Organic food is trendy these days but it's a trend with a great cause that we need to support. We've recently run a contest on the best local food stores in Toronto. Torontonians got to vote for their favourite organic and local food providers. There are a few Toronto stores that are proud to announce they're selling organic meat and produce, but Torontonians have chosen Rowe Farms as their favourite.
John Rowe, the store owner, started the business in 1970, on a small family farm in Guelph. As his approach to growing animals became more popular, he opened up a stall at the St. Lawrence Market to get his technique to the public. He operated this stall for 34 years. The first Rowe Farms store opened in Leslieville in 2008. Since then, they have expanded to Roncesvalles, the Beaches, the Annex, Bloor West, Uptown at Yonge Street, the St. Lawrence North Market, and Guelph. They also opened a new store on May 9th in Eglinton,
"It's exciting, and I can see that customers are getting that the products are more expensive, but there is a reason why,"
says Jamie Cooney, the chief executive officer at Rowe Farms.
"If you want to buy cheap food, corners get cut and that's a by-product of the price supermarkets charge and what people insist on. So we try to educate people the opposite way. If there is better way it costs more money. If you're opposing animal cruelty, then you should be opposing $2.99 chicken breasts — because they're in conflict,"
At Rowe Farms, they encourage asking questions about the food and they will tell you everything you want to know about their produce. As Cooney admits, their products are more expensive, but he doesn't fail to mention why.
"We kill 40 cows a week. Our competitors kill 10,000. Of course our product is going to be more expensive. It has to be. You have to think about why is their product so cheap. What are the shortcuts there?"
Besides chicken, which, according to Cooney, is their most popular product, Rowe Farms sells beef, pork, lamb, and turkey as well. When entering their store in Roncesvalles, the first thing you see are two smiling workers behind the counter waving, which is sometimes a big game changer and a really important part of the customer service.
"We have an incredible team. There was this family in Roncesvalles, a husband and a wife. The wife has always taken care of her husband and he didn't have to do anything himself. When she got sick suddenly, he came to the store and said that he needs to make food for her, but he didn't know how. So our team did the shopping, wrote him a grocery list and taught him to cook, which went on for about six months until she got better. They invited the team for dinner then. But this is not a corporate initiative. It's not something we teach. It's just having staff that really cares and wants to go the extra mile to help people,"
The second thing you realize when you enter their Roncesvalles store, and this will not impress you, is the quantity of styrofoam tray packaging you'll find in the refrigerators. It's not really eco-friendly and certainly doesn't make the meat more appealing. The styrofoam trays are not helping the already cold appearance of the store on Roncesvalles, which could look better to attract the customer's eye.
At Rowe Farms you can buy eggs, dairy, vegetables, and fruit and almost everything you need for a perfect meal. The best thing is that it's all local. You can find chips, nuts, and shelves stacked with colourful jam jars. If you suddenly decide you'd like a cup of tea after the dinner and you're all out, they have a great choice of Pluck Teas. If you're making chicken wings for dinner, pick up some local hot sauce while you're there. Also, you'll probably be surprised to see shelves stacked with cookware at the entrance. Jamie Cooney kindly explained to us,
"You'll see we sell fine end chef knives, cast iron cookware, because people would come to the store and they'd ask: 'How do I cook a steak?' That art has been lost. And our first answer would be: 'Do you have a cast iron frying pan?' And most people don't. So we realized we should sell cast iron frying pans, because first of all, they're an incredibly green option, they last a hundred years if you take care of them, and it makes for great food. So we started carrying cast iron and our business has grown."
Their new store in Eglinton is to have a special full cooked food program, so you can buy your hot dinner at Rowe Farms when you don't have time to prepare it yourself. They've already added rotisserie chickens to their assortment for a price of $15, which is fairly good. Combine this with some nice organic potatoes and onions and you've got yourself a tasty and healthy meal.
Rowe Farms may be more expensive than other Toronto local food stores, but there is a reason our readers voted for them. They really do have amazing customer service. They answered all our questions at their Roncesvalles store and they were really helpful, so we left the store with a smile, forgetting about the styrofoam trays and high prices. People love good customer service, and if you add a quality product, there is your formula for success, as Rowe Farms knows.