In August of 2009, I got a crappy phone call.
“Heeeey Peter,” he said on the other end, “yeah, so some not great news. This year’s enrolment at George Brown was actually a lot lower than we were anticipating. Sooooo… we’re not going to be needing you this September. Yeah.”
“Oh, I see, ok then.” (Pause) “Well, if anything comes up at the school, you have my number.”
“Yep, yeah, we do. I think we’re okay but if something happens I’ll give you a shout. Take care now.”
“Uh, yeah, you too.”
Internal monologue: Are you effing kidding me? Why the hell did I wait for a job that wouldn’t exist!?!? Dammit, dammit. If I knew I wouldn’t be working I would have done something with my stupid life. Wait: maybe I can still open a restaurant. Yeah, yeah, that’s it! Wait: crap I need like a million dollars for that. Hrmmm. I have always wanted to open a small all Ontario food shop, though. A general store-like place. Ah, but how is that ever going to happen? Crapitty crap crap. Um. Hm. Ah. Sigh.
My now wife (then just awesome girlfriend): “I’m so sorry love. Let’s go for a walk and talk about it.”
We walked along College Street, past old haunts and memories of falling down and getting back up again. I remembered being sick inside Sneaky Dee’s the night before travelling to Europe for the first time. I remembered eating my first chip butty in the Cloak and Dagger. I remembered going to a party at my twin friends Tim and Jeff’s house on Brunswick back in grade eleven and being terrified of their perfectly bred, well-testicled Doberman Pinchers.
We turned on Augusta going into Kensington Market. My sister lived on Oxford Street just east of Augusta back in the mid-nineties. I remembered drinking wine at the bar where Wanda’s Pie In The Sky is now, and telling my sister I don’t like beer. She told me at seventeen I don’t know shit. Fair enough. I remembered enjoying the sunshine on Ronnie’s patio just enough to decide to buy a classical guitar at Paul’s Boutique. It looks very nice in the corner of my office. I remembered when my friends Shamez and Mike cleaned the hell out of an old Chinese restaurant and opened La Palette, the only restaurant with a decent wine list in a ten-block radius at the time. I remembered buying a one kilo bag of peeled garlic cloves at Oxford Fruits at eight on a Saturday morning because I, uh, over-confited a bag the night before at Auberge Du Pommier.
We turned left on to Baldwin Street, past the coffee shop with the great counter seats. We passed the benches, where punks, expectant mothers, palookas, and young lovers all sat and relaxed together. We walked by the empty window of Max and Son’s, the old butcher shop that squatted like the Rock Biter in The Neverending Story, just waiting for the Nothing. And here I stopped. Here I stopped because in the window was a “For Sale” sign.
Two and a half years later, Sanagan’s Meat Locker has become my life. I remember talking to my mentor Massimo about people who open small restaurants, and how he felt they are basically buying themselves a job. When I opened the shop I felt like that would be a pretty good thing. A good job selling good meat to good people, with a good boss to boot. And now things have changed. I now have a great job. I have curated a list of delicious products from amazing farmers. Sometimes I’ll take something home from the shop and I’m still surprised at how damned tasty it is. I work with excellent people who are fascinated by food; their love of it has taken them all over the world before settling at the Meat Locker, and their enthusiasm is invigorating. I have the best customers in the city who are inquisitive and fearless. These are the customers every business wants. They are not afraid of taking chances and trying out new things, and the types of meats we produce excite them. And my customer base grows. Daily. Weekly. It’s fantastic, and I am constantly aware of my luck. One thing with more customers though: you run out of space very quickly. If you were to come by the Meat Locker on any given Friday morning, and you were to peek into the walk-in cooler, you would see our predicament. Too much meat, not enough space. What’s a wee shop to do?
I’m writing this blog post after months of not writing anything because I’ve been too busy planning the shop’s next move. And now I’m ready to unveil it. If everything goes according to plan timewise, by early August Sanagan’s Meat Locker will be thriving in the old European Meats space at 176 Baldwin Street. It’s a move that will allow me to grow as a butcher (more grass-fed beef! more restaurant orders! more Berkshire pork!), as well as do something I’ve wanted to do since the shop opened. After the inception of the Meat Locker, I realized my skills as a chef were not going to be fully realized unless I had a kitchen at my fingertips. Well, guess what the new space has? That’s right; expect a few more things to be available in the market soon. Terrines, pates, rilletes, cretons, galantines, mousses, stocks, jus, soups, and other prepared foods. Not to mention all locally produced hams, prosciutto, salami, smoked meats, roast beef and the like. Oh, oh, oh, did I mention the hot sandwich counter? The amazingest new sandwich counter in the city? Yeah, that’s going to be there as well. And rounding it all out will be a fantastic collection of all locally sourced sauces, pickles, mustards, sauerkrauts…basically if it has anything to do with meat, I’m going to stock it. So it’s going to be a bit of a dream job.
Now, in spite of my best, most secretive efforts, a couple of people have found out about my plans. Most have been as excited as we have, but some have had the fear that we’re going to get too big and lose the personal touch we pride ourselves on giving customers. Fair enough; I have witnessed many business owners who expand quickly and the customer gets lost in the shuffle. But fear not, I say, because even though we might not have sawdust on the floor (due to city health regulations), we’re still going to offer the same intimate experience, with the same knowledgeable staff able to chat with you about whatever’s on your mind. In fact, I’ve already hired a few new people who have amazing backgrounds in the food world who I think will bring a breadth of knowledge to the table. AND the music will still be deadly.
I want to thank everyone who has brought us to this point. I’m not lying when I say my customers are the best in the city. They understand what we’re trying to do in the shop, and they’ve supported us since day one. And if you’re reading this and you’ve never been to my shop, then I hope to have you included in this list one day as well. Just by reading my nonsense for this long you’ve proven you have what it takes to be one of my favorite people!