FEAST's Twinkle Twinkle doughnut — Photo courtesy of FEAST
FEAST, situated in the trendy West Queen West district of Toronto, has it all for sensitive eaters of all shapes and sizes. This specialty food store is filled to the brim with mouth-watering pantry staples and meals-to-go, including sauces, seasonings, pasta, baking mixes and fluffy doughnuts that beckon customers from the pastry case.
Pies hot from the oven — Photo courtesy of FEAST
FEAST differs from many gourmet stores in that it bases its model on foods that are deliciously allergen-friendly. FEAST, in fact, stands for "Fabulous Eats for the Allergic and Sensitive Types." Safety and taste are considered equally important.
The store is gloriously bright and well-designed, with concrete walls accented by warm woods. Food peeks behind squeaky clean glass, like puppies whimpering to find a home. As a result, all people who are looking for great food are flocking, even customers who have no allergies or sensitivities whatsoever.
When asked how the idea was born, Wendy Zeh – who owns the store with her husband Neil Lomas – laughs.
"The idea was born out of our own need to feed ourselves! We're both foodies," Zeh says. "Neil is a professional chef. We both developed quite a number of food allergies, including gluten and dairy. Neil is also allergic to nuts, and anything that is gluten-free normally has nuts in it. We started a frustrating journey finding horrible-tasting, expensive food that fit our allergy profile."
When a fork is in the logo, we are all in — Photo courtesy of FEAST
As a life of expensive and horrible food didn't seem like a bright future, Zeh and Lomas got to work. Gluten-free, nut-free baking took a lot of trial and error.
"Baking is an art and a science, and this was a completely different art and science," Zeh found.
They held themselves to high standards, removing wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish from their menu.
Try not to stare too hard at the doughnuts — Photo courtesy of FEAST
Wendy and Neil go through a stringent process to maintain their strict policies. They contact every manufacturer and supplier to ensure that each item is free of cross-contamination. If possible, they try to find vendors who have allergies and sensitivities themselves. Their staff is trained on allergens by Anaphylaxis Canada.
"We jump through as many hoops as we can. It affects us, too," says Zeh.
Locals have not been the only ones to find this gem in one of Toronto's coolest neighborhoods. Tourists come to FEAST to pick up their plane food (and to make their seat neighbor understandably jealous). Zeh sees them stocking up.
"Tourists with food allergies and sensitivities look us up in advance," Zeh says. "They are discouraged by what they are going to eat on the plane."
Take your pocket pie to go — Photo courtesy of FEAST
Whether eating better is a choice or a necessity for visitors to FEAST, Zeh is humbled by the impact their store has already made.
A customer asked Zeh if everything was nut-free. Zeh replied, "It's exceptionally nut-free. This whole store is safe for you." The girl cried. Zeh cried.
"We take it seriously," Zeh affirms. "We understand the death-defying challenges you have to go through every day to feed yourself."
The challenges look a little easier when there are doughnuts at the end, though.
When asked what she loves most in their new gourmet food store, Zeh doesn't hesitate: "The Triple Chocolate Love doughnuts! I eat one of those a day. I didn't even like doughnuts before we started making them. Now they are one of my favorite things."
And now FEAST is one of Toronto's favorite things.
Tropical caramels don't require a tropical vacation — Photo courtesy of FEAST