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Jul 5, 2010 06:33 AM

Chains in Toronto vs. the U.S. (split from Ontario)

Here in Toronto the family-owned, local neighbourhood pizzeria is all but dead.

Lazy affluent folks are buying up franchises at an alarming rate, and children raised on McDonalds etc. are frightened of anything that's not corporate shiny, well advertised and predictable and are somehow satisfied with mass-produced garbage.

I know this is the trend everywhere as we lose the gems of the past, but it's uber-bad in Toronto. SO bad, in fact, that even the fast food here is inferior to other places, since the corporate guys know that Torontonians will accept crap that would never fly in the US or Quebec, for example. Seriously, even McDonalds and KFC are consistently worse in Toronto than in the US and Quebec - dramatically so.

As a result, I am thrilled whenever I find a surviving family business for any type of food, as they typically are passionate and take pride in what they make, rather than many franchisees who thought about opening a dry-cleaning or photocopy franchise before settling on food as their way of hiring a bunch of bored 16 year olds to extract money from an increasingly apathetic public.

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  1. Have you ever been to the States? This post is one of the grossest exaggerations ever posted on this site. And there's pretty stiff competition for that title.

    1. Odd that you say this. I just told Mrs. Sippi the other day that I'll take McD's in TO rather than in the states. I'm not an expert but from my travels all over the east central part of the US the food is basically the same.
      The TO area ones are for the most part all newly renovated and they have Coke 0 on tap. The US one's don't. The $1 drinks in the summer are only available in some areas in the US.

      My infrequent trips to KFC have yielded pretty much a consistent product as well.

      One place that we do seem to lack is in special promo's.

      The trend you speak of is not "Everywhere." I've been in places where M&P style places out number the chains 2 - 1. I've found more where that's not the case and in some places it's like 8 - 1. It really is a shame.


      30 Replies
      1. re: Davwud

        Have to agree with Davwud and jamesm on this one, TorontoTips. Fast food is no worse here than it is anywhere in the US that I've been.

        1. re: Yongeman

          Not sure about fast food here and there, cause I rarely eat fast food in the states, but they do seem to have better chain restaurants there. Roy's, Cheesecake factory, Bonefish grill, P.F. Changs to name a few. Even the Outback seemed to be better there. They are certainly chain restaurants (would always prefer a great Mom and Pop) but they seem to be better than ours: Kelsey's , Casey's, Boston Pizza and others I try to stay away from...

          1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

            I would take Milestone's or Moxies over Cheesecake Factory. Don't know how Boston Pizza survives (except on bad taste).

            1. re: pescatarian

              Not sure what you've eaten at The Cheesecake Factory, but I have never had anything at Milestone's or Moxie's that even came close. (ok... the Kobe meatloaf at Milestone's is not bad)

     each his/her own. That's what makes it such a fun world to live in...

              1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                I don't think Milestone's or Moxie's is anything but ok, but I feel the same about The Cheesecake Factory, but more so than Milestone's or Moxie's, it falls more in the category of the typical grossly oversized meals as a priority over great food. I don't think any of them are great. But I was responding to your comment that the states have better chains than us, which I disagree with. I think it depends what you're looking for. And I agree, each to his/her own.

                1. re: pescatarian

                  The U.S. has an advantage of 10x more people compared to Canada so it follows they'd have 10x more chains to choose from.

                  As for their chains better than ours, let's do a head-to-head:

                  Cheesecake Factory vs Milestones? No comment from me as I've never been to CF.
                  Ruby Tuesday vs Kelseys? Ruby wins.
                  UNO Chicago Grill vs Boston Pizza? No contest, Uno wins.
                  Krispy Kreme vs Tim Hortons? Just compare the donuts, ignore the coffee. KK wins.
                  Dunkin Donuts vs Tim Hortons? DD wins in donuts here.
                  KFC (USA) vs KFC (Canada)? No contest, USA wins. Tiny chickens and green slime slaw in Canada, yuck....
                  Olive Garden/Macaroni Grill/Carrabbas vs East Side Mario's? ESM is smoked by any one of the three Yankee ones.
                  Cinnabon vs Saint Cinnamon? Cinnabon wins -- better product, lower price
                  Papa John's vs Pizza Pizza? No contest, PJ's wins.
                  Cracker Barrel vs... who do we have in this category? That's right, nothing.
                  Buffalo Wild Wings vs Wild Wing? copycats can't beat the original.
                  Carl's Jr. vs Harveys. Hahahahahahahaha...
                  Chick Fil A vs... who do we have in this category? Tim Hortons?
                  Jamba Juice vs Freshly Squeezed? Jamba hands down.
                  El Torito Grill vs the Lindo's in Durham? Nice try Lindo's...
                  Yard House vs Bier Markt? No contest.
                  Legal Seafood vs.... nobody
                  Outback vs The Keg? Close, but I'll give the edge to Outback.
                  Tony Roma's vs Montana's? No contest.
                  Fuddruckers vs Lick's? No contest.
                  Any American non-Asian AYCE buffet vs the non-Asian stuff at Mandarin/Imperial? No contest.
                  Benihana vs any number of non-Japanese-owned teppanyaki places? No contest.
                  El Pollo Loco vs Swiss Chalet? No contest.

                  OK, I'll give our guys a chance:

                  Cici's Pizza vs Boston Pizza? Yes, I'd rather go to BP.

                  When I'm in the U.S. on business and I'm on an interstate through the middle of nowhere, I have no problem going to a chain at the next populated exit. Because I know 9 times out of 10 it'll be a lot better than the equivalent at home, with excellent consistent service, and at a fair price.

                  1. re: TexSquared

                    Not so fast Tex.

                    ~Ruby Tuesday vs Kelseys?
                    ~Krispy Kreme vs Tim Hortons?
                    Tie, KK only wins with Original Kreme. All others go to TH.
                    ~ESM over Olive Garden. And chicken pox over measles
                    ~Papa John's vs Pizza Pizza?
                    Not fair. PJ's is higher end. PJ's vs Panago is a tie.
                    ~Cracker Barrel vs... who do we have in this category? That's right, nothing.
                    No, we have a dumpster behind a building at Keele and Rogers and it wins. Hands down.
                    ~Buffalo Wild Wings vs Wild Wing?
                    Wild Wing in a walk.
                    ~Chick Fil A vs____.
                    I've never been able to see the attraction to this place. I'll stick with the dumpster.
                    ~Outback vs The Keg
                    Keg by a bloomin' mile.
                    ~El Pollo Loco vs Swiss Chalet.
                    Apples vs. Oranges. It's like saying I'll take 5 Guys over Mr. Sub..

                    **Edit. They have Shoney's. We win for simply not having that.


                    In chain burger category.
                    US ~ 5 Guys, Cheeburger x2, Fuddruckers, CB in Paradise, Hardee's, In n Out, Carl's.
                    CA ~ Harvey's, South St., Hero, Lick's, Gourmet burger shop du jour.
                    This one's a joke I'll admit.

                    Chain Mex.
                    We have no enty that the US doesn't. They win.


                    1. re: Davwud

                      I still stand by some of my assertions.

                      Macaroni Grill smokes ESM. Hands down.
                      I'll take any donut at KK or DD over that frozen garbage from TH (let's not restart that war, OK?)
                      I do feel Papa John's is America's answer to Pizza Pizza. They're everywhere, they're take-out only (unlike, say, Pizza Hut), and they are generic pizzas (they're not thin-crust-wood-fired-snob-foodie or Chicago deep dish or California Stupid). And head-to-head, you must agree that PJ's demolishes PP.

                      I'll correct some of my "mismatches", maybe these are more fair:

                      Kenny Rogers Roasters vs Swiss Chalet - tie.
                      Houston's vs the Keg - Houston's wins (I think this is a fairer comparison than putting Outback against them)
                      McAlister's vs... what do we have in this category?
                      Lambert's Cafe vs.... what do we have here?

                      As for your dismissal of Cracker Barrel, my point is, we don't have a Southern chain here so U.S. wins by default. Dismissing southern food as less than a Toronto dumpster? Go apologize to Mrs. Sippi on that one!

                      Thanks for backing me up on the chain burgers. What we have here is an embarassment. Red Robin smokes South Street....

                      1. re: TexSquared

                        On the Keg issue, I'm with DT. Much better than Outback - atmosphere, choices, and price.

                        On burgers, I with you Tex - we don't have any really great chains up here. I don't mind Harvey's the way some do, but no frozen burger joint beats fresh.

                        But I'll disagree with the OP - I've been in some McD/BK/Carl's in the US that are dirty, littered (not the same thing), and where the staff seem to have only a passing acquaintance with bathing, accompanied by a work ethic best described by Bret Easton Ellis. I've been in some places in Toronto/GTA where the work ethic left something to be desired as well, but never as dirty, sloppy, or scary as places I've been to in Michigan, Ohio, or New York.

                        But the McD's in Maine are clean and have lobster rolls.

                        1. re: FrankD

                          We agree about burgers. Our chain burger offerings are a joke.


                          1. re: FrankD

                            McD in Nova Scotia has lobster rolls too! :)

                            You guys don't have Fatburger in TO? Edmonton's got one. Fresh not frozen. Pretty good.

                          2. re: TexSquared

                            I've never been to Houston's so I can't comment. I do know they get beaten up on here pretty good.

                            What about Logan's vs. Keg. Big Keg win there.

                            I still stand by my PJ vs. Panago comparison. They both claim to be a cut above the Dominos, Little Cesar's level. No question there. We have a small chain up my way called Toppers. I'll take them over any.

                            We do seem to lead the league in crappy pizza chains though. 241, PP, Pizzaville. Yikes.


                            1. re: Davwud

                              The mid-range steakhouse category is difficult to compare head-to-head. I'd say the Toronto equivalent to Logan's would be Biftheque (if they were still around), in terms of price/quality. Biftheque was cheap, but you got what you paid for. As you do at Logan's.
                              Logan's vs The Keg would be as unfair as pitting Ponderosa or Ryan's vs Canyon Creek.

                              Little Caesar's across North America seems to have gone the "dollar store" route, beat everybody in price with that "hot and ready" crap but the pizzas are the worst, while Domino's is going the other way, trying to correct years of bad pizza. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised at their new recipe when I tried it in the U.S. earlier this year.

                              As for pizza chains in Toronto, I actually like Pizza Nova, which is the best of a bad bunch, and Pizzaville can be OK depending on the location. I avoid any "N-for-1" chain as well as "Free Topping Pizza". I have yet to try Panago as they haven't moved into Pickering yet (they're out in Whitby I think). Finding local guy Pizza Pino in Ajax was a godsend!

                              1. re: TexSquared

                                I'm good with PN too. They aren't great but when the area around work has 241, PP, PN and a small garbage pizza as it's competition, I'll take PN by a mile.


                          3. re: Davwud

                            DD beats KK and TH donuts hands down. Throw their coffee in to the mix and it just adds to the humiliation.

                            As for KFC, why no love for buttermilk biscuits Canada? And what's w/ the neon green cole slaw? I saw that same colored slaw in Sobeys this weekend! supidat?

                            1. re: GoodGravy

                              I've only been to DD in Canada and wasn't at all impressed.

                              What's with it??

                              I can only assume through market research they found that this is what the masses want.


                              1. re: Davwud

                                There's DD in Canada? I've only been to the ones in the US. IMO, they could sell only the chocolate and vanilla creme donuts and I'd be happy, but the boston cremes are good too and they don't have that weird stale vibe I get from TH.

                                1. re: GoodGravy

                                  There hasn't been DD in Ontario in years. They're still in Quebec AFAIK.

                                  I agree, TH donuts are horrible. Stale because they are frozen in the factory then defrosted in the store days later.

                                  1. re: GoodGravy

                                    There used to be one at Bathurst and Finch. I'm not sure if it's still there. I neither work nor live in the area anymore.


                2. re: Davwud

                  Since both our spouses are from the South I'm sure you're referring to there when you talk about where M&P places outnumber chains. Why go to a chain like Famous Dave's or Smokey Bones when there are local BBQ places all over? Even in Buffalo, I'd rather go to Kentucky Greg's than either of those. That I agree with. My wife grew up on the gulf coast. When we're visiting the in-laws we wouldn't be caught dead at a Red Lobster what with all the great locally caught seafood they have.

                  But I strongly disagree when you suggest that KFC is the same in the two countries. OK, the recipe for the chicken is the same. But that's where it ends. You won't find that nasty lime green coleslaw in the U.S. They give you chicken pieces twice as big as we get, not skin and bones like those awful "toonie tuesday" deals in the poor parts of town. Where are the buttermilk biscuits/mashed potatoes? (instead we get those nasty greasy limp fries).

                  I never go to KFC in Canada because of this, and only get it in the USA.

                  As for McDonald's and other fast food chains, the pricing doesn't reflect the exchange rate. the $1 menu in the USA is $1.39 or $1.49. And like you said, they get promos, we don't.

                  1. re: TexSquared

                    Neither of us can understand fries at Taco Bell. That said, I like them in my cheesy, chili burritos. So I'll take those over nacho chips
                    Mrs. Sippi also likes biscuits at KFC over limp fries.
                    A $2 Tuesday meal down here (N. Al.) is what you'd get up there for the most part.

                    Down here M & P shops are about 50/50.

                    I've been to towns were you couldn't find a chain outside of McD's and KFC. You couldn't even find a Starbucks. I've also been to towns (mostly along the interstate) where the residents must own neon stocks.

                    You can't compare prices. We live in a high rent district. Prices for us have to reflect that.


                    1. re: Davwud

                      I never mentioned Taco Bell in my post but since you brought it up, I wanted to point out a huge disappointment for me. I take back all I said about "you'll never find limp greasy fries at a Tex-Mex place in the USA". Because sure enough I found it. Shocked me to walk into a Del Taco in Pasadena, CA last year and sure enough they had a "border fries" type item on the menu, and included fries in all their combos, just like Taco Bell Canada does. I couldn't believe it! I had to wonder if the founders of Del Taco (which is So. Cal. based) visited a Canadian Taco Bell and thought to copy it...

                      So, if you're in the USA and just gotta have your "border fries" find a Del Taco, they got'em since Taco Bell, Mighty Taco, etc do not.

                      My wife is from the gulf coast of AL and for years it was a chain-free zone. Even McDonald's failed when they tried to open in her town while she was in high school, it lasted less than a year. Of course as the beaches started to attract more snowbirds/tourists away from the traditional haunts in Florida, the chains (and of course the factory outlet mall, the ultimate tourist trap) all moved in.

                      1. re: TexSquared

                        We vacationed in GS/OB a few years back. It was awesome.

                        We should all hook up sometime.


                        1. re: Davwud

                          Damn, small world isn't it? My wife grew up in Foley....

                          Since you know the area, here are some of our local faves:

                          Lambert's Cafe (such a place wouldn't last in Toronto, we're too snobby for our own good...)
                          Wolf Bay Lodge -- been to the original which burned down a year ago, and the new one on the beach
                          Down South BBQ

                          We've never been to the original Camp 31 though, which is east of there.

                          1. re: TexSquared

                            I hate to break it to you, but Lambert's is a (small) chain. They've also got a couple of locations in Missouri.

                            1. re: beachmouse

                              I wouldn't call 3 locations owned by the same family a "chain"... When I say chain I mean things like Applebee's, Ruby Tuesday's, et al....

                        2. re: TexSquared

                          We have a local TexMex place in Houston that does great fresh fries with their camarones empanizados(fried shrimp.) I cringe when people call Del Taco and Taco Bell TexMex, it sure gives it a bad name. Del Taco/Canada story. My ex and I flew back from Toronto of all places, and it was late and we were starved so we hit a Del Taco, back when they were still in Houston. It turns out all we had was Canadian money, and she insisted Del Taco would take it, she being from Rochester, NY. We got in a huge fight, nobody down here takes Canadian money, it's 1600 miles from here, nor pesos, even though Mexico is 300 miles away.

                          1. re: James Cristinian

                            I learned when we were dating that the banks don't even like it. That was in Memphis.


                            1. re: Davwud

                              Yeah, currency exchange is a "foreign" concept to most American banks, excuse the pun.... there's only one currency that matters. And it ain't the Euro!

                      2. re: TexSquared

                        I can't speak for the KFCs in the states but, where I live in Canada KFC gets their chicken from the local Lilydale (DH worked at one as a cooker going through college)

                        Can I assume here the reason the chicken in the states is larger is because they too use local chicken and isn't it stuffed full of hormones
                        (ala Food Inc) to make them ridiculously larger to keep the masses happy