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The weiners are the real losers

Hot dog vendors are celebrating Toronto's silly ban on delicious condiments because it saves them money

Peter Jaworski - September 5, 2005

Being a hot dog vendor on the streets of downtown Toronto isn't an easy job. There are the bitter winters, the sweltering summers and the 30 or so rainy days the city averages every year. And with hundreds of vendors in the city's core, the competition is fierce. Then there are the inspections from city regulators.

But the city's regulations are one thing vendors aren't complaining about. In fact, they're celebrating the latest diktat from city hall which has banned some of the most popular condiments from carts citywide. Instead of galvanizing to fight a ban on the delicious mayonnaise, fried onion and cheese garnishes that street meat connoisseurs so adore, cart operators appear to be celebrating.

"It's great. It's fantastic!" gushes Yahya Khazaineh, who works the corner of Yonge and Gerrard streets. Khazaineh has posted three bright-yellow notices to customers on his stand, informing them of the ban, to remind clients why their condiment choices have been reduced to the non-exotic. Though he's been in business for more than three years, Khazaineh insists that not one patron has ever complained of so much as an upset stomach from the fried onions, cheese or mayo that he used to serve at his stand, which he has named Mrs. Dalloway's, after the Virginia Woolf novel.

But Jim Chan, manager of Toronto Public Health food services protection, says that the highly perishable items are a risk for bacteria growth. According to the Toronto public health requirements for hot dog carts, "Only condiments that do not require refrigeration after opening are allowed on the cart"--though enforcement officers only began enforcing that clause, say vendors, in the last few months. Even chopped onions cannot be prepared on site.

But George Calinoieo, who has operated his hot dog stand at Toronto's Ryerson University for 10 years (he's even established an annual scholarship for students from the proceeds of his sales), says he's never once fielded a health complaint--not even from the professors. "And they should know," says Calinoieo. "They study that."

In the first few months after he was ticketed for having perishable items, he says he did get requests for the contraband mayonnaise. But like his colleague Khazaineh, he's happy not to have to offer customers a full range of weiner-topping options. "With cheese, there can never be enough," he laments. "They put it on, they eat some, come back and put some more on. When I run out they say, 'George, where is your cheese?'" Bottom line, says Calinoieo: "It's economic."

That's true, says Walter Block, the economics department chair at New Orleans' Loyola University. "It's a pain in the neck to add cheese, onions, mayo, et cetera to a hot dog," Block says. But, the way vendors figure it, "If I don't do it, my hot dog competitors will. However, if the law precludes any of us from satisfying customers in this way, then I personally, will not lose out." Maybe not--but Toronto's tubesteak lovers will.

More articles by Peter Jaworski