Last day at Karl’s, as Province forces Roncesvalles business to close

Karl's Butcher and GroceryAfter almost 46 years of service, Karl’s Butcher and Grocery (105 Roncesvalles) is closing today. On a street famous for its sausages, the closing is a major blow for Roncesvalles Village.

Karl’s is among the first of several neighborhood meat shops that may face closure following a recent decision by the provincial government to impose a strict interpretation of the 2001 Food and Safety Quality Act. Under the act, Karl’s is now considered a “freestanding meat plant” because it makes fresh sausages on site.

The act was created in the wake of the Walkerton health crisis, when concerns over food and water safety prompted officials to examine the numerous vulnerabilities of industrial slaughterhouse operations. In these large operations, there are often dozens of employees handling huge volumes of meat, and one mistake can cascade into a major public health crisis. Ironically, as the regulations become more strict, the only businesses large enough to comply with them all are those same industrial operations that created the problems in the first place.

At Karl’s, a small number of employees worked together, crafting each sausage carefully using the traditional techniques they learned from master butchers in Poland. These artisans knew they would look into the eyes of their customers when they sold them their finished product, so every sausage was handled with extreme care (Karl’s passed every municipal health inspection). This personalized attention to quality and safety is impossible in a large industrial operation.

Members from both the provincial NDP and the Progressive Conservatives have stood in the legislature to oppose the government’s policy. The Liberal minister in charge of these regulations, Leona Dombrowsky, has responded only to say that the province offers grants of up to $25,000 to cover compliance costs. The upgrades to Karl’s would have cost $200,000.

This issue has received extensive news coverage in the Toronto Star and the National Post. The Post article quotes several other butchers and meat shop owners who fear they will be next. Edward Rembacz, owner of Astra Meats in Bloor West Village, says he was advised by inspectors to stop making fresh sausages to avoid having to pay the costs of bringing his shop into compliance. Rembacz says he will never do this, since he would be unable to control his quality. He has not yet decided whether to close down.

“We should be proud to have [Karl’s] in Toronto,” says Marc Thuet, chef of Bistro & Bakery Thuet, who also makes fresh sausages and smoked meats. “We should be helping this guy. If you follow regulations to the book, everything will all taste like Kraft.” (quoted in the Post)

Fresh distinctive food and personalized service are among the reasons why consumers shop at neighborhood businesses in Toronto. These are not scaled-down factories, but specialized businesses creating a product that cannot be duplicated by an industrial food producer. In addition to fresh sausages, small neighborhood businesses produce fresh gelato, cheese, bread and other fine foods. If artisanal food shops are to be regulated the same way as industrial food factories, how will the smaller businesses survive?

See also: Province Forces Popular Local Butcher Out of Business After 46 Years (Dec. 7, 2007)

And a follow up: DiNovo demands changes to rules ‘butchering’ Roncesvalles meat shop (Dec. 12, 2007)