Toronto Butcher and Greengrocer Team Up to Thrive During COVID-19
Stock In Trade and Doodles moved in together on Gerrard Street East
Kamar Shah and Jason Becker are teaming up on Gerrard Street East to serve meat and vegetables to east-end residents. – David Nickle/Torstar
The artisanal butcher shop and lunch counter Stock in Trade had been selling fresh and prepared locally sourced meat on the Danforth for six years — and the organic greengrocer Doodles Market had been selling fruits and vegetables on Gerrard Street East for less than a year when the respective owners came upon one another.
Even before COVID-19 dealt a body-blow to retail on main streets in March, it became clear to Stock in Trade’s co-owner Jason Becker and Doodles’ co-owner Kamar Shah that they could help each other.
With their lease up in March, Becker and his partners were at once chafing at the small size of their unit and discouraged by the prospect of rising rent.
And less than a year into the new business, Shah and his wife and partner Jennifer Shah were coming to the conclusion that the neighbourhood around their more spacious and reasonably priced Gerrard Street East location could not live by fruit and vegetables alone.
Collaboration was in the cards early on.
“We had plans to … move into the back of this other shop to have a meat case, just have a small fridge,” said Becker. “But as our lease was up in March, we started to renegotiate with our landlord and the price was too high.”
With the COVID-19 emergency in full swing, the two businesses decided to accelerate their plans, and in late May the two businesses merged into a more complete partnership — moving the entire operation to the Gerrard Street location and hanging both signs on the front.
For the Shahs, the combination makes a great deal of sense. They opened Doodles a year ago after having spotted a gap in the Gerrard/Greenwood neighbourhood for a greengrocer, and over the course of that came to realize that the customer base was hungry for more than greens.
“We did intense research and we found that when you look at the household income in our area, it’s slightly higher than in other areas,” he said. “Both parents are working. We were living that life ourselves and we realized that people don’t always have the ability to go to a big grocery store and do shopping.”
Kamar Shah said it also became clear that Stock in Trade’s team would bring necessary skills and branding to the business.
“We needed to offer a bigger proposition to our community and a good one — someone who’s reputable and understands the whole process,” he said.
And Shah, who with Jennifer comes from an international marketing background, said he suspects these kinds of partnerships will make more sense as the small business sector recovers from the COVID-19 emergency.
“You’ll see more and more people coming together with different strengths to provide a service,” he said.
As the business grows in the new location, Stock in Trade is also building its online business — offering free delivery of choice cuts of meat and also meal kits, as well as curbside pickup, as well as their signature sandwiches: the meatball sandwiches, Cubanos, Philly cheese-steaks and house-made hot dogs.
And Stock in Trade products remain available on the Danforth, sold through their old neighbour, the locally sourced fishmonger Hooked at 1246 Danforth Ave.
Eventually, Becker said the Gerrard Street location will expand to be an even-more full-service grocery.
“Our goal would be to be a small Whole Foods or Pusateri’s,” he said. “We’re trying to emulate the food shops in Europe.”
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Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
by David Nickle
David Nickle is a reporter and columnist for Metroland Media Toronto, who specializes in municipal politics. He is also an author of speculative fiction. His most recent book is VOLK: A Novel of Radiant Abomination.