'Food tour guy' launches grocery delivery service to help vendors at St. Lawrence Market

·4 min read
'Food tour guy' launches grocery delivery service to help vendors at St. Lawrence Market
'Food tour guy' launches grocery delivery service to help vendors at St. Lawrence Market

Some vendors at Toronto's St. Lawrence Market say they have lost more than half their business due to COVID-19.

With no tourists in town and no locals hosting big parties with lots of food, demand for their specialty items has dropped.

But with the help of Scott Savoie, founder of Toronto Food Tours, a culinary tourism business, the iconic market is getting creative in lean times, all in an attempt to ensure the market, and individual businesses, survive the pandemic.

Savoie said he has launched a "curated food delivery service" with items from the market. His business, called Chef Scott Shop, offers more than 500 products from more than 20 independent market vendors. Savoie calls himself Toronto's original "food tour guy."

"We've pivoted from food tours because, of course, we can't do those at this time and we've launched a grocery delivery service. Normally where we would bring people to the market, now we're bringing the market to people," Savoie told CBC Toronto.

"It's really great because it gives people a chance to experience the market. We pack boxes and deliver them to homes."

Savoie said the business has about 300 customers and he thinks the service will continue after the pandemic ends. "It's doing very well, actually," he said.

WATCH: How a Toronto chef is helping St. Lawrence Market vendors stay afloat during COVID-19:

A freelance chef, Savoie used to conduct food tours around Toronto, including at St. Lawrence Market. But the tours are on hold because of the pandemic. The service, however, enables people to shop at the market without actually going there themselves.

"Obviously, COVID has affected us all. I mean, here we are, it's Saturday and the market has got some people in it, it's busy, but it's nowhere near as busy as it would be on a regular Saturday," he said.

Savoie says he's done food tours at the St. Lawrence Market for 10 years and knows all of the merchants. He considers them family.

"It was really sad to see what was happening, especially at the beginning of it. I said 'We have to do something.' The market has been here for 217 years. I want to make sure that I can do my part to help these merchants be here for another 200 years," he said.

Robert Krbavac/CBC
Robert Krbavac/CBC

Vendors say business has 'seriously gone down'

Vendors say they are feeling the pinch of the pandemic but they welcome the service.

"It has certainly helped a lot during these unprecedented times," George Vasiliades, manager at the St. Lawrence Fish Market, said.

The St. Lawrence Fish Market made staff work fewer hours when business sharply declined.

"Business has seriously gone down. One reason is there's no tourists. Second, people are not having parties, social gatherings. And also, when it first happened, people thought we were closed down. We never closed to begin with," Vasiliades said.

Robert Krbavac/CBC
Robert Krbavac/CBC

Avi Lazarovitz, owner and operator of St. Urbain Bagel, said delivery services, such as Savoie's, are helpful, but the market actually needs more local residents to come in to shop.

"We're really hurting. We are at risk of closing," Lazarovitz said.

"We've lost 60 per cent of our revenue so far and our tourist season is almost coming to a close, and we haven't had any tourists."

Robert Krbavac/CBC
Robert Krbavac/CBC

Effie Tziamouranis, owner of Paddington's Pump, said this year is certainly not the same as last year and there is definitely a risk of closure. But she said she is determined to stay open.

"It's starting to get better. We're hoping for some better numbers in July," she said.

"We all miss the buzz, we miss the roar, seeing our regular faces. It's not the same. It's not what it was even six months ago. It's hard to watch sometimes, but we come here every day with the intention of just moving forward."

Savoie says he delivers his "St. Lawrence Market Fresh Grocery Baskets" to homes in Toronto, Etobicoke, Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Bolton, Caledon, Newmarket, King City, Richmond Hill, Thornhill, Markham, Scarborough, Pickering, Whitby, Ajax, Oshawa and Bowmanville.

St. Lawrence Market is located along Front Street East and Jarvis Street in Toronto's St. Lawrence neighbourhood. The south market, open to the public, has more than 120 specialty vendors. Visitors must wear face masks when in the market, according to Toronto Public Health.

Robert Krbavac/CBC
Robert Krbavac/CBC
Robert Krbavac/CBC
Robert Krbavac/CBC
Robert Krbavac/CBC
Robert Krbavac/CBC