Don’t Eat Here – An Employee Shares his Take on Cora Pizza

Cora Pizza

One afternoon, in 2013, I bought a slice from Cora Pizza. It was big and cheesy and covered in garlic, and I was down to the crust in a couple of minutes. When I took my last bite, I felt something hard in my mouth – and spat out a rusty staple. It had been baked into the crust. I stayed away from Cora for a few months, but the convenience and the price called me back. One staple, I reasoned, was probably just a fluke. If Public Health keeps this place open, how bad could it be?

According to one employee:

“Save your life …. and your children’s lives. … stay away from Cora Pizza”

“Immediate Health Hazard”
Cora Pizza opened, in its current location on Spadina Avenue, in 1984. It was an immediate success with students, who appreciated its proximity to the UofT St. George campus, late hours, and low prices. But Cora was also well-known for violating health and safety regulations. On Monday, December 21 2009, the Toronto Star reports, a complaint prompted Toronto Public Health to investigate. The initial statement found the restaurant guilty of several crucial violations, including a “number of dead rats and fresh droppings”. The restaurant was closed pending a follow-up examination, but when the inspectors returned, on Wednesday, Cora failed again.

The Toronto Star didn’t specify who filed the complaint against Cora in 2009, but a man named Ian has an idea. He started working at Cora in 2009, and he was there when they were forced to close. Ian says that it wasn’t a customer – he had Cora shut down, and he wants to do it again.

“First-Hand Experience at this Disgusting, Immoral Restaurant”
I met Ian outside Sid’s Cafe, where we sat for our interview. At 53 years old, he is energetic and athletic. By his own account, he is an active runner, spinner, and rower, and practices several varieties of martial arts. He is also a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, which he joined, he explains, because he didn’t want marginalized people to be bullied. Ian talks freely and passionately. I ask very few questions, mostly prompts like “How did this happen chronologically?” and “How specifically did he attack you?” It’s obvious that Ian has a grudge against Cora, where he still works, and that he’s passionate about health code violations. He brought to our meeting an official-looking file with RESTRICTED stamped on it. Inside were military papers; grades from school, where he studied to be a legal assistant; and his credentials as a spin instructor.

Ian was hired at Cora in 2009. You might be able to picture him as the tall man with a shaved head who stood behind the counter. In those days, he says, employees were told to pick through the garbage so they could reuse paper plates. Cleaning was done only when the health inspector was expected, and even then it was a “surface clean”. Food was prepared with cigarettes dangling from the mouth, ash falling onto the cutting board. And of course, there were rats.

In 2010, after the shut-down, the interior of Cora Pizza was completely renovated. At that time, Ian says, it was “spotless”. Ian was fired but DineSafe, Toronto’s health inspection program, continued to report violations after the reopening. Infractions recorded since 2010 include:

Operator fail to properly maintain equipment
Operator fail to provide adequate pest control
Operator fail to ensure food is not contaminated/adulterated

“I Just Couldn’t Believe How Black this White Cloth Was”
In 2013, Cora was sold, but the old practices continued. The new owners didn’t know that Ian had tipped off Toronto Public Health, so he was rehired in 2014. Every time he goes into the restaurant he’s disgusted. As recently as last week – March 19, 2015 – he’s seen things that could drive away customers for life. The staff leave their lit cigarettes in the ovens to hide them from customers. They continue to smoke while preparing vegetables, and continue to let ash mix with the produce. The back door, which is always open, blows dirt and dust from outside onto the uncovered dough. That dough can sit by the door for as long as four days before it is cooked into pizza. There’s a stain on the prep station wall – Ian struggles to describe it, but he keeps trying. The wall is black, he says. It’s ungodly, he says. “It was dirt, and it was cigarette smoke, and it was pizza toppings, and people had sneezed and blown their snot on the walls.”

Cooks sharpen their knives then immediately use them on the food, blending metal shavings with the produce. Mould continues to grow in pans. Years-old slabs of food are sometimes removed by a paint chipper, but usually they’re left to fester. It seems almost impossible that a restaurant that dangerous could stay open in a city like Toronto.

“You Cannot Disclose this Information”
The trick, Ian explains, is dishonesty. He doesn’t know everything that goes on behind closed doors, but he knows that it’s not right. Only two employees are certified food handlers, but others work in the kitchen. All employees are paid under the table, in cash, and are told to declare the minimum income. They do not pay the Workplace Safety Insurance Board or any other government agency. Sometimes a stranger calls asking for the names of all the employees. Ian is careful not to reveal any information – he’s embarrassed more than anything – but one of his coworkers, a newcomer to Canada, once gave away personal information about the staff to an unidentified person over the phone.

I don’t know who else is investigating Cora. This could be the sign of an impending shutdown, or a lawsuit. But Cora Pizza is a resilient restaurant. Like the rats it once housed, it has a tendency to fit through the cracks, to find a way and survive. The only way Cora will stop hurting the people of our community is if we stop patronizing them, if we put aside the convenience and the price and remember the rats, the smoke, the dust, the metal shavings, the dirt, the snot, and the filth.

7 Replies to “Don’t Eat Here – An Employee Shares his Take on Cora Pizza”

  1. This seems fairly libellous… a scorned employee is your only source? Seems like you need to get a few more sources, and actually do some investigation… or at least better disclose your information. You’re just accepting what Ian says is truth… not great investigative reporting.
    Why would this Ian person continue to work here??

    1. Hi Umm,
      I am my own source about finding the staple and DineSafe is the source of all the health infraction information.
      I might speculate that Ian would continue to work at Cora for the same reason any person might work anywhere: compensation.
      I recognize that a single source isn’t ideal. I tried to make it clear that the information was coming from him, and that he held a grudge. You and other readers are free to choose if you believe him.

  2. This is very humorous. First, you have a person, writing an article about a place that he doesn’t even go to. Second, you have a “interview” with a disgruntled employee. Third, you’re writing about food handlers and safety from a biased perspective without any knowledge about food handling and safety.
    “Ian was hired in 2009” and “fired in 2010”. That means in this time, He witnessed any health issues and didn’t do anything about them, thus perpetuating the fact that he isn’t a good source. His bias, makes your article look like an immature attempt at hurting an established business.
    You as a writer should also get your facts straight. The restaurant was taken over by new owners in late 2014 but put up for sale in late 2013. Also, you should understand that “sharpening a knife” and “honing a knife with a steel” is and how they differ.
    Your style of writing is very “TMZ” and instead of getting the real facts, you focus on bad vocabulary to support your claims. Instead of this unsubstantiated piece of restaurant criticizing , you should put your efforts into actually going to the restaurant and actually talking to the owners to find out this place is actually food safe and is a nice environment for students to grab a bite to eat or order from.
    Finally, you should have someone read your articles before you post them. It prevents you from looking biased and uneducated.

    1. Hi J,
      Thank you for drawing my attention to the chronology of when the restaurant was bought and the distinction between sharpening a knife and honing a knife with a steel. I wish you would elaborate more on the distinction and also what knowledge about food handling and safety I would need to see the practices described in this article as anything but disgusting.
      I do go to Cora – or I did, before I learned better. I didn’t speak to the owners because I couldn’t expect them to be honest when their business practices and ethics were in question.
      Ian was fired because he did something about the health issues: by his account, he alerted TPH to the violations that led to the restaurant’s closure.

      1. The difference and misconception when honing a blade with a steel is that people think that your are taking off metal off the blade of the knife, which is incorrect. It is actually reshaping the tip of the blade which does not create “metal shavings” which you incorrectly described. Most restaurants do not carry actual knife sharpening tools which would create these “metal shavings”. (i know because i’m a cook).

        You didn’t go talk to Cora’s owners because you are a student and don’t actually know the proper way to do research while writing an article.
        Basing your information off of a dramatic conclusions and not hard research leads to bad conclusions.

        If you really wanted to write about Cora’s health sanitation, you really should have wrote about it in 2010, 5 years ago, when it was a problem. But under new ownership and management you are really grasping a straws here.

        Ian was fired twice from the same location actually. He alerted health issues after he was fired the first time because he was mad about getting fired .He decided to talk to you after he was fired the second time, after one day, because he is delusional and holds grudges.

        Before you ask, no I do not work there. I have been going there for a long time and unlike you, know how the place is.

        TMZ style means to pick dramatic words to create a more interesting article. The way TMZ can survive is that they don’t write and publish incorrect information.

  3. As a reader of BlogUT for several years I respect and admire most of the contributing writers, especially Mr. Train. I trust his account of the situation and look forward to more of his reporting.

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