The scoop: Favourite holiday traditions

It’s almost the most wonderful time of the year. To spread the holiday spirit before Santa Claus comes to town, we asked some personalities from our community to share their favourite traditions and memories.

fisher “Christmas Eve is by far the biggest holiday tradition we have in the Fisher household. My parents have always invited friends who don’t have family in Toronto to come and celebrate with us. No one should be alone on Christmas. I’ve grown up celebrating one of the best holidays with these people, singing Christmas carols; they are my extended family. Three of our guests are over 90! I know that my three siblings and I will continue this tradition of opening our hearts and homes to those who are less fortunate than us.” — Sarah Fisher, actress, Degrassi: The Next Generation.
nealb “For years my wife and I hired a farmer from north of Toronto to bring a team of Belgian horses and a hay wagon into the city. Along with our three daughters we would invite neighbours to hop on and sing carols as we drove around Leaside. Afterwards we would warm up in our house with drinks and food (and, of course, Neal Brothers snacks) for a casual party. We did it for over six years — special memories!” — Peter Neal, co-founder, Neal Brothers.
elle “A tradition in my household since my daughter, Sophia, was old enough to walk and talk has been to have all her close friends gather in our home, blast the Christmas carols and have a healthy gingerbread decorating competition. The kids love the challenge and so does competitive mommy! All the cousins gather and judge the houses and then the winners get to put the star on our tree.” — Elle Daftarian, owner, Petite & Sweet and host of The Food Network’s SugarStars.
tingas “I love the holidays. I actually love gift giving so much so I like to make my own bows. Every year I break out the hot-glue gun and bring out my inner Martha Stewart, to create pretty and unique packaging.” – Angie Tingas, co-founder, Niki and Lola.
tromba “I have a tradition to do a bar hop in early December. It seems like most of the cocktail bars in Toronto have winter and Christmas cocktail features. They warm you up inside. For example, La Carnita is featuring a mulled wine cocktail (with tequila of course). It’s all about winter and holiday flavours. The level of happiness and cheer amongst the bartender and server communities is up a notch.” — Eric Brass, founder and co-CEO, Tequila Tromba.
scrim “When I was nine years old my best friend was named Lisa. She lived in a big old house down the street and loved Christmas trees so much that she smuggled a tiny pine bough into her room. I helped her decorate. Her mom came in and asked what it was. Lisa stammered, ‘It’s a Hanukkah bush! Please can I keep it?’ Her mom left the room, but not before I saw her smile.” — Richard Scrimger, author, The Nose From Jupiter, Ink Me and Viminy Crowe’s Comic Book.
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In Business: Neal Brothers celebrate 25 years

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Twenty-five years have gone by since brothers Chris and Peter Neal started a business together, baking croutons in their mother’s kitchen.

Today their line of Neal Brothers Foods, which grew to include pretzels, popcorn, tortillas and barbecue sauces, are available in grocery stores across the country, and the company distributes products such as Tazo Tea and Raincoast Crisps to major retailers like Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys and Longo’s. They also market salsa and pasta sauces made in East York.

In May, the pair further expanded their offerings by launching a line of kettle-style chips, which was actually the initial idea behind starting their food company.

In August, they added a fourth flavour —Maple Bacon — to the initial collection, which consisted of Pink Himalayan Salt, Sweet and Smoky BBQ and Pink Salt and Vinegar.

“We want you to open that bag and smell Saturday morning — with the exception of coffee,” Chris was saying recently from a beer pairing event at Leaside’s Amsterdam Brewery, where the new Maple Bacon chips were being matched with two beers: Big Wheel and Market Pale Ale.

“The maple syrup, the home fries, the bacon sizzling. We want you to experience that every time, and I think we’ve done that really well.”

Peter can pinpoint the start of their venture. It started with a letter he wrote to his brother, a student at the University of Queens at the time, while Peter himself was attending Bishop’s University and shuddering at the thought of the corporate career that lay ahead.

“I said, ‘You’re good at all these amazing things and I think I could bring a number of really good things to the table, [so] why don’t we start up a food company together?’” he recalls.

While building a business alongside his brother has been a career highlight, Peter, a north Leaside resident, feels having the ability to choose staff and partners with the same ethics and values for fair trade practices and environmental sustainability has been a privilege.

“We’re not shooting for world domination, but certainly providing healthier options than other food products,” he notes.

For Chris, another moment that stands out is the day in 1988 the brothers had to replenish their croutons in a store for the first time.

“Seeing the potato chips has been really cool too, because it’s our faces,” Chris says about their kettle-chip packaging, which features pictures of the siblings as they looked through the years, including one of the boys as youngsters in 1976. “We walk in and we’re actually seeing ourselves on the shelves.”

Despite fielding offers to sell the company, Peter admits he’s having too much fun building the company to seriously consider selling.

“People ask us all the time when are we going to sell, and we’ve had a number of bigger competitors approach us to talk about partnerships or buying our company, but then the dream is over,” Peter explains, adding that he and Chris both “get a kick about what we’re doing.”

“There’s a lot of fun with the business: traveling throughout Canada, throughout the world, to find new food, new products, new inspiration,” he said. “No, I don’t want the dream to end.”

This article was originally published in the September 2013 edition of the Leaside-Rosedale Town Crier.

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