If a friend called to offer you juicy leftovers from Cory Vitiello’s restaurant, Flock, you’d eat them, right? What if that “friend” was actually a mutual member of a Facebook group — and a stranger?

This is not a hypothetical question, but a real-life scenario that played out on Toronto’s swapping site, Bunz Trading Zone earlier this month:

bunz-meal-strangers

 

“Hungry buns!,” read the post. “We ordered FLOCK takeout for production night at work and can’t eat all this sumptuous hipster chicken. Come take these three juicy drumsticks (and fancy sauces) from us! ISO: a high-five, good joke, feeding a fellow bun in need…”

The Flock leftovers are just the latest in a slew of Bunz trades, edible and otherwise. Founder Emily Bitze started the sharing community when she was short a can of tomato sauce for her planned pasta dinner and created a group dedicated to swapping resources. The Bunz Trading Zone has one rule: no cash exchanges. Members, known as ‘buns,’ credit the community for saving money, preventing environmental waste (by finding use for items that would otherwise be discarded) and for building a community, one post at a time.

Leftovers are often offered in exchange for subway tokens and tall cans of beer, and while most completed trades are remembered only by their Facebook threads, at least one has turned into a regular cooking gig.

Meet Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee. Khoja is a marketer by day, and Lee works for Via Rail. But on Saturday nights, the roommates open their home to strangers, who bring booze in exchange for gourmet, home-cooked meals and shared conversation. The friends’ home-based dinner service is called Chez Lisgar: prospective guests sign up for a spot on Lee and Khoja’s waiting list, and the pair vets guests online before accepting them. It’s a smooth operation now, but like many a Bunz trade, it started with leftovers.

“We had come home one night from working out and decided that we wanted a quick meal, with whatever leftovers we had, and we ended up having leftovers from that,” explains Lee. “And we were living in a really small apartment at the time, so we thought it would be fun to just see what would happen if we posted the food on Bunz.” So that’s what they did, asking prospective takers to bring alcohol in exchange.

“It ended up getting really popular overnight, and we decided to just run with it.”

Although guests now arrive through the Chez Lisgar website, and not solely through Bunz, the entrepreneurial, DIY and community spirit that defines the Facebook group still shines through.  Khoja and Lee will work around dietary restrictions, but they mainly base menus on what they feel like eating. In return, they ask guests to bring one bottle of red and one bottle of white wine. “People usually pick something they like themselves,” says Khoja. “You get a taste for their personality and choices,” adds Lee. It’s not always wine, either — one upcoming guest has offered to bring dessert instead, and the pair agreed.

 

French onion soup stuffed mushroom cups topped with Gruyere, a Chez Lisgar specialty.Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

French onion soup stuffed mushroom cups topped with Gruyere, a Chez Lisgar specialty. Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

Alyssa Bouranova is a graduate student living in Toronto. She visited Chez Lisgar with her boyfriend earlier this year, dining on a “delicious” meal of bourbon and maple-glazed pulled turkey, guacamole-stuffed onion rings and a green salad.

“It’s kind of a shot in the dark when you’re going with strangers, but it was wonderful,” says Bouranova. “They were very friendly.” The foursome got along so well that Bouranova and her boyfriend stayed past dinner to watch 90s music videos, and she stays in touch with the roommates on Facebook.

“The takeaway is that you don’t have to pay big bucks for gourmet food in Toronto,” says Bouranova. “It was a delicious and easy way to get a really nice meal in a way less pretentious and expensive environment [than a restaurant], and we got to meet cool people as well.”

Bouranova’s isn’t the ongoing friendship to be nurtured by a meal at Chez Lisgar. At a recent dinner, Khoja and Lee liked their guests so much they ended up attending a party together after the meal, and Khoja says she’ll likely be dog sitting for her new friends in the near future.

Like sushi burritos or ice-cream tacos, Chez Lisgar is a typically millennial mashup: at once an Internet-phenomenon, a cash-saver and a community-builder, as well as a constructive protest against a fraught economy that bears little love for young adults. “The fact is most of my friends are struggling finding work,” says Lee, “and a lot of them have had to turn to more unconventional ways of being able to pay bills and afford being a person in a big city. A lot of millennials have an entrepreneurial mindset.”

Chez Lisgar's cheesy garlic pull-apart bread. Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

Chez Lisgar’s cheesy garlic pull-apart bread. Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

Sharing a meal is arguable the oldest and most culturally widespread way of bringing people together, but platforms like Chez Lisgar, or similar service EatWith, are new.

With thousands of apps and internet platforms helping them share, connect and express, Lee and Khoja believe that trendy trades, like those happening via Bunz and in the so-called sharing economy, are here to stay. “Whether it’s a dinner or someone’s music or writing, I think millennials have come to realize that we can’t follow the conventional routes that our parents or teachers have taught us,” says Lee. “We take responsibility on ourselves, and we do it in the most unconventional ways, to consolidate the resources that we do have. We realize that we’ve reached the maximum of what we can consume and it’s time to share with the people around us.”