Toxic Tony's food cart brings a little life — and lunch — to the City Pier
CANANDAIGUA — Looking out over the vast expanse of Canandaigua Lake, blue sky above and a light, warm breeze below, Tony Vinci sits in the shade at his perch on the City Pier.
He and his daughter, Jessica, already have the food prepped and the grill is at the ready, when the lunch crowd begins to line up at Toxic Tony’s food cart.
Vinci is not so much “Toxic” as he is talk show host because as a customer walks up, Vinci asks, “How you doing?”
In response, the customer talks about the beautiful weather.
“We paid for it,” Vinci said, prompting this response.
“There you go.”
Vinci enjoys talking with people, and customers will talk about just about anything with him. The weather, yes, but also the food, their lives, the state of Canandaigua — you name it and he’s heard it, good and bad.
That’s a perk of the job.
“You get all the information you hear during the course of the day and you put it in a bag,” Vinci said. “Some of the bag has some good stuff in it. Some of the bag is full of nothing.”
Vinci in this case is not so much “Toxic” but tender — as in, “I consider myself a bartender — a food tender,” he said.
Vinci, who also owns a landscape firm, first started at the pier four years ago as a way to pay for his daughter’s schooling. The deal was, Jessica, who is a graduating Canandaigua Academy senior planning to study criminal justice in college, had to help — and she has, because she likes working with her dad and meeting new people.
And it pays well.
“I probably have a few semesters paid up,” she said, grilling up a sausage with peppers and onions that earned her a $10-plus tip.
She has her own fan club.
“We’re rooting for her in college,” said Pat Dumas of Victor, who has been coming here with Tim Dumas for three years.
“Tony’s a great guy and so is his daughter,” Tim said.
At first, Vinci said customers came because of the location. It’s not so much “Toxic” as it is terrific — you can’t beat the view or the setting come summertime, and so boaters pull up, tourists discover it, walkers make a pitstop and “all of a sudden, we’re getting SUV loads from Wilcox Lane Apartments, which is great for us.”
But it’s the food that brings them back again and again.
One of his regulars drives in twice a week from Hilton for the Italian sausage, making sure to ring ahead of time to check on the weather, Vinci said. He and his daughter serve up Zweigle’s hot dogs all day long, but the chicken spiedie and philly cheesesteak are popular and sets him apart, he said.
His Toxic Tony’s Traveling Tacos sell like hotcakes on weekends, he said.
And then you have the Toxic Sauce, which is not so much “Toxic” as it is tasty — one customer wanted to buy enough of it from him to give as a wedding gift, he said.
But it’s not for sale — at least not yet.
He makes about two pints every morning, but now that people are asking about buying it, he is in the process of finding a bottler. He can’t tell you what’s in it because then you could go make your own Toxic Sauce in 10 minutes, he said, but he promised it’s made with all natural ingredients.
“With the right label, I think it will be a hit,” he said.
And in describing its taste, he’s not so much “Toxic” as he is Tibetan wiseman.
“It goes away fast and doesn’t linger,” Vinci said. “Just because it’s hot it doesn’t have to just be hot. It has to taste good hot.”
And “Toxic” as a name brand is not so much “Toxic” as it is tycoon. He hit on the name as a way of standing out from the crowd.
“It’s marketing,” Vinci said. “I want to stop people dead in their tracks and laugh — and they do.”
It works. He figures there’s a picture of him or the Toxic Tony’s cart in Brazil, Italy, China, all over the world, after the tourists stop and ask him to pose and sometimes, hug.
“Everywhere I go I hear, ‘That’s Toxic Tony,’” Vinci said, adding that too much time in the spotlight can be, well, toxic. “It’s like, ‘Hey, there’s SpongeBob.’”
When business dries up on the Pier come Labor Day, he moves the cart into Naples, setting up shop in the village where “it’s as busy as you ever want to be as a food vendor, for no rhyme or reason,” Vinci said.
“We have a short season,” Vinci said, but seasons change. And then sometime around April, people start to get antsy again, asking when he’s going to come out for the season.
And then it’s not so much “Toxic” as it is tradition — the smell of the grill, the view of the lake, the tang of a grilled sausage with hot sauce, and talking with good friends, like Vinci.
“I just love to sit down and talk to people,” Vinci said. “I’m going to make my retirement off this. It’s fun.”