John Chong is perhaps the most serene restaurateur in town. For 43 years he's been behind the grill at Hastings Snack Bar (2 Hastings, at Queen East, no phone) making egg-foo-young-derived western sandwiches - on white toast, of course - for a small but devoted clientele of early-morning workers from the TTC yard down the road and the boys and girls in blue serge from nearby 7 Division.
Chong's day starts early, at 6, and by 1 in the afternoon he's closed up shop. He wouldn't have it any other way.
"Some days I make $5, but it doesn't matter to me," says the career cook who bought the spot decked out in flowering cacti and not much else back in 1963, when the neighbourhood was considered a slum and not the hotbed of gentrification it is today. "People were afraid to come out here."
Not any more. At least twice a month some hipster entrepreneurs breeze into the formica-clad luncheonette and make him an offer they think he can't refuse. But the 70-something short-order cook isn't interested. He's well aware he's sitting on prime restaurant real estate, but the joint ain't for sale.
"Everyone's after the place," notes Edward Levesque , who opened his own successful bistro a few years ago in a former greasy spoon just three doors down. "It needs work, but it has a lot of potential."
"They talk big but they don't have the money," says the savvy Chong. "Besides, what else would I do?"
Chong has been cooking for more than 50 years. Before Hastings, he worked in his father's restaurant at Queen and Sherbourne - "a nice area back then," he remembers - and before that at his family's Chinese restaurant at Parliament and Gerrard.
" Harry Rosen's first tailor shop was right next door," Chong recalls. "It's funny to think we started out at exactly the same place and now he's a big success."
Financially perhaps, but we wager the well-heeled haberdasher doesn't get to tell the rest of the world to get lost every day come 1 o'clock in the afternoon.