In Business: Douce France

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Coming from a large family in France, Christel Saba — the 10th of 14 children — got into business at age 14 selling baked goods, pastries and confectionary.

By 16 she’d already won an award for unique and personalized gift presentation and then set her sights on learning more about the industry.

“The following years I started to work for my brothers — seven of them are bakers and pastry chefs in Paris,” Saba says from Douce France, her shop on Yonge Street south of Castlefield Avenue. “Then I wanted to get a global view of that job so I went to work in different places and my last position was at a castle (where) we would prepare menus for up to 500 people and I was responsible for the final touches.”

Named after her father’s favourite song, Douce France offers artisan products from her home country. There is tea from Compagnie Coloniale, the oldest tea house in France, pralines from Confiseur de Luxe Mazet, which are made using a recipe that dates back to 1636, coffee and chocolates from Voisin, a company established in 1897 and Angelina’s hot chocolate, a company dating back to 1903.

People in Paris line up, sometimes as long as an hour, for the hot chocolate, she says.

Different regions are on display in her store, each of them with different specialties imported from France.

“I don’t work with the importers but with the artisans themselves and this is how we can ensure quality and authenticity of the products any time of the year,” she says. “We offer plates on which we put the different specialties so that people can discover them before buying a whole bag.”

Saba also offers soups, catering, centrepieces for special occasions and customized gift boxes and baskets, which are also imported from France and can be filled with goods like biscuits, cakes, jam, glazed chestnuts and chocolates.

The Parisian café-boutique, set up six months ago, is not only the culmination of her experience in the food industry but also years spent working as a language teacher.

“It is for me a cultural and commercial project,” says Saba, who moved to Toronto four years ago with her Iranian husband and their three children. “We focus on the quality of the products and the service, the relationship we have with our customers, and that’s why the staff also wear the Parisian uniforms and they are bilingual.

“We’re trying to create a Parisian atmosphere in the café, we have French music and it sounds like customers love that.”

Several school classes have already visited the café to learn about French traditions, the different regions of France and the products that come from the areas while being immersed in a French environment.

“They had a multiple choice questions game and then they had the hot chocolate and I also prepared some follow-up activities to motivate them to learn French in a different way,” she says. Although the experience reminds some customers of a trip to Paris, others find they are brought back to memories of growing up in France.

“We’ve had some customers in tears because even the décor is from France,” she says. “People when they come over here, it reminds them of their childhood.

“They are so happy and it’s a taste of France for them in Toronto.”

Fashion: Dressed for the season

Style expert Afiya Francisco can regularly be found sharing her fashion expertise on Global News’ The Morning Show, CBC’s Steven and Chris and on Entertainment Tonight Canada.
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With Christmas fast approaching, Francisco revealed her list of holiday must-haves to get through this busy time of year looking sharp and in season. Whether it’s an office party or a family celebration, the blogger behind The Style House and editor-at-large of Real Style magazine has got you covered.

1) A statement clutch. “Something shiny, bright and/or sparkly can add just the right amount of festivity to an otherwise simple outfit,” Francisco says.
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2) A great coat. “Outerwear is often forgotten but it’s the first impression and should be chosen with more consideration than an afterthought,” Francisco says. “If it’s a second coat, chosen as an occasion piece, I suggest a versatile but surprising hue like red or cobalt.”
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3) A tux jacket. “This piece is a cool and sexy alternative to the little black dress. Thrown over a dress or worn with trousers, a tux is an easy solution to holiday dressing.”
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4) Sequins. “A blouse, a dress or pants, a chic sequined piece is an instant dose of holiday cheer.”
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Extra holiday essentials:

SEEING RED: Nothing shows off holiday spirit in a stylish way quite like sporting the colour of the season.
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GO FOR BOLD: A statement necklace adds a layer of interest to an outfit and takes a dress or shirt up a festive notch. Photo courtesy Sistaco.
By The Light

Gift Guide: Made in Toronto

This holiday season give a little bit from closer to home. We’ve selected 10 gift ideas, all created in the city you love. There’s something for family, friends and those hard-to-impress people — like the beauty buff, the foodie, the art collector, the beer connoisseur — on your shopping list.

Cake Beauty

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Now available in stores across North America, including Kohl’s and Sephora, Toronto-based founder and owner Heather Reier started the Cake Beauty line in her kitchen in 2003. This holiday season the makers behind those bath and body products in delectable fragrances teamed up with fellow Canadian brand Nella Bella to offer the “It’s in the bag” gift set, which includes three velveteen hand creams in a metallic wristlet. Added bonus: the lotions smell delicious. $30. cakebeauty.com

Coach House

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In addition to offering a variety of sweet (dark chocolate and fleur de sel, cranberry) and savoury (cheddar and chipotle, gorgonzola and pistachio) shortbread cookies, Carl Stryg, owner and baker of Coach House Shortbread Company, is offering an assortment of gift baskets featuring artisan goods like Bobbette and Belle’s caramel corn and Henderson Farms Preserves jam and jellies. The shop also has a timely sugar plum shortbread, made from dried apricots, raisins, plums, almonds and spices. Ingredients are soaked for four months in rum before cinnamon, cardamom and caraway are added. $12.95–$189. http://shortbread.ca

Collective Arts Brewing
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Local grassroots craft beer company Collective Arts Brewing offers an artistic twist on beer. Bottles of their extra-pale ale Rhyme and Reason, available at LCBO stores, are adorned with labels featuring emerging and seasoned artists, musicians, poets, photographers and filmmakers, including Toronto-based bands Poor Young Things and The Strumbellas. $13.95 for a six-pack. collectiveartsbrewing.com

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Michelle Kosoy and Pierre Bouchard are the artists behind St. Clair Avenue West’s Kosoy and Bouchard design studio, which specializes in elegant, handmade clay and glass works of art for the home. Pieces include vases, bowls and trays in beautiful patterns, and sophisticated colours like celestial blue, antique pewter and ivory. $30–$160. kosoyandbouchard.com

Jennifer McGregor and Alanna Cavanagh
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After a three-year stint in Florence, Italy to study and paint, artist Jennifer McGregor chose Toronto as her home base. The midtown resident’s watercolour paintings are one of many local artists available at Forest Hill’s Art Interiors. The shop is currently running its annual Festival of Smalls exhibit, offering an array of one-of-a-kind works between $55 and $250. Another artist featured in the gallery is Toronto-based Alanna Cavanagh, who has made a name for herself as an illustrator and printmaker. Her pieces have been featured in many design magazines. Watercolour, $80 unframed, $185 framed. artinteriors.ca. An Empty Belly print unframed, $125. alannacavanagh.com

Live Beautiful
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Live Beautiful co-owners and best friends Laura Hart and Alison Nasmith offer handcrafted jewellery made with ethical, recycled and reclaimed materials sourced from small suppliers. Their classic collection includes staples such as the elegant Audrey studs made with sustainably sourced Herkimer diamonds, which can also be purchased as a set with a necklace and bracelet, and limited edition items like the Alex ring, which is made from a thick, double-rope chain. $25–$208. livebeautiful.co

Nadege Patisserie
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Nadège Nourian, a fourth-generation pastry chef from Lyon, France and founder of Summerhill’s Nadege Patisserie, is known for her delicious and skillfully crafted macarons. Available in flavours like salted caramel, Iranian pistachio and cappuccino, the patisserie now ships gift parcels from coast to coast, making these sweet treats a perfect gift to share with loved ones near and far. $26.50–$54 for 12–25 gift pack. nadege-patisserie.com

Nicole Tarasick Studio
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Nicole Tarasick’s fondness for Canadiana is apparent in her collection of pillows and tote bags, which stylishly depict screen-printed images of maps of Canada and Ontario, the Great Lakes, our nation’s wildlife (including bears and geese) and our airport code, YYZ. Tarasick’s work has been featured in many publications, including The Globe and Mail, Canadian Living and Chatelaine. $24–$95. nicoletarasick.com

Still Life Home
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Created by a costume designer, Still Life Home is a collection of decorative accent pillows in trendy prints and patterns that are handcrafted in Toronto. Tree ornaments and pillows from the collection are available this holiday season at midtown’s Wildbird and Freedom Clothing Collective. $17–$42. etsy.com/shop/StillLifeHome

Tuck Shop Trading Co.
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Summerhill resident Lyndsay Borschke’s Tuck Shop Trading Co. collection features cozy yet fashionable pieces, including luxe cashmere scarves. The Toronto-based company also has a subsidiary line called City of Neighbourhoods, featuring toques representing different neighbourhoods of Toronto so family and friends can show off their hometown pride in style. $35–$315. tuckshopco.com

Local Designer: Tuck Shop Trading Co. & City of Neighbourhoods

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The idea stemmed from a coat.

After receiving an old buffalo check jacket from her mother-in-law, Lyndsay Borschke started thinking about creating clothes that embody both city and cottage life.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if this coat were a little bit more updated and it could have more street value so you could wear it downtown,” says Borschke.

The resulting cottage coat is one of her favourite pieces in her newly launched label Tuck Shop Trading Co., a line of ready-to-wear men’s and ladies’ casual clothing and accessories.

Her line includes toques, scarves, jackets and bags made with fabrics like cashmere, fur and leather. She had already been involved in designing lines of clothing for summer camps and schools when she decided it would be “fun and a little bit of an adventure” to do something with more luxurious fabrics while still being influenced by “that outdoor lifestyle.”

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A major inspiration for the collection was the time spent at Algonquin Park growing up. She also worked as a business director for a summer camp there, and now spends summers with her family at a cottage on Canoe Lake that was originally leased by her husband’s grandfather.

Historical pictures of his family, who in the 1940s would travel by train to the lake and were, in her words, “always superbly dressed,” are incorporated into the company’s hand tags and website.

The idea for the name springs from onsite tuck shops where summer campers can get necessities and clothing.

“I thought, well it’s sort of like a tuck shop at camp but then I was also thinking fur traders bringing fur to the old trading posts and then that filtering back down to the city,” she relates.

Borschke has a subsidiary line called City of Neighbourhoods, which allows people to proudly display their neighbourhood pride — on their toques. Midtown neighbourhoods represented include Summerhill to the Annex and Yorkville, Rosedale and Forest Hill to Lawrence Park.

Leaside will be part of the latest toques added to the collection, which will be available this month. Other additions are St. Clair West and Christie Pits. Sweatshirts and t-shirts featuring the neighbourhoods are also available.

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To celebrate Tuck Shop Trading Co.’s debut, Borschke held an official launch party at the Big Crow on Dupont Street near Davenport Avenue on Oct. 1.

“It was great to have all the products on display and it looked woodsy and like a tuck shop,” she says. “It had a wood background, but then there was also this wonderful smell of wood smoke and we were serving Canadiana-themed food.”

Although Borschke is already looking ahead to a brick-and-mortar location, which she would like to see in the Summerhill area, both her collections are currently available online at tuckshopco.com and select local stores, including The Narwhal and Over the Rainbow. She also hopes to expand City of Neighbourhoods to major cities such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Sydney.

“Since the launch the response to the neighbourhood hats has been fabulous,” she says. “It’s great to see how people are responding to them on social media and posting pictures of themselves wearing the toques, and also just how they’re asking for different neighbourhoods and how they want to represent their own neighbourhood has been really great.”

All images by Ann Ruppenstein

In Business: Instructor still on her toes after 21 years

STRIKING POSES: Martha Hicks, namesake of the Martha Hicks School of Ballet, welcomed guests to her new location on Avenue Road with the help of ballerinas Danielle Filler,  left, and Nikki Richardson, right, during her grand opening party on Sept. 7.

STRIKING POSES: Martha Hicks, namesake of the Martha Hicks School of Ballet, welcomed guests to her new location on Avenue Road with the help of ballerinas Danielle Filler, left, and Nikki Richardson, right.

Last year Martha Hicks set her sights on finding a new location to house her ballet school, after realizing the protests against a condo development in her former spot on the second floor of Postal Station K were a losing battle.

Despite an initial plan to remain on Yonge Street, where she had been for the last 15 years, once she took her contractor to see a large space near her home on Avenue Road and Brookdale Avenue, she quickly realized she had found what she was looking for.

“He just took one look at the space and said, ‘What are you waiting for? This is perfect,’ ” says Hicks, who took her first ballet lesson at the age of five. “It’s a beautiful open space, there’s no pillars — which is really difficult to find because you need a lot of square footage without any obstructions, ideally, when you’re dancing — and there were eight skylights, and it was just fantastic.”

To celebrate the new location, which merged the Martha Hicks School of Ballet’s Fairlawn, Armour Heights and Yonge and Eglinton classes under one roof, on Sept. 7 Hicks held a grand opening party, complete with photography, face painting, a bouncy castle, cotton candy, popcorn and 250 pink balloons.

Dance classes went on all day in two studios, with some kids taking them as a trial, she said, noting a mixture of new and current students turned up, in spite of stormy weather.

“It just turned out really great. I think the rain may have encouraged people to stick a round, we had people that were here for two to three hours.”

After graduating from the teacher’s training program at Canada’s National Ballet School, Hicks started her own school in 1992, with about 35 kids. Today, more than 800 students take ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, tap and musical theatre classes.

Martha Hicks poses in one of her new studios featuring a grand piano since her ballet and creative movement classes are accompanied by live music.

One of Martha Hicks’ new studios features a grand piano so live music can accompany the school’s classes.

“There really wasn’t a lot in the neighbourhood at the time in the way of dance schools, so I just started this small thing and I had no plans, no idea that it would grow into anything close to this,” she reflects, adding that both her daughters have also gone through the school’s program and how she enjoys running into alumnae around the area.

The creative movement and ballet classes offered at the school are accompanied by live piano, which she feels creates a special environment, because professional classes feature live piano accompaniment.

A big draw for kids is the performance aspect. The school houses yearly productions at the 450-seat Centre for the Arts at St. Michael’s College School, at Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West.

“We put a lot of effort and money into making the shows quite spectacular, with really great lights, music and costumes, and it’s really gratifying for the kids,” she says. “They really feel professional when they’re performing.”

Since she now has more studio space, Hicks says she is excited to be able to offer the addition of adult classes at her school. She believes everyone will love to dance, if they allow themselves to experience it.

“I think it’s too bad if people think, ‘I don’t know how to or I’m embarrassed.’ ” Hicks says. “Once you get in there and just realize that it’s a natural thing to respond to music, you can have a blast, you can learn things and it’s a great workout. It’s a really great outlet for expression.”

This article was originally published in the September 2013 edition of the Midtown Town Crier.

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Biz Battle: Neither side chickening out in battle of the wings

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The first words Louis Nemes utters after being asked about the secret to his chicken wing recipe are: “If I tell you, then I’d have to kill you.”

As the owner of Bistro on Avenue and the founder of the St. Louis Bar and Grill chain, Nemes has established a loyal clientele over the last 30 years of business in North Toronto.

However, up the street on Avenue Road, at Haddington Avenue, a newer staple called Drums N Flats
has also garnered attention for its own unique blend of chicken wings. But what exactly sets
these local favourites apart?

In addition to letting customers decide between ordering all drumsticks, all the two, as well as choosing how smothered in sauce the wings come out, Drums N Flats owner Dan Ferracuti believes his chicken wings stand out from the competition because of another in-house specialty: double
dipped.

“As far as I know, we’re the only people anywhere doing it,” he says during a chat in a booth at the restaurant and bar, which is ringing in one year in the neighbourhood this month. “The wings are deep-fried, tossed in sauce, thrown on the grill, then tossed in a second sauce, so you get four layers of flavour to savour.”

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For Nemes, the magic all comes down to the sauce and seasoning. At his restaurant on Avenue Road
and Brookdale Avenue, in herbs and spices before being cooked in the deep fryer and served with the
restaurant’s own signature dipping sauce — a mixture of dill and garlic.

“People would come in and say, ‘Why would I go to Buffalo if I could get them here even better than
in Buffalo?’ so that gave me good encouragement,” Nemes says on a weekday morning before the restaurant opens for the day. “Even in Buffalo they don’t spice the wings; they just take the wings and cook it, but we actually marinate them, so they have some flavour to it.”

Despite word circulating on the street about the restaurant possibly closing to make way for a condo,
Nemes says he plans on staying onsite until he finds year, adding he’s been told by customers that closing isn’t an option and the business has to remain on Avenue Road to retain its namesake.

As for Ferracuti, he reveals the secret to his wing success is using fresh locally sourced Ontario
wings that are never frozen.

“You’ve got to start with a good product to finish with a good product,” he says.

As a point of interest, Ferracuti has determined there’s a 60:40 ratio of customers who prefer solely
drumsticks to wings.

Friendly competition aside, Ferracuti admits he’s eaten at the Bistro many times through the years,
and Nemes has also supported Drums N Flats by eating at the restaurant after it opened.

Drums N Flats Bistro on Avenue
Operating for: One year 30 years
Claim to fame: Owner Dan Ferracuti
also runs Safari Bar and Grill on Avenue Road since 1995.
Owner Louis Nemes founded St. Louis Bar and Grill in 1994.Pioneer of offering chicken wings in Toronto.
What makes the wings unique? Customers can select solely drumsticks or all wings. Offered in a double dipped option: wings are deep fried, covered in sauce, grilled, then sauced again. The chicken wings are seasoned and marinated before any sauces are added and are served with the restaurants own dill garlic dipping sauce.
Most popular flavour: Rajun’ Cajun BBQ Medium
Number of wing flavours: 12 plus four double dipped options Eight
Also known for: Live music on Friday nights, an assortment of other menu items including burgers and hand rolled pizza pies. Another popular menu item: the steam burger, as well as a Cheers like atmosphere. Mixture of a cocktail and family crowd.
Price point: $11.49 for a single order 1 pound $10.95 for a regular size wings and fries


This article was originally published in the September 2013 edition of the North Toronto Town Crier.

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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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