Have you seen the store with the giant walnut sign on Bloor Street West? It’s called Nuthouse, a locally-focused health food store with deep ties to the neighbourhood.
When Alex and Liza Lukashevsky decided to open Nuthouse, the initial spark of an idea was borne from the couple’s frustrations with finding quality foodstuffs in the Bloorcourt neighbourhood.
“We live in the neighbourhood and we had nowhere to shop. We couldn’t wait anymore for someone else to open the store where we wanted to shop, so we decided to open it,” says Liza. “We wanted to do something in our neighbourhood where we could walk to work and make something nice. And what kind of stores did we like? We liked bulk food stores and stores with really good tasting, good quality food. Alex and I, we love food—we talk about food, we read about food, we just love food.”
Opening Nuthouse was a major change in direction for Liza, a former television producer. Or at least she thought so at first, until she broke the news of her plans to her mother. “I called my mother up and said I’m changing my career and I’m going to open a health food store and I thought she would say that I was crazy,” she says, “And then it all came together, because my parents owned one of the first health food stores in Toronto. It was called Whole Earth and it was on McCaul Street in the late-’60s, early-’70s. So I spent the first five years of my life hanging out in the store and stirring the peanut butter.”
It’s important to the couple that Nuthouse is a part of the neighbourhood that they’ve called home for the past ten years. “The best neighbourhoods are neighbourhoods that serve everybody—children, older people, new Canadians, people with maybe not so much money, people with more money, all different kinds of needs,” says Liza. “What’s beautiful is that we wanted this to be a neighbourhood store for everybody in the neighbourhood and that is what’s happened.”
The store, located at the end of their street, is in many ways an extension of their lives at home. “We didn’t do any marketing, we had very little business background,” says Liza. “We just made the store how we made our own house, we picked out things that we liked and we put food in that we like.”
Determining what products Nuthouse will carry is a fairly simple process. “We taste things and if we like the way they taste and we also like the way that they’re made and we like how the company does business, then we say let’s try it and see if other people feel the same,” says Liza. “More often than not, people will come back and say, ‘You were right, that was really great.’”
In terms of how their suppliers conduct their business, local is certainly an asset. “It’s very nice to do business locally. Besides all the political stuff, it’s the funnest way to do business, to actually be friends with the people you’re doing business with,” says Liza. “So we have a lot of food that’s made even in this neighbourhood—it’s very easy, they can bike down or we can walk up and pick up stuff.”
This local relationship is especially pronounced with Chocosol, who provide Nuthouse with a range of products, including coffee, chocolate and coconut oil. “We do a beautiful kind of business with them, that’s beyond fair trade,” Liza explains. “Every couple of months we write a big cheque and they take it and give it to the coffee farmers before we’ve gotten any coffee. We tell them how much we’re going to need for the next six months so that they can buy all the tools and the seeds and they’ve already got the money to purchase all that. Then every few weeks, they send the coffee up here. And we do that with our chia, coconut oil and agave.”
While it’s certainly the products Nuthouse carries that draw most customers in, some are certainly lured to the shop out of curiosity over the giant walnut that serves as its sign. “Mike Law, he’s an artist who works a lot with AWOL and we happen to know him. He does 3D modelling and doesn’t really do commercial stuff, but he made it for us,” says Alex. “I think it took him a long time to find the walnut he wanted to model it after. He was like, ‘I found a walnut at my mom’s house—I think it’s the one!’”
Nuthouse, 1256 Bloor Street West. #BCT 647-352-3385.