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McEwan heads to downtown Toronto with new location

First of many chefs branding themselves with storefronts and retail products

The McEwan Group has big plans to bring gourmet groceries to downtown Toronto.

The upscale grocer will open its second location Wednesday morning. The 6,000 sq. ft. store is located under the TD Tower along the PATH, an underground system that connects the office towers of Toronto's financial district. An estimated 200,000 commuters walk the PATH every day.

Chef and restaurateur Mark McEwan opened his first 20,000-square-foot upscale food store, McEwan (pictured), in the outdoor Toronto mall Shops at Don Mills in 2009.

“I've always loved food retail, loved food service. We'd go on vacation and I'd be in and out of food stores, just always enjoyed the category,'' McEwan said in a recent interview explaining his decision to get into retail.

“I thought it would be a very nice fit and a natural fit for a chef to own a retail store. It was challenging, one of the hardest things I've ever done ... I didn't just do a little store. I did a big store," he added.

While the downtown store is less than a third the size of McEwan's Don Mills store, it boasts several features aimed at pleasing the Bay Street office crowd at lunch. These include a 15-foot salad bar, a 32-foot chef’s hot table and a customizable panini station.

Other features include a food-truck inspired pop-up menu with daily features like tacos and banh mi. Alongside a selection of pantry items including sauces, relishes and chutneys, McEwan will also sell its own line of marinades and oils.

McEwan isn’t the only Canadian chef getting in on the retail action.

Other chefs, like Matt Dean Pettit of Rock Lobster restaurant, with three locations in Toronto, have joined forces with large retailers. Sobeys sells his Matty's Seafood brand, with products like lobster chowder, lobster and shrimp bisque and frozen lobster mac and cheese.

Chef Ted Reader has been in the retail sector since he began working at Loblaw for President's Choice marketing expert Dave Nichol in the early 1990s.

The grilling guru has a line of barbecue sauces and seasoning rubs which he's planning to relaunch next year with new flavours and packaging.

“You've got to strike when the fire's hot. I've had product out for a number of years and I've got a good reputation,'' Reader said.

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