This Toronto homeowner wants to sell you his barbecue back(yard) ribs

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This Toronto homeowner wants to sell you his barbecue back(yard) ribs


In the backyard of a west-end home, Alex carefully tends to his smoker, cooking ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken.

Then he waits for the meat to become succulent — and for customers to arrive.

“They love it,” Alex says. “People from the neighbourhood say it’s great … It’s been all positive. I’ve had nothing negative from anybody, either in terms of what I’m doing or the quality of the food.”

The 63-year-old is illegally selling barbecued meat — “We’re taking donations to cover costs” — from his backyard on weekends because he wants to know if he’s got the culinary chops needed to participate at rib fests.

“I just wanted to find out how good I am,” says Alex, who’s been gaining attention on social media with foodies posting about the mysterious location. “Word is getting out like crazy.”

Flyers are posted on lamp posts around the his west-end neighbourhood, promoting the backyard joint — Alex says his prices are cheaper than what you’d pay at a smokehouse — such as $35 for a three-pound rack of back ribs, $15 for a pound of pulled pork, for example. And on weekends a chalkboard sign on the veranda beckons “Smoked Ribs!” and urges passersby to “Come on in the Backyard.”

He just recently learned from reporters that what he’s doing is illegal and asked the Star to withhold his last name. Still, he explains that he’s not really running a business — it’s more like a practice run for rib fest. Plus, he says he’s providing a service for neighbours, who will patiently wait in line, even in sweltering heat.

Alex has never worked in a restaurant, but has long enjoyed barbecuing for friends and family. He’s the kind of guy who passes platefuls of meat over the fence to salivating neighbours. His career was spent in management at an automotive parts company and then with human resources departments doing recruitment. A back injury in 2011 forced him into early retirement. And in 2016, he suffered a serious stroke, affecting the mobility on his right side, which is why he now walks with a cane.

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Last summer, he fired up the grill for a friend, who said his ribs were delicious and urged him to participate in a rib fest. In the months that followed, he studied safe food handling techniques, read up on cooking practices and created excel spread sheets, compiling data on supply costs, suppliers, and how profitable a rib fest business could be. And, he learned that really successful pit masters, who do the rib fest circuit, can earn six-figure salaries. That’s why he recently started a company to work at rib fests, so that he can build up a successful business to pass on to his two grown daughters.

This spring he bought a state-of-the art Myron Mixon Gravity Feed smoker — the kind used by professionals — and a crane was needed to lift it over his house. He’s been running his backyard venture since June and over the course of a weekend gets about 20 customers — preorders are recommended, but he also serve folks who walk in off the street.

The law in Ontario allows people to run a food business out of their home, but they must comply with Food Premises Regulation 493/17, under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. And Toronto public health officials must be allowed to inspect the site to help prevent food-borne illness and ensure compliance with provincial food safety regulations and municipal zoning bylaws.

If someone is “preparing, handling, selling or offering food for sale — or donations — the business is considered a food premises,” explains department spokesperson Sylvanus Thompson, the associate director of Healthy Environments. “Donations to cover costs do not exempt this business from these requirements.”

When the department learns food is being sold at a private residence it contacts the person responsible to make sure they’re aware of the rules. And, if an inspection is done, results are posted on its DineSafe website and must be displayed at the site.

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Brian Thompson, manager of Healthy Environments, says most people abandon the idea of running a food premises out of their home once they learn about all the regulations. The few who don’t tend to run businesses such as catering or food takeout services.

Alex hasn’t contacted Public Health — and his home isn’t zoned for commercial use or for a takeout eating establishment.

Still, he insists he is following safe food handling techniques and providing quality food.

Alex says, when he thinks of his expenses to date, that he’s still in the red from start-up costs for things such as the smoker, stainless steel pans and commercial-grade sanitizers.

But, his drive to make it to rib fest has given him a sense of purpose.

“I’m a different person now. I’ve got bounce in my step.”

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

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