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05/04/2022

The Sweet Potato opening second location

The new store will be the anchor tenant in a new luxury rental building in Toronto’s north end
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The Sweet Potato artist's rendering of Bayview entrance

Toronto independent grocer The Sweet Potato is opening a second location on the ground floor of a luxury apartment rental building in the city’s north end. Tentatively scheduled to open in November, the store will be the anchor tenant in The Stack at 730 Hillsdale Avenue East.

The Sweet Potato co-founder and president Digs Dorfman says he and his management team have been working towards opening a second location for about a year. Finding the right neighbourhood was one of the priorities, he says, since it was important to replicate the feeling of its flagship store in the city’s Junction neighbourhood.

“We feel really at home in our existing space,” he says. “We have a very symbiotic relationship with the neighbourhood—we help out a lot of schools and churches, and I know a lot of the customers on a first-name basis.”

Dorfman grew up in the Bayview and Eglinton area where The Stack is located, and describes it as a “really comfortable, family-oriented” neighbourhood, offering ample foot traffic and potential customers of a similar “ethical bent” (i.e. a fondness for natural and organic foods). “We were looking for another neighbourhood that could support that type of store, and also where were thought we’d be appreciated and at home,” he says.

Aside from a Whole Foods location some distance away and some small independent green grocers, the neighbourhood is also relatively free of competition, particularly when it comes to stores espousing The Sweet Potato’s emphasis on farm-to-table food.

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Artist rendering of The Sweet Potato's dairy section at future Bayview location

At just over 16,000 square feet, the new store will be similar in size to The Sweet Potato’s existing 17,000-square-foot store on Vine Avenue. It will have approximately 50 dedicated parking spaces, and employ approximately 65 full-time staff, says Dorfman.

Dorfman says he regularly receives messages from people who have moved out of the Junction pleading with him to expand into their town or neighbourhood. “The Vine [Avenue] location is pretty solid, so we started thinking about what we could do if we opened a second location and what it would look like in terms of operations, in terms of business challenges.

“One of the main motivating factors was that our mission statement, which is to provide people with natural food at the best possible prices, and provide reasonable compensation to farmers, becomes even more possible if we have a second or even a third location.”

Expansion will increase The Sweet Potato's buying power and allow it lower some of its prices, says Dorfman. “It’s going to be an adventure for us, and it actually allows us to do what we do even better, so why would we not take on the challenge?”

Dorfman says the main objective for The Sweet Potato is staying ahead of the curve when it comes to factors like sustainability. “We don’t think we’re ever going to be a giant in the industry, but we want to be at the cutting-edge and to be driving change,” he says. “If we can make it work, it pushes the bigger guys to follow suit.”

The company is currently in discussion with some vertical farm operators about a possible hybrid store/farm model, for example, and expects that all of the packaging used in its store(s) will be fully recyclable by the end of the year.

The Sweet Potato is also focusing on growing its private-label brand Fine Wholesome Goods, which is oriented around what Dorfman describes as “high-quality [products] with aggressive pricing.”

The company expects to launch between four and five product lines over the next year, and potentially even introducing some of the items produced in its kitchen in a more shelf-stable format.

The company is working with Watt International on the store design. “We’re very happy with the design we’ve come up with,” says Dorfman, who says the company has enlisted a local graphic artist to create a distinctive mural on the store’s exit corridor.