They say that you should be the change you want to see in the world, but few actually commit to making a daily contribution to their community. It takes hard work, dedication and guts to fight for the little guys and work to topple outdated systems.
Toronto’s food and beverage leaders might not always work in the kitchen, but they can certainly stand the heat. From non-profit organizations that put the mental health and wellbeing of hospitality workers at the forefront to food systems experts who want to make fresh nutritious food accessible to all, these individuals have worked tirelessly to create positive change in the industry.
We’re putting the spotlight on eight community changemakers who have made it their mission to make food better, no matter where it's eaten.
Co-founder of Not 9 to 5, a non-profit that empowers foodservice workers
Hassel Aviles has built a career in the hospitality and foodservice industry for over two decades working primarily in restaurants, event production and entrepreneurship. In 2018, after years of struggling with mental illness and workplace trauma, Aviles was inspired to co-found Not 9 to 5, a non-profit that empowers foodservice workers like herself. Aviles’s strategic planning abilities helped grow Not 9 to 5 from a series of workshops, panels and webinars into a global vehicle for change to foster psychological safety in the workplace. Her award-winning work has contributed to a worldwide hospitality revolution to create work environments that are inclusive and proactive, rather than top-down and reactive. Not 9 to 5 also created CNECTing, a platform for hospitality, culinary and service professionals to access workplace mental health education and training.
Chef, activist and author of Take Back the Tray
Chef, activist, public speaker and educator, Joshna Maharaj has centred her work around the state of our food systems, and how everybody eats from day to day. She aims to inspire people to create a deeper connection with food and the people who move it from field to kitchen to table. Maharaj works with communities, organizations and institutions to build value-based food services that prioritize good food, hospitality and sustainability. She is the author of Take Back the Tray, a book about her experience trying to change the way we eat in public institutions. More than just a story, it’s also a movement that Maharaj has created to reconnect food with health, wellness, education and rehabilitation in public institutions around the globe. Her mission is to use social gastronomy to rebuild our food system, increase people's access to good food and help everyone have more fun in the kitchen.
Executive director of FoodShare Toronto
A long-time activist, non-profit leader, educator and media commentator, Paul Taylor has spent his career serving his community and advancing social justice. He has held executive director roles at Gordon Neighbourhood House and the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House. He has also chaired the British Columbia Poverty Reduction Coalition and served as vice-chair of Food Secure Canada. Taylor is the co-founder and principal consultant of Evenings & Weekends Consulting, which collaborates with organizations, activist groups, charities and community groups to advance progressive change. From 2017 to 2023, Taylor served as the executive director of FoodShare Toronto, Canada’s largest food justice organization. At FoodShare, his leadership was consistently recognized for inspiring equity-focused policies and practices. In 2020, Paul was named one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40, one of Toronto Life’s 50 Most Influential Torontonians and voted as Best Activist by Now Magazine readers.
Co-founder of Zirkova Vodka
Launching Zirkova Vodka wasn’t just a business idea: It was a matter of heritage for Canadian-Ukrainian Katherine Vellinga. After a visit to the Cherkasy region of Ukraine, the birthplace of vodka, Vellinga and her husband were inspired to make a premium craft spirit with the best grain and artisanal mineral water possible. In addition to making vodka, Vellinga has raised money for humanitarian and human rights charitable organizations including Sick Kids Hospital, Women United (United Way) and several LGBTQ2S+ organizations. In February 2022, in response to the invasion of her beloved Ukraine, Vellinga launched Zirkova Unity. They also pledged 100 per cent of profits from the sale of Zirkova Unity to the Ukrainian Humanitarian Appeal Fund.
Founder of Afri-Can FoodBasket
Over the last 30 years, Anan Lololi has done extensive community work in the areas of equity, food justice, community food security, social justice and anti-racism. He has been involved in organizing and running equity/diversity management, community economic development and youth leadership development programs. Lololi holds a master’s degree in environmental studies from York University with a focus on Community Food Security. As a Canadian food systems analyst and urban farmer, Lololi’s passion is working in low-income neighbourhoods to help create food-secure communities through an equity lens. In 1995, Lololi was one of the founders of Canada’s first food systems organization for people of colour, Afri-Can FoodBasket in Toronto. He has also served as a member of the Toronto Food Policy Council, is the chair of The Black Food Sovereignty Working Group and is a Research Associate at Toronto Metropolitan University, Centre for Studies in Food Security.
Founder and director of Spadina-Fort York Community Care
Serving and caring for the community is at the heart of Spadina-Fort York Community Care’s mission. As the food bank’s founder and director, Shauna Harris passionately and actively fights to end hunger, homelessness, food insecurity and poverty in Toronto and across the province. Harris started Spadina-Fort York Community Care in March 2020 in an effort to bring hope, dignity, clothing, meals and supplies to those who need it most. In 2023, her organization was the recipient of Daily Bread’s Profound Community Impact Award, which aims to recognize a food program that is committed to increasing food access to underserved communities, deeply understands the needs of clients and has shown courage and resourcefulness in overcoming barriers.
Co founder of Community Fridges
Jalil Bokhari is a hospitality professional who for the last decade has been working in and around notable restaurants in the west end, including Imanishi, Rhum Corner and his last stint as an AGM at Milou. He credits his deep-rooted passion for hospitality to his upbringing in the city of Lahore, where he spent the first half of his life. While out of work during the pandemic, he teamed up with his friends from restaurants that were closed at the time. They set up Community Fridges that operate on a "take what you need, leave what you can" basis, providing an opportunity for those in need to access food and for those with more than they need to easily donate in their neighbourhood. This form of mutual aid aims to help people find food sovereignty within their communities. The network continued to grow to upwards of nine fridges across the city of Toronto.
Director at the Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts, George Brown College
For years, Tony Garcia has been cooking up the next generation of food and hospitality workers in his role as director at the Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts. The George Brown College programs he has worked on go well beyond the classroom, offering real-life experience. Much of the program, including the college’s cafés and restaurants, are student-run, giving them a sense of empowerment. This year, George Brown College hosted the Ontario Wine Awards and involved students in the execution of the event, ensuring a new cohort of ambassadors for the Ontario wine industry. Thanks to Garcia’s contributions, the culinary program continues to enlighten and inspire the next wave of passionate hospitality workers.