The saga of the “Prague” deli on the Toronto’s “Queen Street” (Sága “Pražského” uzenářství na “Královnině ulici” v Torontu

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Author: Josef Čermák (CzechFolks.com PLUS)

It all started long time ago. Next year, it will be 60 years. In 1952 Jaroslav Roušal opened in a building municipally known as 638 Queen Street West in Toronto “J. Rousal Prague Ham Shop”. It was the first establishment in Toronto making Prague ham and sausages. The Roušal family continued in this business until 1968 (I stopped there occasionally for sausages or other goodies, but because it happened long time ago and my memory isn’t all that good anymore, I don’t remember too much about the Rousal years, and will move directly to the Pichlik family dynasty). That year (1968, when in Prague and actually all across the land, Prague Spring filled the streets with a new hope – and then came the tanks from the east), in the fall, the Prague Ham Shop was bought by the Pichlik family. 

Jiří Pichlík was born on April 1, 1917, in southern Bohemia, in the City o Protivín. According to the obituary which the family put together after his death (November 4, 2010). “Jiří was growing up in a small pub owned by his grandfather, and where as a little boy he learned to play whist and do business”. He married twice. He had two children from the first marriage: Jirka, who lives in Prague, and daughter Eliška, who followed her father to Canada. Sometime in the sixties, Jiří took over, on the Tyl square in Prague, a store, which he made very successful, and where he met his second wife, Maria. The two left Czechoslovakia in 1967 for Vienna and in January 1968 immigrated to Canada. In the fall of that year – as we have already mentioned – they bought the Roušal business. At that time, Jiří was over fifty and knew very little about sausage making. But that didn’t stop him.

I am not sure, what the business was called at that time, because the name was changed several times. At one time it was called “Prague Meat Products”, then “Prague Deli”, and the last few years, “Prague Fine Foods Emporium”. But just as a rose, under any name, smells as a rose, so, too, regardless of what it is called, a Prague sausage store (where they also make dumplings and excellent pastries), always offers first class products and an exemplary service. And so the business grew bigger and slowly changed. The Pichliks moved into catering, selling their products at dances and balls… and here I must mention the fate of two sucking pigs, sacrificed on the altar of the Czech and Slovak liking for eating pork meat.

The first piglet episode happened long time ago, at the time our community still owned Masaryk Hall on Cowan Avenue., in Toronto. The hall was subsequently sold to the City, but is still known as Masaryk, even though the name has been – and it still was the case last year – somewhat distorted). We used to do our Sokol exercises there, performed our plays, hold our meetings, have our dances and balls there. For a number of years, Masaryk Hall was the place where the “gold diggers balls” were held. I don’t think they had much to do with gold digging, but people had a really good time. One day the organizers of the balls decided that the prizes in the draw were becoming boring. Someone suggested and the others in the end went along, that at the next ball the first prize in the draw should be a live sucking pig. And so it was. It was delivered by Prague Deli. They brought it to the Hall. It was pink and had a scarlet bow around its neck. Simply a piglet to fall in love with. Except that it somehow managed to escape its guardians and started sprinting around the hall. One of the objects in its way was a bag of breadcrumbs. The piglet jumped into the bag, and because it was sweating, when it emerged from the bag, it was head to toe (in fact, four toes) nicely covered with breadcrumbs. And so covered, it continued sprinting around the hall. Everybody, including the piglet, had a fabulous time. As the piglet wildly sprinted under the tables and women’s dresses, it lost quite a lot of the breadcrumbs. But when it was finally caught, it was still fairly covered. It ended at Masaryktown, a lovely park-like piece of land owned by the same organization that owned the Masaryk Hall. There it grew fat and big and they finally slaughtered it and ate it. And that did not seem fair to me. I think that such a good looking piglet deserved to be allowed to run around the park at Masaryktown for the rest of its natural life.

(This is a good place to mention – and that applies to both piglet episodes – that I was not personally present and that some actual details may differ from their description above and bellow). The second piglet incident took place in the modern age of the life of our community in Toronto, which (the modern age) dates from the (second) coming (he came to Toronto first as a student towards the end of the last century) of Richard Krpac to this crazily growing city, in the disguise of the Consul General of the Czech Republic to Toronto. The term of his rein (which sadly is coming to the end) will be seen by the historians (here I am entering the realm of prophesy) as the gold age of the life of the Czech community in Ontario – and particularly in Toronto, not only in musical and literary life, but also in the beer culture. The Consul General of the Czech Republic to Toronto sees, as one of his main tasks,  building in Toronto, and then in Ontario, a basis, from which the glory of the Czech beer would spread across the whole continent, and beyond. He started with the Pilsner, and now added Milos and only God knows, where it will end. The Consul General, of course, has many social obligations as for example entertaining diplomats and other diversely useful personalities. And once, the Consul General had a brilliant idea: to feed his guests with a grilled sucking pig. But where does one get a pig? Simple, Watson: the Prague Deli (which by now also served as a restaurant) on the Queen Street in Toronto…The sucking pig was delivered – and as far I know (and I know very little), it happened to be somewhat bigger than the base, on which it was planned to grill it. (At this point, I am beginning to fumble – I wasn’t there and I really don’t know what happened, except that, at some point, the poor piglet began to burn and clouds of smoke engulfed the residence. Apparently everyone present at the residence started running around with blankets and canvases trying to disperse the smoke. To their everlasting credit, they managed to save the piglet from being cremated. And when they served the delicacy to the guests, they received many compliments, particularly about the crunchy skin…

What do they sell (and they produce most of it) at the Prague Emporium these days? But first, perhaps we should find, who is the present owner of the Prague Deli. In 1968 – as we already mentioned – the business was purchased by Jiří Pichlík. Jiří Pichlík had a wife, Maria. Maria – if I got it right – had a son from her marriage, Laďa Král and Láďa Král was married (and still is married) to Květa, whose father was the well-known skier, Josef Buchar, member of the Czechoslovak Olympic team for the Lake Placid Olympics in 1936. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it to Lake Placid, because 14 days before the team’s departure from Prague, he broke his arm. And all these people were helping Jiří in building the “Prague” Deli on the Queen Street in Toronto. Starting in 1972, Laďa and Květa Král began to take over the management of the business, which they managed until 2005, when the business was renamed Prague Fine Foods Emporium and taken over by their son, Tom (a daughter, Helen Ninavaie also works in the Emporium; the only Králs’ child, who has departed from the family tradition, is their daughter, Barbora, who teaches at the St. Joseph College). But obviously, even the whole family couldn’t do all the work. During the years, quite a few people worked for the family. For example, Líba Hošková had been baking everything sold  at the Prague Deli (Prague Emporium) store for the last 24 years (she doesn’t like the Russians – she lived near Milošovice, a place with a nasty Soviet connection).

Or Pavol Kmet from Košice, who came to Canada in 1988, a tall slender man, who moves around the store and dining area with racing speed, and whenever I stop there for lunch, I can’t keep my eyes from him; or Vlastička Sklenářová, whom we all know from the days when she owned, just a couple of doors from Prague Deli, a very successful ‘Vlastička’s Restaurant’, regularly visited by the cast and technical staff of the New Theatre (and, of course, everyone else), and who is now frequently helping out at the Prague Emporium.Prague Emporium also provides part time employment to students (presently, for example, Magdalena Vokáčová).

And now we can return to the products sold (and mainly produced) at the Emporium. There is quite a lot of it and I will limit my list to the most popular articles: various kinds of sausages (including blood sausages), pasties, sandwiches, Christmas cake, pastries, sweets, sauerkraut, stuffed cakes, dumplings (at lunchtime or dinnertime, you can order almost anything, duck, goose etc). And they’ll get for you a sucking pig, venison or a boar. They will also prepare a feast at your home. Tom, especially, is excellent at catering. We met him at the University of Toronto, the residence of the Consul General of the Czech Republic, and a number of private homes. Their products (for example dumplings) are sold at several establishments, including large outfits, such as Starski and people come to Toronto, to get them. The Weiders (he family which developed the ski slopes in Collingwood) used to come to Toronto just to get the Prague sausages.

At Prague Deli (and Emporium) – as well as Vlastička’s Restaurant before it closed – you met almost everybody (both from Toronto and outside Toronto). Among the people who were frequent shoppers, were Jan and his wife, (Susan Douglas), Rubeš, Karel Ančerl, Josef Škvorecký, Zdena Salivarová, Milo and Alice Kubík and almost everyone from the  the New Theatre (Ferda and Irma Čuliks, Bohouš Máca, Ada Toman – Toman, when he first arrived in Toronto, offered himself to Prague Deli as a salesman of their products, particularly hamburgers -, Pavel Král, Tomáš Mašek, Zdenka Novotná, Zuzana Novotná, Jana Fabianová, Marie Klečková, Jiří Benda, Milan Crhák, Karel and Radka Tamchynovi, Dáša Hubschmanová, Jan Šmíd, Jiří Škoda… The out of Toronto guests include Valdemar Matuška, Petr Dvorský, Eva Urbanová, Jan Tříska, Adina Mandlová, Jiří Bělohlávek, Jiřina Bohdalová, Boris Krajný, Zdenek Plech and many others.

Prague Ham Shop, Prague Meat Poducts, Prague Deli, Prague Fine Foods Emporium (and Vlastička’s Restaurant, as well) were more than just a ham shop or eating places on the Queen Street in Toronto (and I don’t know anyone who would dare to underestimate the importance of ham shops and eating places in their primary function – everything , allegedly even love – passes through the stomach. These places were – particularly during the forty years when Czechoslovakia was little more than a colony of the Soviet communism – meeting places, where beside the blood sausages and Christmas cakes, we could also find an echo of our native land. Vlastička’s Restaurant closed a few years ago. Květa a Láďa Králs are beginning to feel the fatigue of the hard work and perhaps their years, and would like to retire. Tom, the present owner, plans to move (after his wedding later this year) to British Columbia. He could sell the house very quickly. But both he and the whole Pichlík family would like to sell the enterprise as a going business. They wouldn’t like to see the long tradition ruptured. We all hope that they will succeed.

 

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Začalo to dávno. Příští rok to bude 60 let. V roce 1952 Jaroslav Roušal otevřel v domě číslo 638 Queen Street West v Torontu “J.Roušal Prague Ham Shop”. Byl to první podnik v Torontu, kde dělali pražské uzeniny. Roušalovi podnik vedli až o roku 1968 (chodil jsem tam, ale poněvadž už je to dávno, a pamět už mi zvlášť dobře neslouží, tak si toho o vládě Roušalova rodu moc nepamatuji a přejdu rovnou k dynastii rodiny Pichlíkovy). Toho roku (1968, kdy se  v Praze a po celé zemi začalo rozvíjet Pražské jaro a pak přišly tanky z východu), na podzim, podnik koupil Jiří Pichlík.
Jiří Pichlík se narodil 1. dubna 1917 v Jižních Čechách v městě Protivín. Jak říká pěkný nekrolog, který o něm rodina sepsala po jeho smrti 4. listopadu 2010, Jiří “vyrůstal v malé hospůdce, kterou vlastnil jeho děda a kde se už jako malý kluk naučil maryáš a kšeftovat.” Jiří byl dvakrát ženatý. Z prvního manželství měl dvě děti, Jirku, který žije v Praze a dcerku Elišku, která přišla za otcem do Kanady. Někdy v šedesátých letech převzal v Praze na Tylově náměstí prodejnu, která pod jeho vedením vzkvétala a kde potkal svoji druhou ženu Marii. S Marií odešel v lednu 1967 do Vídně a v lednu 1968 do Kanady. A na podzim, jak už jsme se zmínili, koupil Roušalovic podnik. To už Jiřímu bylo přes padesát a o výrobě uzenin toho moc nevěděl.

Pokračování ZDE

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One thought on “The saga of the “Prague” deli on the Toronto’s “Queen Street” (Sága “Pražského” uzenářství na “Královnině ulici” v Torontu

  1. What exactly is your arrange for Canada Day? I am intending on heading down to be able to Windsor watching the particular fireworks and enjoy the days and nights events and forget regarding help some time.

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