Julian Katz has cooked in some of Toronto’s most renowned kitchens. But he gave up the chef lifestyle to produce his own locally sourced preserves—and provide a retail space for other like-minded purveyors of homegrown food items.
“There’s a ton of value in learning what you don’t want as much as what you do want,” says Julian Katz, reflecting on the slightly askew career arc that led to him becoming owner of Stasis Local Foods (476 Roncesvalles), his shop devoted to homegrown food products as well as his own line of Stasis Preserves.
“After working in restaurants I realized that that’s not really what I wanted to do,” says Katz of his time in the kitchens at The Drake Hotel, C5, Lucien and Ruby Watchco. “I had learnt so much and I’m so appreciative of the places that I’ve been, and to get the kind of experience and exposure that I had at those places. But the more I was in it, the more I realized it wasn’t for me. In the long term, I didn’t want to open my own restaurant.”
Luckily, Katz discovered that what he was doing in his free time—making jams and preserves—actually had the potential to become a full-time business in its own right. After a friend convinced him to bring out his goods to the Brick Works farmers’ market as a one-off endeavour, he soon became a Saturday regular. As Katz was still employed as a cook, this made for a grueling weekend schedule. “I’d go to Brick Works from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., so I was up at 6:30 or 7 a.m., and then I’d get to work at 1:30 or 2 and then I’d work until midnight or one in the morning… and then go out for beers afterwards,” he says.
When Katz decided to devote himself entirely to his preserves, selling them at six different farmers’ markets, things didn’t get any easier. “It was crazy. I was borrowing friends’ kitchens because I didn’t have my own space—I was driving to the farms in the morning, going to pick up jars in Mississauga, dropping everything off at my friend’s kitchen, working from 7 p.m. until 3 in the morning, packing everything back up into my car and then dropping it off into my apartment, which had no space,” he says. “It was the only way to do it. There are not a lot of margins in this kind of product and there’s a ton of labour.”
When it came time to find a space of his own, Katz was lucky to find one able to accommodate both his production facilities and a small retail area, right at the northernmost end of Roncesvalles. “I spent a lot of time looking for spaces and part of it was finding the right space where I didn’t have to do six months of construction or spend an insane amount of money,” Katz says. “And part of it was looking at different neighbourhoods and seeing what was happening. The great thing about this neighbourhood is it’s a food neighbourhood—people come here to eat and go to the market and go to the restaurants and go out to drink.”
However, one shouldn’t assume that Katz’s training in fine dining has gone entirely to waste; what he’s coming up with is far removed from what the typical hobbyist might produce, or what grandma is jarring in the basement. It also requires some rigorous production techniques. “I do a lot of experimenting, playing, trying new flavours and mixing things up,” Katz says. The results (some of which are limited to very small runs) include such unique concoctions as squash jam with lavender, black walnuts in wildflower honey, preserved ground cherries and even candied garlic, in addition to more conventional products like onion chutney and raspberry jam.
Due to Katz’s focus on what’s in season, expect Statis’ offerings to change regularly. “My approach is ‘this is what’s in season, this is what’s delicious right now.’ Buy it now while it’s in season and then we’ll give you something else,” he says.
Through his participation in farmers’ markets, Katz has discovered many like-minded individuals and now offers a tightly edited assortment of goods from Ontario-based producers at Stasis, including meats, cheeses, bread and produce. “There’s so much incredible product that’s made in Ontario that we don’t even think about,” he says. “Most people don’t know that peanuts that can grow in Ontario. It’s very difficult for small producers in Ontario. There’s very little mid-level manufacturing. It’s very hard to develop a product and get it into Loblaws. It’s a long, very expensive process. There’s all these other producers that have really great products, but didn’t have a home other than farmer’s markets. So I wanted to support that community and bring their products in and have a forum for those producers as well. The positive impact ends up being that you’re doing something good, you’re supporting your local economies, you’re reducing your carbon footprint and it tastes better.”