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Mark McEwan predicts that Torontonians will “get” his North York version of Dean & Deluca

Mark McEwan, shopkeep

Mark McEwan, shopkeep (Photo by Nikki Leigh McKean)

We’ve been hearing about McEwan—Mark McEwan’s proposed gourmet grocery store—for what seems like eons now. News about it broke in late 2007, with an opening date set for January 2009. But then we were told we’d have to wait another five months. Now, even though controversy is brewing over the store’s gentrifying effects, we are told that the suspense is almost over. Come June, the Bymark chef will open the doors to his supermarket at Lawrence and Don Mills. He envisions the size of his store as somewhere between Pusateri’s and Whole Foods, with aisles of gourmet ingredients and prepared foods tended by employees offering restaurant-style service.

McEwan thinks the popular big-box outlets—think Metro and Loblaws—have it all wrong. “You walk into a large grocery store, and they’re selling housewares. There are so many items on the shelves that you can’t find anything.” These one-stop-shop outlets are at one end of Toronto’s grocery spectrum, while the other extreme is occupied by artisanal shops that provide few products and suit fewer budgets. McEwan wants to occupy the middle ground. He cites SoHo’s Dean & Deluca as the project’s inspiration, however, so expect steep prices.

“Toronto is a very savvy town. People are highly discriminating and well versed, and I think they’ll totally get it,” says the chef. Even the anticipated opening of a Whole Foods at Avenue Yonge and Sheppard hasn’t fazed him: “If I felt there was an abundance of good product out there, I probably wouldn’t be opening a store.”

So how does he plan to pull this off? With an army of 100 employees. “I’m looking for management on the floor to behave like restaurant management,” he says. And he’s not kidding; host-like figures who will watch the door and orient new customers are part of the plan.

The long wait has reportedly been due to construction delays, not the sluggish economy. And despite rumours that the upcoming location is the first of four, McEwan is making no hasty plans: “I never talk about the next one till the first one’s running well.” Good news for Don Mills dwellers. The rest of us will have to sit tight.

 

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