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Hundreds of MLSE employees helped cook and package 13,000 meals a day for frontline workers, food banks and shelters.SUPPLIED

When the NHL season was cancelled in March, the culinary team at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (MLSE) had been busily preparing 27,000 pounds of food for that evening’s Leafs game. “Word came down, and immediately, we pivoted as we weren’t going to throw the food out,” recalls Chris Zielinski, MLSE’s culinary director. He contacted Second Harvest, Canada’s largest food rescue charity, to load up all the food and distribute to social service agencies serving people facing food scarcity.

That was the impetus for the Bringing Toronto back to its feet initiative, where MLSE transformed its Scotiabank Arena and BMO Field into two of Toronto’s largest kitchens to prepare up to 13,000 meals a day for frontline workers, food banks and shelters.

Uniquely positioned to give back to the city in a challenging time, MLSE did just that. “We had things that other places don’t – a large team of chefs, a big kitchen where people could be distanced and an arena floor where you could assemble meals and no one was next to anybody,” says Zielinski. “We came up with a whole system to safely cook, package and deliver these meals. It required a ton of food and people; thankfully we have about 800 full-time employees.” And MLSE’s sponsors and vendors generously chipped in funds and food to make it happen.

When the second wave hit, MLSE partnered again with Second Harvest and La Tablée des Chefs, a charity whose mission is to work with the food industry to feed people in need. This time, they made 13,000 meals a day out of a single kitchen for 10 days. “Altogether, we were able to produce 657,000 meals,” he affirms. “If you were to purchase everything you needed to do this, the cost would be in excess of $1.6-million. Only because of the generosity of our funding, food and logistics partners was this even possible.”

MLSE continues to look at ways to offer food to those in need while also preparing to open its doors to customers again. “Like everyone else in our industry, we are eagerly awaiting the return to outdoor and indoor dining,” says Zielinski. “We’re working on some very crave-worthy menus to welcome back our customers.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Restaurants Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.