The Hunt for Uncle Tetsu's: A Modern Diary
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The Hunt for Uncle Tetsu’s: A Modern Diary

Because sometimes living in Toronto means standing in line is an Event.

Outside of Lady Marmalade, Electric Mud, La Carnita, and Bang Bang stand some of the most patient people you will ever find: those willing to queue for food.

Since opening in March, world-famous Japanese cheesecake shop Uncle Tetsu has drawn patience’s most elite to its doors in lines that curve and bend around corners and down streets, with wait times up to two hours long. In fact, Uncle Tetsu is so notorious for its long wait times that there is a Twitter account dedicated to managing and planning your cheesecake journey.

With two friends, Earvin and Andrew, I joined the famous line. Having somewhat of an overactive bladder, I make sure to relieve myself three times half an hour before, anticipating a wait time of approximately an hour.

Below is my documented journey.

Photo by Sarah Duong.

6:46 p.m. Thirteen. This is the number of people in line outside of the store. Andrew double-counts for me to make sure this number is correct. I notice about five more customers inside, and two workers tending the line. I sigh, not knowing how much longer I have in store.

6:47 p.m. I check my wallet. $9 cash. A sign up ahead says cake, a limit of one per customer, $10 each. I wonder if this is with or without tax, and if they take debit or credit.

6:48 p.m. In small print, I make out what says “Debit and cash” only. Two more people—a couple—join the line behind me.

Photo by Sarah Duong.

6:50 p.m. “Uncle Tetsu should have an app,” says Andrew. I suggest the app should list waiting times and an interactive game. I am bored.

6:51 p.m. Five minutes into our wait, we make it to the front doors. For the first time, I see the inside of the shop: eight or so workers dressed in white T-shirts and red hats slaving over the highly-yearned-for “Japanese cheesecake.” Apparently, what sets Japanese cheesecake apart from its North American counterpart is its spongy-ness. I marvel at this trivial fact. I notice that I am now really hungry.

6:52 p.m. We move quickly; we are now at the white “Debit and cash” sign that, upon closer inspection, also reads, “30 minutes.” I sigh, exasperated.

For the first time in my life, however, I worry that the line is not long enough, and that I will not be able to write a worthwhile article. Well, here you go.

6:54 p.m. I make it to the doorway, my body half in, half out of the store. I am a vampire, waiting to be beckoned in. I am the dining dead.

6:56 p.m. Is that… is that “Let it Go” I hear on the radio?

6:57 p.m. It is. It is “Let it Go.” Ughhhhhh.

6:58 p.m.“Oh my God, it’s Ben Mulroney!” Andrew yells loudly.

In fact, it is not Ben Mulroney but Hockey Night in Canada‘s Ron MacLean. MacLean turns to us, half-disgusted, half-confused, and continues walking north. The three of us laugh as MacLean, wearing a navy suit, fades into the rush hour crowd.

Photo by Sarah Duong.

6:59 p.m. We look into the window where one employee is making cheesecake batter. Before this moment, I didn’t know cheesecake had “batter.”

The three of us watch butter melt. Andrew says, “You almost want to buy the cake for the bag.” I nod, agreeing silently.

7:00 p.m. “Should we ask why Uncle Tetsu’s head is too big for his body?” Andrew asks. Similar to an infant, Uncle Tetsu’s pencil-thin neck, by the laws of gravity, should not be able to hold up the sheer weight of his head.

7:02 p.m. “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman” comes on the radio; four people in line sing along. I’m pretty sure this is a tactic to deter the sane.

My brain liquifies in my skull.

7:04 p.m. “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman” ends and trails off into a medley of Disney instrumentals just as I enter the store.

The smell is heavenly. Think freshly-made waffle cones, kindergarten romance, freshly fallen snow on Christmas morning, a satisfying orgasm.

My stomach gurgles with the force of Hades.

Photo by Sarah Duong.

7:05 p.m. We reach the front of the line.

The employees move like clockwork: one puts the cake in boxes, another puts the boxes on a table near the cashier, and the cashier bags and tags the boxes, while others mix and make the cake. In total, there are approximately eight workers behind the counter.

Today’s cashier, a cute Asian girl with a high-pitch voice, rings Andrew’s purchase through, handing him his afformentioned Uncle Tetsu bag before thanking him for his patronage. Andrew is able to buy two cakes, one above the one-cake maximum, by lying and saying that the second is for Earvin, who buys none.

Photo by Sarah Duong.

7:06 p.m. The cashier bags my cake and puts my payment through to debit faster than I am able to pull out my card. Quickly and effortlessly, I become one of the people I hate most in the world. The cashier looks at me with mild annoyance.

After paying (the debit machine doesn’t accept tap payment, which lengthens the ordeal by a gut-wrenching five more seconds), the cashier asks me if I want a receipt. I say yes and she throws it into the bag on top of the cute white and red box containing my long-awaited cheesecake. The cashier tells me to have a nice day.

7:07 p.m. I leave. I skip out the door as I do.

People tell me that I’m lucky my entire wait for cheesecake only took 21 minutes. What I tell everyone when I mention this excursion is that I’ve waited longer for: the bathroom, in lines at grocery stores, for alcohol, in financial aid offices, for drinks at a bar, for food at a restaurant, for my hair to dry, for my eyes to adjust to the dark.

Uncle Tetsu’s cheesecake tastes best cold, and benefits from being refridgerated. When I get home, I put the cake in the fridge, and eat around Uncle Tetsu’s large logo head, filling my mouth with—not a satisfying orgasm, first love’s kiss, or Christmas morning—but a sadly mediocre, over-hyped, sugarless yellow cheesecake.

But perhaps people are right when they tell me I am lucky. If you have $10, good company, and enough patience to last an entire Disney soundtrack, waiting for Uncle Tetsu’s, despite a just-okay cake, isn’t half-bad.

Photo by Andrew Escobar.

Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecake is located at 598 Bay Street, just north of Dundas. You’ll know you have found it when you see the line.