176 Baldwin St
Kensington Market has long been a go-to destination for ethnic foods, with its eclectic patchwork of spice shops, cheese vendors, fishmongers and butchers. Even now the quirky enclave resists the wave of gentrification washing over other downtown neighbourhoods (witness the current battle to keep Walmart from setting down at the Market’s entrance), keeping its multicultural/hippie/anarchist vibe not only surviving, but thriving. How perfect that the marketplace once home to European immigrant merchants still features some of the best artisanal offerings found in the city.
Sanagan’s Meat Locker opened its doors back in 2009, taking over a father-and-son butcher shop that had been serving the market for five decades. Owner Peter Sanagan, a chef by trade, was looking for a way to bring the locally produced meats he had been cooking in rural restaurants to downtown Toronto shoppers. “As a chef I’ve always been passionate about working directly with farmers,” Sanagan says. “There are so many interesting products, like game meats, traditional meats, fruits and vegetables. It’s all about bringing the best flavour profile to the plate.”
Working at the Falls Inn in Walters Falls, Sanagan had the opportunity to work closely with independent farmers and brought these sources with him when taking the plunge into retail meat. It was a welcome partnership, giving the local producers a chance to make further inroads into the big-city marketplace. “When you’re working with small farmers, it’s a very different scale,” Sanagan points out. “Because they’re smaller operations, restaurants are expected to purchase whole animals, which is difficult because you can’t always use all the parts on your menu. As a butcher, I can use everything from the nose to the tail.”
Sanagan’s has since made a move from its modest beginnings, taking over the old European Meats store a few doors down from the original location. The new space is several times larger, offering more scope for its owner’s personal vision. “At first I was a little bit hesitant,” admits Sanagan, who finally decided to jump into the new venture whole hog. “The first few months of operation in the big store were pretty strange,” he says. “Before, I had four employees, and now I have 32, so watching my cost of labour go from $7,000 every two weeks up to $25,000 was a little daunting.”
The move proved a big success. The raw-meat counter still stocks the familiar, along with such offerings as oxtail or large shanks. Fans of the butcher’s amazing handmade sausages will be happy to see an expanded range. But now there’s room for a charcuterie section, featuring terrines, patés and confit, all made in-store. There’s even a maple bacon doughnut (yes, I ate one, and it was outrageously good). Also popular is the new lunch counter, featuring some of the shop’s delectable items, sizzling away and further whetting the appetite. A newly launched wholesale sideline to restaurants and hotels is ticking along nicely, building on Sanagan’s original vision of responsible food production.
“I enjoy working with smaller producers who raise their animals in a sustainable nature,” he says. “This is with zero hormone use and antibiotic use only if the animal is sick. The animals are well fed and well taken care of, not factory farmed. That’s always going to be my focus.”