Raise the Root is one of my favourite places to shop for local, fresh and organic food in Toronto. I like going there not only for the great quality food it has to offer but also to chat with Amy, co-owner of Raise the Root. Her passion and love for food is very addictive and her energy has no match.
Amy spends a lot of time understanding what her customers want and then leaves no stone unturned to find and bring the best matching products to her store. Case in point, every time I meet Amy she reminds me to make a new sauce that some of her patrons have been requesting.
I interviewed Amy so I could share with you the story of Raise the Root Organic Market (RTROM) and more importantly the people behind it.
What was the inspiration behind Raise the Root Organic Market?
Simple. The love of real food, sustainability, and the desire to be a part of, and contribute to, a vibrant community like Leslieville.
What do you do for Raise the Root Organic Market and what do you like most about your role (Amy)?
I’m part owner and full-time operator. I have two business partners who were the catalyst of this initiative. Angela Donnelly and JJ Sheppard, long-time Leslievillians, have owned and operated Front Door Organics for over 17 years. They dreamed of opening a store for eons, but couldn’t find the time in their busy schedules. Angela and JJ presented this idea to me a year and a half ago, and I happily jumped onboard.
There are several aspects of my job that I love. My absolute favourite is talking about food with customers and employees. In addition to “talkin’ food”, I love getting to know people. Most customers shopping at RTR are passionate about food, and because of that shared passion, I get to dive into people lives a little deeper than I normally would. Most patrons are on a first name basis, similar to the show Cheers, but more about kombucha than beer! (I do, however, toy with the idea of one day selling craft beers and organic wine, I haven’t figured out the legalities yet — stay tuned!)
In addition to the foodie conversations and great people, I love the real sense of community here in Leslieville. For example, we have an upcycled bag program in which we rely 100% on the community for their donations of used plastic bags and totes. We have people that don’t even shop at the store bringing us bags. It’s awesome! Something you’ll often hear when cashing out at Raise the Root (unless you’re a regular and know the deal) is, “Are you okay with a previously used bag?” to which most responses are to the effect of “Great, that’s the best kind”.
I truly believe, in life, and in business, you have to give in order to receive. Being able to contribute to outreach programs like the Red Door Shelter and donate to local charities provides a real sense of purpose and is easily another fulfilling part of my role. (The community has responded to that aspect, also, by volunteering to deliver the food).
I love the freedom to implement ideas. This is my first business as owner and being able to execute fun and creative ideas is a dream come true. Whether it’s silliness on social media, amusing signs, inspired demos, or hanging an employee’s artwork, the creative process is stimulating and gratifying.
Something I regularly experience that gets me excited is when customers try the fruit or vegetable samples and say things like “that’s what a blueberry should taste like” or not saying anything at all, instead, giving me the “OMG, that’s fantastic” look!. This happens often and it never gets old. As egotistical as it sounds, it provides me with affirmation that RTR is bringing something important and different to the market.
Receiving produce orders is a lot of fun as well. The other day I received (all local) watermelons, corn on the cob, Sicilian eggplants and the season’s first cherry tomatoes. It was a beautiful haul! I actually took pictures, (Yes, I’m that annoying person that constantly takes pictures of food). The simple act of a planted seed turning into a beautiful, edible piece of nourishment that we can then consume, never ceases to amaze me.
Lastly, meeting other like-minded, hardworking entrepreneurs, and having the pleasure of hearing their stories about why they do what they do, motivates and inspires me. Being around people whose visions and dreams to give something back to our world, fills me with gratitude and peace of mind that I am on the right track.
Where does Raise the Root Organic Market see itself in next 5 years?
The five year question always seems a bit strange to me because life RARELY goes according to plan. However, I understand the need for vision and goals. Sure, five years from now we’d love to have another Raise the Root. Perhaps a gardening program, teaching people how to grow food, and, in turn, being able for some of that food to be donated back to shelters. But who knows? We’re still new, our main focus is building and filling out the rest of the store with great products and delicious produce. What I know for sure is, we want to continue being a part of this reconnecting movement, supporting sustainable farmers and social entrepreneurs. Whether that’s via more RTR’s, or, community start-ups is to be determined. Just know that our commitment for change and passion for food will keep the “roots raising” from local farms for the foreseeable future!