June 13, 2012
Food is the ultimate social experience. Hassel Aviles has used this concept to create a vibrant community by bringing together food lovers — the creators and the receivers.
Hassel Aviles is passionate about both food and Toronto, two obsessions that led her to create a happening that has changed the social landscape of our city: the Toronto Underground Market (TUM).
“I love food and I love Toronto, so I created a social food market to promote budding food entrepreneurs and Toronto home cooks,” Hassel said.
The idea started percolating while at home with her two small children. Hassel wanted to be able to help her husband, a chef, who could not afford the expense of opening up a restaurant. She wanted to be able “to give small-scale operators a big-scale opportunity.” She started to do some research and discovered that San Francisco had created a massive grassroots food market, but it closed after two years because it was illegal. The challenge was on, and it did not take long for Hassel to find a way for this idea to become real — and legal — in Toronto.
Using her background in online marketing, Hassel decided she had no alternative but to sit down and start to use her social media tactics to get the word out about this idea to other food junkies in Toronto. To her complete amazement, within a few hours she had hundreds of emails coming in from people loving the idea. Toronto was ready to experience the food being made by the little guy.
September 2011 was the first Toronto Underground Market, at Evergreen Brick Works. Using their commercial kitchen, Hassel and her legal partner Carly Dunster were able to comply with health regulations. They had auditioned 25 vendors to showcase the diversity that exists in Toronto. And thus, the first food market in Canada was born.
Within hours, 1,200 tickets were sold for the first event, which Hassel then repeated in October and November.
This past May 5th, for Cinco de Mayo, Hassel organized the first Street Food Block Party. Along with 20 diverse vendors from past events, Hassel invited Suresh Doss from Food Truck Eats to include ten food trucks, all to encourage the proliferation of diversity of street food in our city. Again, in four hours, over 3,000 tickets were sold.
Cindy Arman has been showcasing her Indonesian cuisine at TUM and there are always long lineups to try her delicacies.
“We owe it all to the amazing team at Toronto Underground Market and their loyal supporters for being an incredible stepping stone for Babi & Co.’s success,” she said.
Teresa Chang, a dedicated participant, enthusiastically exclaimed, “TUM and FTE are great ways to enjoy some awesome food and to meet friends who are also food lovers. Brings back memories of going to night markets in Taiwan.”
The success of this endeavour has been — as an understatement —overwhelming for Hassel. After pouring her over-abundant energy into TUM, as is so often the case, Hassel experienced a complete meltdown before recognizing the need for help. She is thrilled, therefore, to have now partnered with Kate Clegg. This connection has enabled Hassel to come closer to balancing her work, family, passion, and joy.
“I could not do this without her help,” Hassel acknowledged.
Kate is also grateful to be part of such a great enterprise.
“It is wonderful to be amongst people who are fabulous at what they do. All our volunteers are now friends,” she said.
Hassel is obviously fulfilling a dire need. She recognized the desire of aspiring Toronto chefs to showcase their talents, and also the desire for Torontonians to experience the full spectrum of gastronomic delights that are possible. And all this in a place where people can come together in a communal setting — eating, laughing, and meeting each other. The marriage is magical.
She now advocates for all of us to get involved with Street Food Toronto so that anywhere and everywhere you go in Toronto you can experience the diversity and creativity and yumminess of our culinary entrepreneurs.