Where’s The Beef? Meet YamChops, Toronto’s Vegetarian Butcher
There was a time when the concept of a vegetarian restaurant seemed like a fringe idea for hippies. Thankfully, with the change in attitude towards living healthier, the explosion in popularity of global cuisine and the ingenuity of vegetarians themselves, plant-based restos are popping up in every city. But a vegetarian butcher? That’s crazy, right? Well, as Toronto’s YamChops has shown, it’s so crazy, it just might work.
YamChops is a family business and we spoke with employee – and owner Michael’s daughter – Jess Abramson about what it’s like working with family at Canada’s only meatless butcher shop.
Tell us about your business. Who are you, and what do you do?
YamChops is a Vegetarian Butcher Shop! Our recipes appeal to all types of eaters: flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans.
Some might say that’s an oxymoron, but we believe plant-based proteins can be a staple of any kitchen or diet.
Our primary offering is centre of the plate vegan protein. From Szechuan *Beef* to Tuna-Less Tuna to Carrot *Lox* to Chick*n Shawarma, our vegan protein options create effortless and delicious plant based meals. We also offer a selection of salads, sides and house-made soups, sauces and dressings. We have a deli menu for eat-in or take-out lunch and dinner items, and a selection of lunch boxes and salad bowls that changes daily.
We have our own line of Organic and Cold Pressed juice called AuJus, made in-house using a hydraulic cold press so the resulting liquid is a living elixir that delivers nutrients and enzymes beyond any other kind of juice. Finally, we have a vegan and vegetarian grocery where our guests can find frozen, fresh and dry items to stock their kitchen. Cooking classes, catering and wholesale sales are other arms of our business.
How did you get into this business? Is it a family legacy or are you a pioneer?
Michael Abramson, our “butcher”, has been vegetarian for going on 40 years. His interest in cooking has grown over the years and our family has had the pleasure of taste testing his food at the family dinner table during many a delicious meal. After selling his ad agency which he owned with his wife, Toni, and in which my sister and I had the chance to learn the ropes, he, Toni, Leya and I embarked upon this new venture to bring his artistry in the kitchen to Toronto.
We created a vegetarian butcher shop as we felt there were few other places that offered grab and go centre of the plate protein options and we loved the juxtaposition of vegetarian with butcher and the mixed crowd it brought through our doors. Michael has done much professional development, including plant-based cuisine certifications at Cordon Vert Cookery School, American Culinary Academy and Rouxbe Cooking School.
Why do you love what you do? What it is that drives you every day?
We love creating surprisingly delicious vegan products that delight people with their taste and texture and make them go, “Wow!” (And we love eating our food, too!) We love creating cold pressed juices that integrate more fruits and veggies into our guests’ diets and helping clients heal with our juice cleanses. And we love having the most comprehensive selection of meat alternatives in the city in our grocery area.
Was it all smooth sailing or have you had to overcome adversity to get where you are?
All smooth sailing unless you count foot pain, physical and mental exhaustion, the challenge of hiring the right people… and then training them, team building, etc. It’s all new to us and we are having a ton of fun, and we also work really, really hard.
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
We had a whole, 9 lb, stuff-able soy vegan turkey (shaped like a real turkey) dropped off to us to sample. Our kitchen can’t quite get past its realistic appearance, but doesn’t have the heart to throw it out either. So it languishes in our downstairs fridge like a sad soy carcass…
Are you involved in your local community?
We have donated to several charities since opening, including several animal sanctuaries. We’ve also supported local fundraisers and events in our community with donations of food and gift certificates. We are formalizing our donation request process and will eventually introduce our own charitable fund.
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
Have people you trust involved – lots of them – if you hope to ever have a day off.