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A cup of coffee with Lisa Hutchinson by Roger Varley
The Uxbridge Cosmos, January 31, 2013
With little or no retail experience, Lisa Hutchinson jumped into the role of store owner with both feet and in a short time has become one of the leading retailers in the downtown area. It was hard to pin her down because of her busy schedule, but we finally managed to have her join us for a cup of coffee.
Lisa, you own The PassionateCook’s Essentials. How long has the store been open? Three years. We started in the lower level of the Tin Mill Restaurant in 2009 and purchased the building at 68 Brock Street in
Do you have a background in retail? Absolutely not. I was 28 years at Bell Canada in customer service and general manager of the service desk. After 28 years, I took a package from Bell and took a year off to decide what I wanted to do. My passion has always been cooking, with an interest in food and travel. Doing something in food would be my dream. So it took a year to figure out what in food. Did I want to be a chef? Did I want t work in a store? I just couldn’t decide. What made my decision was, at the same time I looked at moving from the downtown (Toronto) core. I wanted a bigger house and I wanted to move out further so I could be closer to my cottage. My husband and I took a drive up to Uxbridge: we Googled what is north of Pickering and close to my cottage and Uxbridge fell perfectly into place. I had lunch at the Tin Mill and met Don (Andrews, the owner). I fell in love with Don. I loved his energy, his location. I met so many people during that lunch, I thought: ”Let’s look for a house here.” We found the house of our dreams and I kept going back and having lunch at Don’s and one day he said: “I have some space downstairs and I could envision something like a kitchen store.” And that was it. I could do retail. I was in customer service, I love to chat with people, I have spent so many years reading about food and understanding products and cooking myself, so I knew all the products that were the best. I knew from my travels what a paella pan was. So I said to my husband: “Is this something I can do?” I’ve got business background, but how do you get a store? So I started with 300 square feet. How could I go wrong? If it didn’t work, I didn’t invest too much. And it did work. I did cooking classes out of my house so that I could supplement that whole cooking experience. I couldn’t believe how well the cooking classes took off. So when a place became available on Brock Street, my partner Ellen (Skinner, owner of On The Lamb) and I just decided to buy it.
I know your shops are connected,but Ellen is your partner?
Ellen and I became really fast friends. I didn’t know anyone in town and my store was right beside hers in the lower level and we were there for each other because it wasn’t always the busiest of places, being downstairs. Ellen had gone through such a tragedy just a month after I’d come to town, and so that brought us much closer.
So you use the term partner in a friendship sense?
Correct. We loved so being part of each other and we had the same type of customers. People that knit, they’re homebodies. They’re creative. They’d come over and learn about the cooking side of it. So they would go back and forth (between the two stores). So we thought if we could move together we’d really like that. When we found 66 and 68 Brock with that opening (between the two stores) we thought: “We have to do this.” It worked out famously.
The new store is quite a difference from that first one.
Yes, now I have 1,500 square feet.
Obviously, you had to increase your stock. But what’s it done for your business?
It’s hugely changed my business. I don’t think I could sustain a kitchen store, full stop. So you have to look at other
things that customers want. So,my business has changed because I’ve brought in more things, but just kitchenware
wouldn’t cut it. So now I can bring the cooking classes in, people can shop after the classes, but there’s also the condiment section, the food. If they’re in there learning about cooking exotic type dishes, then I have to have the food for them. And it evolved yet again into a fromagerie. The customers started asking for cheese. I had a small cheese counter, but customers asked if I could carry more. So I found a distributor. I didn’t know a lot about cheese and at the same time I was introduced to somebody who was working,but had a huge passion for cheese.
You’re talking about Cecilia Smith?
Cecilia! It was just magical that I had a passion for food, she had a passion for cheese, She said she’d sign on to help me and then, lo and behold, doesn’t she leave her full-time job and explore her passion and now she’s gainfully employed in my shop bringing in unbelievable value to the customers. And to myself.
After 28 years with Bell, moving into retail must have been scary.
It would have been a huge scare for me if I had started at 68 Brock. But it was a really nice little baby step to take 300
square feet of rental property and learn how to pack that store and display that store. It was really the best way to go about it.
The big risk was moving to 68 Brock and owning it and recognizing money was going into the building and not in to my
store. So it is still scary.
Since you give cooking classes, what is your background there?
My husband says if you read eight books a year on a certain topic, you’re considered an expert in that topic. I read well
over eight books a year on food, be it an intimate look at a coconut or a travel book or a cookbook. That is my entire
world. I travel to eat, I travel to learn and take cooking classes wherever I go, I’ve been to the Cordon Bleu in Paris and
Ottawa. I’ve taken more cooking classes than you can possibly imagine. I’ve met world-famous chefs and cooked in their
homes. And, of course, I’m a champion of going to restaurants. That’s another thing Cecilia and I share: we’re crazy
about finding the next hot spot. It can be in someone’s kitchen in their little house or it can be a fancy restaurant somewhere
on a boat. So I have a lot of background in food and it’s alwaysbeen a huge passion.
You came to Uxbridge three years ago. Has Uxbridge lived up to your expectations?
I love Uxbridge to death. I think it is a wonderful community. I love the fact that it is so food focused. I don’t know if it’s
because we don’t have so many restaurants that people cook in their homes a lot, I don’t know if it’s because we have such a
lot of agriculture and farms around so people can get fresh produce, but they’re really food focused here. And I love that
everybody helps everybody. In terms of being a shop owner, being on the main street, everybody refers everyone to each
store and I love that.You brought the subject up, you seem to have fit in nicely with that amazing group of women store owners.
How much help were they to you in getting started?
Willa (Worsley of Presents Presents Presents) I think of as a mentor. She’s an amazing lady and she couldn’t wait to tell
people there’s a kitchen store in town and refer people to me, even though she had an entire kitchen line. She went out of
her way to help me. Shelly (Macbeth of Blue Heron Books) is exactly the same. I would say every single one of them send
people back and forth. It’s wonderful. If we can all get together and put an event on, we do. If Shelly is doing something in
the back of her store, we’ll all do something in the front of our store so we can complement the experience for the customers.
There’s about six of us who get together monthly to share experiences and best practices and ideas and just camaraderie
and it works.
Now I understand that Brock Street east of Toronto Street is not as visually attractive as the west side, but is there something
store owners in that section could learn from your group?
When we were looking for a building, we didn’t care which end we were on. We actually looked at two buildings down the other end. I think that there’s a row of retail really helps, whereas on the other end there’s not a row of retail. It’s cut up by vacant buildings or services and I think that that is really the problem there. Now that Cheryl (Hinzel of Sugar FX) is there I think you’ll see a bit of a difference, but I still think it’s the fact that there’s not a hard-core row of retail. I love the butcher there, the bakery, I just don’t understand some of the other ones. And the vacant property is probably the bane of my existence.
You seem to be out of your store quite a bit. Are you travelling a lot?
You know, I hate to hear that, because I feel I’m in it all the time. But I do the classes at night, so if I do a class I’m not in
the store during the day because I’m getting ready for it. I’m shopping for it, figuring out what we’re going to do. It takes a
day to get ramped up for the class.
How are the classes going?
Amazingly well. I’m booked all the time. I put my classes out Dec. 1 and they were almost sold out by Dec. 30. I put on five
new courses to supplement the waiting list and they’re all sold out. Cecilia is now going to start doing some classes to help
with this. She’s going to do a Vietnamese class, she’s going to do curries. She’s even done an Uxbridge pub night and that
was sold out with a huge waiting list. We do get a lot of events that we have with Shelly, so we have great cookbook authors.
We just had a great guy on raw food and we try to get celebrities in every other month.
Do you get any men coming in to your cooking classes?
Do I? We’ve had probably four men-only classes that they call and book themselves. They were so well-behaved, so much
fun, they listened to everything. We encourage the men to come out because a lot of men love to cook and it doesn’t have
to be just the men-only class. We get lots of couples that come. We could go on, Lisa,
A fromagerie in our midst by Shelagh Damus
The Uxbridge Cosmos, February 9, 2011
The Passionate Cook’s Essentials has endeared itself to local foodies with their cooking classes, celebrity guest chefs, and their quality food preparation implements. And now they are also a fromagerie – otherwise known as a cheese shop, complete with their own cheese manager!
It all started when owner Lisa Hutchinson brought in cheese from the Monfort Dairy, a local dairy that specializes in small batch artisan cheese. “A few months in, there was heightened interest, and I worried about relying on sales reps,” says Hutchinson. “Artisan cheeses require care. They need someone
with a wealth of knowledge and experience to deal with researching, buying, storing, and maintaining the cheese and educating the consumer about all things cheese.” Enter Uxbridge local Cecilia Smith, the Passionate Cook’s new cheese manager. A life long foodie and admitted cheese lover, Smith jokes that she “received an A level in Home Economics back in Britain.” In her experience, Europeans have “more exposure to fine cheeses than their North American counterparts.” Smith began making cheese for her
own pleasure, then enrolled in George Brown College for some cheese-related courses. By the end of this year she will graduate with a professional fromagerie certificate which she likens to getting a sommelier certificate.
“Cheese is still alive, much like wine” says Smith. High end restaurants and hotels have sommeliers in charge of their wine cellars. “Like wine, cheese changes its flavour as it ages. An 18 month old Gouda tastes entirely different than a six month old.” There is a lot to know when selecting cheese. Age is only one factor. Just the variety of types is astounding. Fresh cheese is only days old (e.g ricotta), bloomy cheeses are lightly pressed and form a soft white exterior (e.g brie/camembert) and washed rind cheese imports flavours from the beer, wine, brandy it is bathed in (e.g munster/toscana).
Some cheeses are cooked and the heating changes the texture to something more chewy (e.g. gouda/edam). Holey cheeses are formed via a chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide which leaves holes in the final product (e.g. Swiss). There are hard cheeses like cheddar and parmesan and the blue cheeses
that get their distinctive colouring and flavour from introduced mould. Within each category there are myriad choices, tastes, and variety.
Small dairies make small batches, by hand. They use milk from their own farms or known farms that believe in a more natural approach.
This limits the number of things the producer can influence and the differences tend to be subtle. For example in small batch dairies, the flavour of the end product can be altered by a cow’s seasonally influenced diet: a dry summer may produce a more delicate flavour than from the milk produced during a lush spring. The homogenized flavour of mass produced cheese is dull and completely predictable in comparison.
We eat a lot of cheese but are more single minded and less adventurous than Europeans: cheddar, mozzarella, cheese slices, a bag of shredded Tex Mex and maybe a round of brie inhabit our fridges. There are exceptions and their numbers are swelling. Since expanding their cheese inventory, from a few local dairies to cheeses from all over Canada and around the world, and hiring Smith as cheese manager, the tiny cheese counter at Passionate Cook’s Essentials has been generating around 30% of the store’s revenue. That says something. There is a movement afoot, a veritable cheese revolution.
And once again Canada is on the forefront of an emerging lost art. Canadian cheeses have been taking a place on the world stage, winning awards just as they have for many years with their wines. Once again, another merchant is making it worth the drive to Uxbridge… lucky for us we are already here! The store will be offering cheese tasting and education evenings as well as offering a new selection of regional cheeses monthly.
The cheese counter is stocked and ready to tease your palate into sublime submission. If Lisa and Cecelia have their way we will soon be the cheese eating capital of Canada! The Passionate Cook’s Essentials is located at 68 Brock Street W., 905-862-3359.
Decemeber 2011 -Top chef Lynn Crawford is coming to Uxbridge Canada’s top female celebrity chef, Lynn Crawford, is coming to Uxbridge to visit popular kitchen store, The Passionate Cook’s Essentials this January. The Passionate Cook’s Essentials carries a variety of neat cooking tools and high-end finds.
Lisa Hutchinson, the storeowner, also hosts cooking classes and collaborates with Blue Heron Books for special events.
This January Crawford will release her new book, Pitchin’ In about her road trip across North America and her search for ingredients, while meeting people, exploring the land and the food. The Passionate Cook’s Essentials is teaming up with Uxbridge’s independent bookstore owner Shelley Macbeth at Blue Heron Books to bring food and literature together. Read more…
November 7, 2011 – Sarafino: Bringing Italy to UxbridgeWith cattle grazing on pasture and puppies sleeping contently under a tree, the peacefulness of the Tramonti farm is enveloping. The farm, located on Goodwood Road, is also the headquarters of Sarafino Inc., the family’s business and passion.
Sarafino is the culmination of Vincenzo Tramonti’s deep ties to his hometown of San Giorgio Morgeto, in the Calabrian region of Italy. In 1965, a need for work forced 18-year-old Vincenzo to immigrate to Canada. He couldn’t have predicted that decades later he would start a successful business importing goods from the very place that he was forced to leave. Read more…
October 21, 2011 – We did it! The Centennial Celebration and Conference, hosted by the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario last weekend, was a wonderful success. Speakers and delegates and guests came from far and wide, and enjoyed the autumn scenery around Uxbridge and Leaskdale, as well as the hospitality provided by our bed and breakfast and billet hosts.
Dignitaries were on hand on Thursday afternoon to cut the ribbon and open the newly-refurbished manse. Sponsors of each room in the house were shown the brass plaques in place recognizing their contribution. A special plaque dedicated to Wilda Clarke was unveiled, lauding her pioneering efforts to have the Leaskdale sites preserved for their historic significance. Read more…
August 2011 – Become a Passionate Cook For the foodie looking to expand their recipe collection and cooking expertise, owner Lisa Hutchinson of the Passionate Cook’s Essentials teaches in-store cooking classes. The store location on 68 Brock Street West in Uxbridge has all kinds of knives, cookware, bakeware, wine accessories and sooo much more. Read more…
September 1, 2011 – Celebration of the Arts returns to Uxbridge
UXBRIDGE — Admire the delicate stroke of a brush, the distinct masterpieces made by the hands of a sculptor or the brilliant words of an author at this year’s Celebration Of The Arts. From Sept. 16 to Oct. 8, Uxbridge will play host to the 26th annual art extravaganza.
“We really tried to encompass as many genres as we could for everyone’s different taste,” explained Rita Jackson, co-chairwoman for The Celebration of The Arts. Read more…
Online Videos and Television Shows
Thanks again to Daytime for having us! It was great to chat with Christian about the synergies between Shelley and events at Blue Heron Books and the Passionate Cook, as well as talk about cheese!!
May 17, 2012 – Watch it here.
Here is a sample from our March 2011 appearance on Rogers Daytime.