Meals on Wheels

TEXT Elsa Lam

In my first week of architecture school, the studio professor took our entire class to a bar and bought a round for the group. Lesson one: architecture is about bringing people together, and food and drink are invaluable accomplices.

That message resonates in a Toronto fundraiser that pairs top local chefs with adventurous designers. Night Market fills the alleyway behind Honest Ed’s iconic bargain superstore with custom-created food carts, each offering treats plated or poured by a local restaurant. Proceeds go to The Stop, a community food organization that runs a food bank, drop-in meal centre and urban agriculture workshops. 

“When we first reached out to the design community last year, we were shocked by the outpouring of interest,” recalls Danielle Goldfinger, who led the coordination of the inaugural soirée on last year’s summer solstice. This year they’re expanding from 27 to 35 carts, and will run the event over two nights–from June 18-19. The selected designers range from experienced studios like the Brothers Dressler to a shop class from Central Tech High School, with a healthy dose of architecture student groups in the mix. While most teams hail from Toronto, others are based as far away as Montreal and New York State.

For young designers, it’s a chance to create a pavilion that will be seen by over 2,400 attendees, and potentially many more through mainstream and social media. Several of last year’s carts have had an afterlife: the wooden pig created by design collective co.labs has travelled to food events around town, and The Stop has reused Richard D’Alessandro’s cart made from pipe fittings and bike wheels in programs such as its summer beer garden. At least one food sponsor, Reunion Island Coffee, purchased their cart–a classy wooden crate by Brothers & Sons–after the event. 

Other partnerships have emerged between designers. Furniture designer Aaron Willinsky opened up his workshop space to others last year, and plans to do so again this time. A Facebook site facilitates material swaps. “There’s this whole element of community-building that has evolved from the event,” says Goldfinger. The fact that the event is a fundraiser, rather than a competition, encourages a collaborative atmosphere.

Carts to watch for this year? Design collective F_RM Lab plans to build a photo booth inspired by supergraphics and the theatre marquee signage that covers the Honest Ed’s façade. Instead of Fat Albert bulbs, they’ll be using beer bottles slotted into plywood. Ryerson University’s [R]ed[U]x Lab has its CNC machines revved up to fabricate a flame-like lattice, with compartments for LED-lit utensil holders intended to disappear over the course of the evening. The most dramatic proposal entails a worktop supported from above–by a propane-fuelled hot air balloon. In case the prototype refuses to rise to the occasion, its Waterloo student designers have made contingency plans involving helium and a more conventional cart.

“In order to make a splash in this city, where there is literally an event every single weekend, it has to be absolutely jaw-dropping,” notes Goldfinger. Thanks largely to the creative efforts of its volunteer designers and chefs, Night Market is making its mark. It raised $57,000 for the organization last year, and will potentially raise $80,000 this year. But beyond funds, it’s accomplishing its main goal in spreading knowledge of the organization–particularly to the millennials active in both building and attending the event. “It’s getting the word out that The Stop exists and we’re working hard to get healthy food to marginalized and lower-income groups.” CA

For more information on The Stop’s Night Market, please visit