Rally for Gorilla Cheese owner
Restaurant owner getting help after cancer diagnosis
When one of their own needs a hand, Hamilton’s culinary entrepreneurs step up to lend it.
That’s been the case for Graeme Smith, one of the founders of Gorilla Cheese, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 oropharyngeal cancer at the base of his tongue in February.
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to help support the business and its 46-year-old owner through his treatment. By Thursday afternoon, almost $3,400 had been raised.
A fundraiser featuring a special menu, games and face painting is being held this Sunday at the Gorilla Cheese restaurant on Ottawa Street North.
“I was really touched by it,” said Smith. “It kind of showed the character of Hamilton business owners.”
Smith, who started Gorilla Cheese in 2011 as a food truck with a partner after being laid off from his job with U.S. Steel, was determined to keep working despite undergoing chemotherapy every three weeks and radiation treatment from Monday through Friday. But three months ago, he had to “hand over the reins” to girlfriend Andi Nisbet and longtime staff after a couple weeklong hospital stays made him realize “I can’t do everything.” (Smith and his partner split in 2013).
“I’m really lucky to have her … and a good staff that picked up where I left off,” Smith said.
Smith plans to be at Sunday’s event, dubbed the Hammertown Throwdown to Smash Cancer. The fundraiser is a collaboration between Cake and Loaf Bakery, Gorilla Cheese, Jonny Blonde Food Truck & Kitchen, Pokeh and MeatVentures.
“It all stems from the small business community in Hamilton,” said Cake and Loaf ’s Nicole Miller. “Instead of being competitors, I find that we’re all supporting one another.”
Along with her business partner Josie Rudderham, Miller first met Smith in 2011 when their bakery was brand new. He was new on the food truck scene and looking for bread to use in his sandwiches. A match was born.
“He was our first wholesale bread client,” she said, noting they have since parted ways because they’ve discontinued that slice of the business.
Miller says she’s heartened by
the response to the event and hopes the support might provide Smith with “a little cushion.” “When it calls for it, we will come into action and help our fellow small business owners. It gives me the warm-and-fuzzies.”
Graeme Smith inside his Gorilla Cheese restaurant on Ottawa Street North, when it was being built in May 2015. The business began as a food truck in 2011.