Saturday, August 08, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. late nights at people's foods

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on June 5, 2012. As of August 2015, the site is occupied by Rose and Sons restaurant.

ts 87-10-18 late night peoples
Toronto Star, October 18, 1987. Click on image for larger version.

Patrons intending to dine at People’s Foods on Dupont Street were greeted last week with a notice on the door stating that the half-century old diner was closing due to its lease expiring. Though one report suggests that the owners hope to find a new location, for now, regulars will have to look elsewhere for greasy-spoon staples and jukebox selectors at their booths.

A quarter of a century ago, People’s was among the “denziens of the dark hours” that the Toronto Star spotlighted in an article on life in the city between midnight and dawn. A 24-hour eatery at the time, People’s saw an early-morning procession of shift workers, police, and frat boys grazing on homemade burgers and onion rings. “The dazzling fluorescent lights are always on,” the Star noted, “and at 2:45 a.m. Thomas Rygopoulos is hefting a huge piece of solid white fat—easily measuring a cubic foot—from a blue plastic bag into the deep fryer. The customers want more French fries.” Rygopoulos had worked at People’s for five years when the Star visited. “People eat the same as in the daytime,” he noted. “You know how 1 o’clock is lunch time? It’s the same at night: 1 to 3 o’clock is lunch time at night.”

Among the diners were two University of Toronto students discussing a major crisis: An acquaintance about to be married had his bride-to-be back out 36 hours before the ceremony. Amid silent pauses over numerous refills of coffee, they contemplated how to rebound from such a situation. At least one of the students seemed to have problems of his own, as he told his friend, “the only thing that keeps me going is the fact that at least one person in this world feels worse than I do.” Both men noted they were regulars at People’s—one described it as “a landmark for romantic, bohemian fantasies … It’s the restaurant of the people.”

People’s wasn’t the only food-related stop on the Star’s late-night tour. On Danforth Avenue near Pape, Phil Cho sold produce at the Greenview Fruit Market. When asked who bought oranges at three in the morning, he replied, “taxi drivers. There are a few health nuts, so every night they need their oranges.” He also found that drunks would eat just about anything that caught their eye, even if it meant a smashed watermelon or two. Restaurant and shift workers tended to cause less chaos, as their purchases tended to head home.
There might have been items bought at Greenview among the debris that “Tokyo Rose” took care of nightly. The TTC’s subway-cleaning car derived its name not from the World War II axis propaganda agent but from the city it was manufactured in and a mocking reference to the sweet smell of garbage. Cleaner Elio Romano referred to the subway tracks as a “hobo’s paradise” due to the longer-than-average cigarette butts he tossed into his garbage bag.

The article ended with a glimpse of dawn at People’s, where Rygopoulos prepared breakfast for early birds. The creatures of the night had moved on to give way to those facing a new day, much as the restaurant’s home since 1963 may now face a new morning.

Additional material from the October 18, 1987 edition of the Toronto Star.

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