Toronto’s culinary scene is often hailed for its diversity, but beyond the multicultural flavours, there’s a troubling lack of access for many in the industry. In order to break down barriers and create more meaningful connections for everyone in the hospitality sector, we need individuals who aren’t afraid to speak up and make a place at the table for everyone.
Our Champions of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) aren’t just talking about making our community more accessible and safe — they’re out there doing the tough work, fighting injustices and creating platforms and businesses that open up conversations and opportunities to promote meaningful change.
We’ve highlighted the chefs, bartenders, sommeliers and educators who have put diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of all they do and are committed to advocating for change in our industry.
Stephanie & Trevor Lui
Co-founders of Quell, an agency for underrepresented talent, and Unblock un-conference
Having spent over 20 years producing events, followed by an entrepreneurial career co-creating and developing some of Toronto’s foremost food brands, Trevor Lui knows the ins and outs of the hospitality industry well — along with its obstacles and systemic barriers. The consultant, speaker and editorial contributor teamed up with his sister Stephanie Lui-Valentim to found Quell, an agency that aims to advocate for people who have been historically underrepresented. Forever an optimist, Stephanie believes that there is always room to do better and that leading with compassion, curiosity and purpose guides her strategic marketing. Together, the brother-sister duo is creating a more equitable and inclusive world, and providing opportunities for their roster of food and drink talent to have a voice that’s vital to the conversation. Last year, they launched Unblock, an un-conference to further their mission.
Co-founder of Vinequity non-profit and founder of Spice Food & Wine Group, Canada’s first ethnic food and wine festival
Snobbery is prevalent in the wine industry, but Beverly Crandon believes that no one should ever be excluded from the sheer pleasures of vino. The certified sommelier has woven her passion for wine and commitment to inclusivity into everything she does. Crandon founded the Spice Food & Wine Group to redefine the perception of wine, making it accessible to all, regardless of background or expertise. In addition to launching Canada’s first ethnic food and wine festival, she is a founding member of Vinequity, a not-for-profit organization. Crandon is dedicated to amplifying the voices of BIPOC wine professionals in Canada and breaking down barriers within the industry — and we think that deserves a toast.
Founder and executive director of Foodpreneur Lab non-profit
An award-winning entrepreneur with over 30 years of experience, Janice Bartley is the founder and executive director of the non-profit Foodpreneur Lab. Throughout her career, she’s made it her personal mission to level the playing field and open doors for aspiring and established food entrepreneurs in underserved communities. Bartley founded Foodpreneur Lab in 2019 to tackle systemic barriers and create access for people who have historically been prevented from fully participating in the food sector. Through the Black Ecosystem Fund, her project has supported and provided opportunities for 200 Black food entrepreneurs over four years. Bartley’s Foodpreneur Lab is the only Canadian Black woman-founded and led non-profit with a national mandate to advance racial and gender equity in the food sector.
Founder of Beer Diversity
Ren Navarro wanted to make a welcoming and diverse environment for beverage producers and imbibers of all backgrounds. After a decade of working in the alcohol industry, she did just that by turning her passion for professional growth and education into Beer Diversity. The company addresses the lack of diversity in breweries, wineries, distilleries and beyond through a myriad of services, including consultations and diversity and inclusion workshops at festivals, panel discussions and podcasts around the world. Built on the passion and love of the industry, and the desire to do better and be better, Navarro’s unique perspective as a Black queer woman makes her an essential voice in the industry.
Jennifer Low & Deon Kim
Co-owners of Sarang Kitchen, a neurodivergent-friendly restaurant
Fareen Karim of BlogTO
Jennifer Low and Deon Kim aren’t just founders in business; they’re also partners in life. With decades of experience as an inclusive educator, Low witnessed her students struggling to gain meaningful employment. The idea of opening a neurodivergent-friendly restaurant was born from Low's passion and Kim's experience as a chef creating healthy and flavourful dishes. The pair opened Sarang Kitchen in Dovercourt Village with the slogan, “Breaking barriers, one platter at a time.” The Korean fried chicken restaurant has a multi-sensory room, fidget toys and other tools to accommodate neurodiverse patrons. Sarang Kitchen also makes it a point to hire both neurotypical and neurodivergent employees, and discourages tipping to promote pay equity.
Camille Mayers & Maria Simonelli
Founder and vice president, respectively, of Deeply Rooted Black and Indigenous Farmers' Market
With over 15 years of culinary expertise spanning from Toronto to Vancouver, Camille Mayers has dedicated their career to the artistry of food. However, as a Black and queer chef, they noticed the underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous vendors in Toronto’s farmers’ markets. This sparked a desire to raise awareness and establish safe, comfortable and equitable spaces where everyone can seize equal opportunities. Mayers founded Deeply Rooted Market, a Black and Indigenous Farmers Market that is advocating for food sovereignty in Canada. Their business partner, Maria Simonelli, had a different but equally significant journey to the market. Growing up on an O-day'min and Mishiimin farm in Huttonville, Simonelli has a deep bond with the Earth, botany, medicine and the farm-to-table concept. Her unwavering dedication to expanding awareness of the sacred connection between community and nature radiates through her work as vice president of the market.
Educator, organizer and co-owner of Bar Mordecai
The long list of accolades and titles trailing Christina Veira speaks to her years of experience and expertise in the hospitality industry. The WSET Spirits Educator and co-owner of Bar Mordecai was named World’s 50 Best Bar’s Roku Industry Icon 2022, Canada’s 100 Best Bartender of the Year 2023 and has been listed in the Drinks International Bar World 100 most influential figures. Veira has won multiple cocktail competitions and acted as the bar and beverage curator for the Restaurants Canada Show and the director of programming for Toronto Cocktail Week. Veira uses her platform every chance she gets to further diversity, equity, and safety in the industry. As the national coordinator for Speed Rack, she helped bring the all-female bartending competition to Canada. Her efforts to educate, fundraise and hold workshops have led to her becoming one of the most prominent organizers in the hospitality community.
Educator of progressive Indigenous cuisine, and chef and owner of Naagan
Born and raised in Owen Sound, Zach Keeshig attended culinary school locally at Georgian College. Over the years, he honed his craft at some of the most highly regarded restaurants in the province, including Langdon Hall, Michael Stadtländer’s Eigensinn farm, Restaurant Pearl Morrissette and, most recently, one-Michelin-star restaurant Enigma. Bringing together his passion, culinary expertise and Ojibwa background, Keeshig now runs a small, upscale, 13-seat dining room he calls “Naagan” (Ojibwa for “dish”) at the Owen Sound Farmers Market. Fusing his Ojibwa background with French techniques, Keeshig’s progressive Aboriginal cuisine is served as a nine-course tasting menu made using ingredients from the land. With Naagan, Keeshig is putting Indigenous cuisine on the map, furthering the understanding and appreciation for it.