When you think about where to find a great slice of pizza in Toronto, you probably envision College Street’s “Little Italy” or, if your tastes are a little more pedestrian, your corner Pizza Pizza. If you wouldn’t have selected “Little Jamaica” in the fantasy round of a Levar Burton-hosted Jeopardy, boy do I have a surprise for you! Toronto’s first-ever Caribbean-themed pizzeria is launching soon on Eglinton West and if you ever wanted to know what Jerk chicken would taste like on a slice of ‘za, here’s your chance to explore.
Black Canadian-owned, Caribbean-themed pizzeria, Caribbean Slice, aims to shake up Toronto’s multicultural food scene. I had the opportunity to talk to founders Rhodie Wright and Obi Nwogu about the purpose of their mascot Mr. Caribbean, the need for Black businesses in Toronto to level up, and why you’ll never hear the often-repeated phrase “we nah av’ dat” at their restaurant.
How did you come up with the concept of Caribbean-themed pizza?
Rhodie: I’m originally from Dominica but I love pizza. After all the years of eating pizza, I began to wonder why Black people didn’t have a pizza of their own. A lot of our food is very similar to pizza but they weren’t connected. In Caribbean culture, we eat bread, gravy, sauces, cheese, etcetera. After my wife and I talked about it, I reached out to Obi and we decided to take the leap.
Obi: I’m a pizza connoisseur. Even as a little kid watching the old ninja turtles cartoons, I’ve always loved pizza. When Rhodie came to me with the idea, I thought it was great. It hadn’t been done before. I feel like we in the Black community don’t take a lot of chances. For instance, if you look at Eglinton West, you’ll see a lot of the same restaurants side-by-side which I think is ridiculous. So I saw Rhodie’s vision and immediately started creating it in my mind. We didn’t waste any time getting the ball rolling.
What are your backgrounds in the food industry?
Rhodie: My grandma owned a bakery and I grew up around the pastry business and ate a lot of it. I have some knowledge of both ends of it. Although running my own restaurant is new to me, it’s also really exciting. Hearing positive feedback from different people motivates me to continue doing it.
Obi: I used to operate a meal prep company based on my interest in fitness and food. In terms of a full-fledged restaurant, this is both of our first forays into the industry. However, we’re both foodies and at the end of the day, a great business is a great business if you apply the right things to it. You can have a great chef who doesn’t know how to run a business, so it fails. We believe we have the right product and the right strategies to build off that.
Mr. Caribbean (Courtesy Caribbean Slice)
What is the story you want Caribbean Slice (through Mr. Caribbean) to tell?
Rhodie: There’s a certain stigma when you go into certain restaurants in the Black community. For example, you ask for a jerk chicken or whatever and they don’t have it.
The phenomenon of “we na’ ‘ave dat.”
Rhodie: You know what I mean? Everybody in the Black community can relate to that experience. This is something as Black restauranteurs we have to pay attention to and change. Mr. Caribbean is there to let people know there are certain things we have to change about our practices and, though the character isn’t a real human being, we hope that it can be a way to share unbiased perspectives and a connection with the community.
Obi: Mr. Caribbean’s story is also the story of anyone taking a chance. I didn’t know that this was something that we should start but we took the chance and here we are. Pizza is one of the most popular foods globally and Caribbean food is one of the most flavorful foods in the world. Especially in Toronto and the GTA. So fusing both of those foods together, like jerk chicken instead of pepperoni, or oxtail instead of ground beef makes it different but great. We have traditional crust for those who want it but we’ve also developed our own crust, which is different. Even if you look at our signage, you can tell we invested a lot of money into that.
Rhodie: Someone wanted to bring an ATM into our establishment and I refused because, to me, it shows you’re not a serious business. The world right now is not really about cash. You don’t have to have an ATM in your shop. We need to stop doing business the way we did it twenty years ago. I’m not knocking anybody operating a business on Eglinton, but some stores haven’t changed in twenty years. I want us to treat our customers with more respect because the customer is always right.
Obi: We have a saying. Smile for no reason. That’s the energy we want to bring to our customers. I also think as Black businessmen, it’s so important for us to hold ourselves to a higher standard and keep respect for ourselves too. Some people will go into Black establishments and ask for a discount, but they don’t go into McDonald’s or Burger King and ask for a discount. So we want to create a culture where our environment and business are respected like any other establishment. The way we’ve structured our business from our marketing to the interior is just like any other high-end business so you can see that we’ve invested mentally, emotionally, physically and financially into making this a success.
Caribbean Slice officially launches next month (October) with a block party/comedy battle between competing comedians. Look out for their fully loaded menu, including a special influencer menu that allows community leaders to build their own pizzas and upcoming delivery options through apps like Doordash.