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After close to three years of battling Covid-19 on the front lines, fiancees and hospital co-workers Josh Persaud and Charish Reynolds have opened Leguan, a Mississauga food stall specializing in crispy Guyanese fried chicken sandwiches.
Although he came of age in Scarborough, Josh Persaud’s earliest years were spent on the island of Leguan, home to a traditional fishing and farming community off the coast of Guyana. When the Persaud family moved to Canada, many of their home recipes migrated with them. They provided comfort and sustenance to Josh when he moved out and began juggling nursing studies with a full-time job at the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, in Whitby.
At Ontario Shores, Josh met Charish Reynolds, a hospital security guard and fellow nursing student. They fell in love just as the first Covid wave hit. Overnight, their courses went online while their jobs grew more demanding and stressful. Their ongoing potential exposure to the virus made them social pariahs.
To stave off loneliness and despair, the couple sought succour and satisfaction via cooking, more specifically via fried chicken sandwiches. Constant tweaking led to the creation of a sandwich whose chicken was so succulent and flavour-packed on the inside, and ear-splittingly crunchy on the outside, that when they unleashed the fruits of their labour on family and friends, the reaction was they were too good not to be shared with the world at large.
At that point, Josh and Charish were engaged to be married and had set aside savings for a down payment on a house. The double realization that they were both priced out of southern Ontario’s housing market and burned out by their healthcare jobs led them to throw caution to the wind.
Without any restaurant experience at all, they decided to use their savings to start their own fried chicken sandwich business, using locally sourced, halal ingredients. They had just enough money to buy and renovate a food stall at the Mississauga Flea Market. The plan was to fry up a storm on weekends while continuing with their day jobs and studies during the week.
Paying homage to Josh’s birth island, Leguan opened in mid-December and quickly gained traction among the local Guyanese community, who deemed its sandwiches impressively authentic. As Josh confessed in a recent Toronto Life interview, “I wanted our business to embody not just the flavours of my birthplace but also the kindness and humility of the people who live there.”
The menu’s signature creation, the Mother Clucker ($15), showcases two mighty chicken thighs, marinated for 24 hours, tossed in a secret blend of herbs and spices, then fried until they’re mouthwateringly “gold ‘n’ krispy”. As soon as it emerges from the fryer, the chicken is pressed between two toasted Guyanese sweet buns -- known as tennis rolls -- and topped with Sriracha slaw, fire sauce, hot pickles, melty American cheese and house aioli. On Instagram, Josh recommends the sandwich “if you’re looking to satisfy your cravings for lunch and still want a snack for later.”
Those with less ambitious appetites can opt for more modest versions -- Son of a Clucker and That Clucker William -- along with beef and herbivore renditions. More snackable options include Krispy Chicken Tendies and Dirty Bird Poutine with or without a side of cajun fries. There’s even dessert, in the form of animal crackers served with birthday cake dip, a shout-out to the ‘90s Dunkaroo craze that goes by the colourful name Quicksand & Fossils.
Since opening on December 18, business has boomed to the extent that Leguan has sold out of chicken on several occasions. As Josh told Toronto Life, “We started making chicken sandwiches to distract ourselves from our jobs now Leguan is a job unto itself. Still, it’s a balm to our burnout. Though nursing is profoundly fulfilling, it’s also extremely demanding. Food, on the other hand, is comforting and grounding.”
Leguan is open Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Mississauga Flea Market, 3092 Mavis Road. Takeout and delivery are available via Leguan’s website and phone (tel: 905 490-0168) and third-party apps.