are the emergence of mid- and high-rise condos — some of which make an effort to be aesthetically appealing for the long haul (1 King West, for instance), while most do not. Developers sell their projects to buyers on the merits of value-added amenities and how the interiors are designed; the outside takes a back seat.
    2) Personally, I think there is good and bad architecture at all scales, at all ages, and in all parts of the city. The exterior for the condo built at St. Thomas and Charles Streets, for instance, is quite attractive and thoughtfully considered. The two-storey assisted care housing on Brunswick, just north of College, meanwhile, is just an eyesore. But this is less about citing particular examples and more about trying to look at holistic aesthetics — that is, what works where and why. A condo can work in the centre, and from an ecological footprint alternative to building out into the Green Belt and out to Aurora, this is going to continue to be the case.
    3) As far as approving designs, part of that is a function of civic planning, council permit approvals, and community action on taking some agency over how a condo project of any size is slated to appear. Unfortunately, despite an OMB mediation process, Toronto’s planning approval process is still too lax for localities to articulate a more direct voice and agency in proposed developments. Part of it is also participatory citizenship: how involved do people want to get? Only when it directly affects them? Or even when it doesn’t?
    So in short, what you’re advancing is a kind of retro-topia which is all well and good, but it is not pragmatic or realistic given the economic and demographic changes already well engrained in the city fabric.

  • http://undefined the_lies

    You’ve basically repeated what i said, but used a lot more words to do so; the process for building a condo doesn’t often entail creating an aesthetically appealing building, w/e the reasons. It’s impractical to build or maintain old architecture, or that which doesn’t afford the density the city requires. You’ve stated the obvious there, I realize that’s the case. None of that changes the fact that the the condos could look better, the excuse that they’re trying to make some buildings look good for the long haul doesn’t really hold water as the buildings that I find most appealing, and as you admit so do many others, are the ones that were built over century ago, or the Mise Vandero buildings, buildings that were not built to some futuristic aesthetic that doesn’t yet exist (George Jetson’s buildings didn’t look like that :D)
    I’m nto trying to push some retro-topia, all i said is i don’t liek the buildings and what they do to the neighborhoods. But for an example of a city that expanded with its economic and demographic realities AND maintained a certain historical beauty look at NYC, Philidelphia, Chicago, Prague, Bratislava, Paris…. It’s doable and it’s not some retro-topia. but really, that’s not even what i’m tryign to say, I simply don’t liek the buildings, but I do like the neighborhoods they destroy. Call that what you will.

  • accozzaglia

    Fair enough.

  • http://undefined CaligulaJones

    I certainly HOPE they are fulfilling all municipal, provincial and federal laws, by-laws, rules and regulations, such as taxation, permits, food prep, etc….

  • http://undefined thelemur

    Seems commendable but those don’t sound like real burritos. Why wouldn’t you have corn tortillas?

  • http://undefined Colin

    I’ve placed my order! I’ll let you know how it tastes

  • http://undefined Colin

    Just finished scarfing down my burrito, and here are my thoughts: It arrived a bit late, but actually sooner than I expected considering it was the first night and it looks like they got a lot of orders. The burrito was still warm when it arrived though, so points for that. It was about the size of a small burrito at any of the burrito restaurants around town, and those are usually around 6 bucks so to have that price include delivery seems pretty fair… and the burrito is damn tasty!

  • http://undefined anonymousrex

    Ordered two burritos last night, which were promised in 30, but were delivered 60 minutes later (with a smile). The burritos were piping hot and delicious. Cool idea. Will patronize again.

  • nevilleross

    I'm gonna be ordering from this pretty young lady…