Rajesh Chamoli, the owner and operator of Samaira’s Kitchen in Toronto’s Leslieville neighborhood, found himself in a hectic situation on a Tuesday morning. He had spent the morning assisting his wife in caring for their newborn, who had fallen ill. When he finally arrived at the restaurant, known for its burgers and pizzas, he quickly got busy in the kitchen, preparing fresh ingredients, making beef patties, and baking burger buns.
At Samaira’s Kitchen, everything is made from scratch, which makes it a labor-intensive process. However, it’s not just the delicious food that’s been drawing attention to the restaurant lately. Over the past week, the front window of the small restaurant has undergone a transformation. It is now adorned with a mosaic of meal tickets, each representing a prepaid meal for those in need.
A sign on the window reads, “If you are hungry and have no money, these meals have been paid for in advance.” The first receipts were put up eight days ago, and since then, Chamoli estimates that the donations have provided about 300 meals. This initiative is in response to the growing issue of food insecurity in the community.
Chamoli expressed concern about the increasing number of people becoming homeless and struggling to put food on their tables. Despite working hard, many individuals and families are facing immense difficulties, especially in recent years. According to Statistics Canada’s latest figures, around seven million Canadians faced hunger last year. Eighteen percent of families reported experiencing food insecurity in 2022, up from 16 percent in 2021.
In Leslieville, the community quickly noticed Chamoli’s initiative. Shortly after putting up the first round of receipts, customers started asking how they could contribute. Chamoli shared that now customer donations are coming in, where they pay for meals, and the restaurant puts up tickets in the window. Those in need can then grab a ticket from the window and exchange it for a meal.
Since the campaign started, not a single day has passed without more receipts being added to the collection. Chamoli emphasized that this effort is solely due to the incredible support of the community, which he describes as amazing.
Chamoli, who has been running the restaurant for almost seven years, has become familiar with many of his customers. Recently, one customer stood out – a woman who hadn’t eaten in five days. She asked for a Greek salad, fries, and the “Machine Gun” burger, a 5oz homemade beef patty with cheddar cheese, bacon, grilled jalapenos, mushrooms, and chipotle aioli.
Chamoli offered her the meal for free, but she insisted on paying. She said she had some money and wanted to pay for it, even buying a breakfast sandwich for the window. These acts of kindness have deeply touched Chamoli, and he shared that there are many similar incidents where people show incredible generosity and gratitude.
Before opening Samaira’s Kitchen, Chamoli worked as a chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. In 2017, he decided to try his hand at entrepreneurship. However, the pandemic hit hard, and the restaurant struggled to survive. They had closed down for renovations and menu improvements just a week before the pandemic began, and the closure stretched on for months, accumulating bills.
Now, with pandemic restrictions in the past, Chamoli is grateful for the ongoing support from the community. He expressed his gratitude by saying, “When you deal with people, you learn every day. And it’s just amazing how people who don’t have the money have such big hearts.”