When I first heard about YamChops, a vegan butcher shop that opened in the Little Italy neighborhood of Toronto in 2014, I was living abroad. While the concept of a vegan butcher shop was new, it was equally exciting and made me mentally note that I would need to visit the location when I returned to Canada. That feeling was solidified when I heard about their big win on Dragons' Den, where a deal was made for $250,000 for 30% of the business.
Fast forward a few years to 2016 and I found myself in Toronto finally able to visit YamChops. By this point, the concept of a vegan butcher shop had already become less of a rarity, with locations such as The Herbivorous Butcher and The Butcher's Son in the United States, and the more recent Sova Food Vegan Butcher in Dublin. Still, YamChops was of course the one closest to home, and knowing that it was the first vegan butcher shop in North America--as well as the only one in Canada--made me all the more excited to visit in person.
Once I arrived to the shop, which stands out perfectly on its College Street location, I was able to meet and speak with co-founders and power team Michael and Toni Abramson. With a very warm welcome by the duo and the YamChops staff in general, I sat down to enjoy a packed plate of some of the shop's specialties, including fishless fish tacos, Korean BBQ chick*n, Szechuan 'beef', creamy macaroni and potato salad, and a Caesar kale salad topped with YamChops' signature coconut-based 'bacon' flakes.
I also noticed that the shop had a very impressive variety of local and international vegan specialty items, making it a one-stop shop for just about everything. In between bites of this unique, savory, filling, and delicious food, I learned more about YamChops--which has become a staple for locals and a tourist hotspot for visiting guests, and about the exciting upcoming plans.
"While all of our products are vegan, we appeal to vegetarians, vegans, meat-eaters, and those who consider themselves flexitarians," Toni stated. "YamChops essentially articulated a growing need, and that was a focus on plant-based protein, or center-of-the-plate protein," Michael added. With the options present on my sample plate, I understood that YamChops takes the protein-aspect--that many people interested in plant-based eating worry about--very seriously.
While offering exciting options and spins on classic comfort foods, and re-creating staple dishes from Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cuisines, YamChops seems intent on accommodating all types of eaters. Michael states:
"We don't like saying no. That is why we have soy-free, nut-free, gluten-free and low sodium options, among many others. Our goal is for everyone who visits YamChops to leave with their day a little better."
Michael, who has been a vegetarian for over 40 years and is the chef behind YamChops, notes that the options available have appealed to a customer base that is about 42% meat-eating, as the products are also ideal for anyone looking to cut back on their meat intake, without compromising on taste. He lets me know that YamChops even sold their meatless products to traditional butcher shops--with them all selling out!
Having just celebrated the shop's two-year anniversary on July 23, I of course had to ask Michael and Toni about their future plans for YamChops. That was when I learned that although they were very appreciative of the Dragons' Den experience and ultimate offer, they actually did not take the deal in the end. However, as they told me more about their upcoming plans, I realized their decision definitely seems to have been the right one. Michael stated:
"We are set to offer franchise locations this October, with plans that include 50 YamChops locations throughout North America in the next four years. The response to YamChops opening its doors has been humbling. It has taken us two years to get to this point - and we're finally ready!"
Just some of those 50 locations include Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Denver, New York, and Miami. There will be a trade show for franchise options in October 2016 for interested people or organizations, and those who want to learn more can contact the team directly at [email protected].
As Michael and Toni have already had local and international fans of YamChops (lovingly called 'Yambassadors') request more of what they love, it seems YamChops will stay true to its principle of remaining accommodating and appealing to everyone--by responding with an expansion all over North America!
Photo Credit: Header Photo by YamChops