Beloved Hamilton food truck ‘pioneer’ passes after battling cancer

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Published January 6, 2022 at 7:08 pm

Graeme Smith, who was so well-regarded in the Hamilton restaurant biz that his competitors raised money for his recovery from cancer treatment, died on Wednesday.

Smith was the leader at Gorilla Cheese, a Hamilton favourite which professed to be Canada’s first grilled cheese food truck. Since first firing up the grill in 2011 to prepare premium grilled sandwiches, Gorilla Cheese, led by Smith and his life partner and store manager Andi Nesbit, has been honoured in the Hamilton Tourism awards and in the Hamilton Spectator Readers’ Choice Awards. The eatery-on-wheels was also featured on CBC’s “Dragons’ Den” and The Food Network.

A former steelworker, Smith was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer in 2017, which he described in a media interview as “a tumour at the back of my tongue.” After going into remission, his cancer returned in December 2020.

A tribute post on Gorilla Cheese’s Facebook group that Nesbit penned had garnered 1,500 likes and nearly 275 comments as of Thursday evening.

“Graeme loved this business with his whole self; always working and striving to improve, and really just wanting people to enjoy themselves and what he had to offer,” Nesbit wrote. “Graeme loved making food and he loved making people happy. His pride was deeply rooted in every single sandwich he made and his joy was in your joy.

“This (Hamilton) community has meant so much to him and is what kept him going season after season.

“I loved Graeme, and I know that many of you did too. He was a pioneer, an idea man, a warrior and a friend. He was our guiding force, and he was Gorilla Cheese. It was my honour to serve with him.”

In the summer of 2017, when Smith was too sick to work, several local businesses rallied together to support him and Nesbit, who had kept Gorilla Cheese running. Fellow restauranteurs contributed to a fundraiser where they took over the resto’s cooking, while games and face painting were also offered.

By the following winter, the by-all-accounts affable Smith was sufficiently recovered and inspired to return to the grill.

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