Many are up in arms over the anonymous, dramatic posters about Laila being plastered on hydro poles and mailboxes, even in neighbourhoods far away from the actual restaurant on Bloor Street West. Each and every one reads:
553 Bloor street west
Southeast corner of Bathurst and Bloor
DON’T EAT THERE
MY BEST FRIEND
IN THIS RESTAURANT…
This is not a joke…don’t give
them your money. Help.
The inflammatory content of the posters in addition to their anonymity don’t exactly lend themselves to credibility, but we investigated over the course of this past week nonetheless. And what we found shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Torontoist received a tip about the posters last Tuesday from reader Josh Glover, who spotted them around King and Sherbourne, and we visited Laila soon after to talk to Sam, the long-time owner who opened the restaurant as an Aida’s Falafel franchise in the mid-’90s before changing to his own brand in 2000. When we found him, he was enjoying the newspaper and some pita bread and was completely unaware of the signs that were going up as much as three kilometres away, but not altogether surprised by them.
Sam reacted with calm, good humour and explained that Bloor and Bathurst is a hotspot for Middle Eastern eats, with Ghazale directly across the street and Sarah’s just down the block. Even with the competition and recession, business has been good—so good that as many as six people have approached Sam over the past two months to buy his restaurant. “People come and say a guy told him I was selling,” Sam says. “What guy? Oh, you don’t know him. Who is this guy I don’t know? I think someone wants me gone.”
Sam is positive that no disgruntled employee had a hand in the posters, either. “My cook is from Lebanon. She has been with me since the day I opened. Everyone is here at least two years.” Probably due to his sweet nature and quiet demeanor, Sam is also popular with his regular customers, which he guesses make up four-fifths of his business.
So Torontoist contacted Toronto Public Health and spoke with Jim Chan, manager of the Toronto Public Health Food Safety Program. Chan oversees the eighty-one health inspectors that serve the city of Toronto and, at our request, he contacted the health inspector in charge of the district where Laila is located and confirmed that “the inspector didn’t receive any complaints. He only conducted routine inspections at this premises.”
Chan also shared some background information on a DineSafe inspection dated February 19. On that date, Laila received a conditional pass due to a “failure to protect food from contamination,” along with other infractions regarding non-food contact surfaces, washrooms, and waste removal. Chan explained that a failure to protect food is usually as simple as keeping an item uncovered and is not necessarily an indication of unsanitary conditions like at the recent Loblaws closure. He also said that the rest of Laila’s infractions were located in the basement, where no food is handled or stored. Toronto Public Heath’s policy is to re-inspect within forty-eight hours, at which time the premises must comply or be charged; Laila was in compliance by the next day.
(Chan also explained that “Critical” infractions on inspection reports aren’t necessarily as serious as they may appear. An example of a critical infraction occurs when the refrigeration temperature is off by 2–3 degrees. It is critical because it needs to be addressed, but does not pose an immediate danger to public health.)
Chan says that in his thirty-one years as both an inspector and manager he has seen many shocking claims, usually anonymous or attached to fake names and phone numbers. The department will investigate anything within forty-eight hours, but only if the plaintiff can be contacted for more information. They received approximately two thousand complaints last year, the most fantastic of which was a report that a neighbour was slaughtering pigeons and selling them to butcher shops.
But regarding the Laila poster, Chan said that Toronto Public Health “would have been contacted by the hospital” if someone had actually died in the restaurant. “This is probably someone’s personal agenda.”
All photos by Kaori Furue/Torontoist.