A Motherly Sign

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2008.

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Since it was built in 1887, the Alexandrina Block on College Street west of Spadina has seen numerous tenants come and go, including The Bagel music venue. Among its current elements is a 1970s-style sign promising over a dozen variety of submarine sandwiches. Those hoping for a retro experience will be disappointed as all that remains of the self-proclaimed “Rolls Royce of submarines” is the sign, fully intact and party covered by a tree.

The earliest media mention we can find for Mothers a dining guide in the June 3, 1972 edition of Star Week, which gave Mothers four stars out of four (tying it with the only survivor in the $5-$10 category, The Coffee Mill). “Mothers serves a Super-Sub sandwich for $1.35. It could use a little more oregano, but otherwise it’s the closest thing we’ve found in Toronto to the Philadelphia hoagie or New York hero. Hero-worshippers please take note.”

While Mothers may have been lacking in the oregano department, it did offer a unique delivery vehicle to back up its slogan: a Volkswagen Beetle modified to resemble a Rolls Royce. Such conversions were a fad during the period, with surviving examples including one owned by Liberace on display at his museum in Las Vegas. According to co-owner Howard Waxberg in a January 1974 interview with Toronto Life, “it cost us $450 to have the body work done, and then we had to get it painted—maybe $600 altogether.” The main problem with the car was finding suitable parts, especially after an accident damaged the first front grill. Waxberg felt that the vehicle “was the best advertising money we’ve spent. It’s fantastic to drive the thing. People look at you, laugh, point, stop you and ask questions, like ‘What is that?’”

A question now asked by pedestrians passing the sign.

UPDATE

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The Mothers sign gradually faded away. First one side was replaced by a sign for another business. As of July 2019, only the frame remains.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Mothers Sandwich Shoppes–note the fancier spelling–was revisited by Star Week circa November 1977. The following review, which gave it 2-1/2 stars (out of three I’m guessing, since all of the restaurants listed were given either 2-1/2 or 3 star ratings) ran for nearly a year-and-a-half:

Americans say Canadians have no idea what a submarine sandwich really is. That is with one exception–the owners of Mothers are reputed to make versions more than acceptable to even the sophisticated “sub” palate. Hot steak sandwiches and veal sandwiches are salso served.

At this point, there were also locations at 44 Eglinton Avenue West (at Duplex) and 826 Yonge Street (at Cumberland).

gm 1993-02-23 mother's sandwich shop_Page_1

Want some solitaire with your sub? Photo by Neil Graham, Globe and Mail, February 23, 1993.

By 1993, Mothers served up subs and computer parts. From the February 23, 1993 Globe and Mail:

Staff need a certain amount of versatility to work at Honson Computer Corp. and Mother’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Toronto. When the lunch hour hits, employees scramble back and forth between helping customers pick out computer systems and serving up tangy meatball sandwiches on thick, crusty rolls. The combination computer store and lunch counter is one of the more unusual manifestations of a trend in computer distribution and retailing: most people in the business of selling computers are looking for way to hedge their bets.

According to owner Peter Lee, the key to surviving in the computer business was finding a way to cover your overhead.

In Mr. Lee’s case that meant broadening into chicken soup, french fries, and corned beef on rye. Mr. Lee had operated Honson Computer near the University of Toronto’s downtown campus for six years when the recession hit. Looking for a way to cut costs he took over Mother’s Sandwich Shop next door and piled his computer boxes and demonstration models alongside the long, wooden booths and orange plastic tabletops. Mr. Lee said he makes less than $100 profit on a $2,000 computer system. A sandwich, on the other hand, yields about 100 percent profit.

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