Malcolm Jolley is going to miss one of Toronto’s iconic gourmet boutiques.
The day after the Yonge Street location of All The Best Fine Foods closed for good, I watched a stream of people walk up to the door, stand still and sadly walk away. There were office ladies coming for their lunch break, an older couple coming to stock up, and whoever else you might find on the sidewalk at noon in Summerhill.
I knew something the disappointed would be customers didn’t. Co-owner Susan Merry had sent me and a group of All The Best insiders an email late on the night of Wednesday, September 7, explaining that the store wasn’t just closed, it was shut for good. The All The Best’s assets had been sold to the McMullen family that owns Summerhill Market. The Yonge Street store, which was acquired by a new landlord in August, is not part of the deal. But the big production kitchen in Leaside and the smaller store in the Gay Village on Church Street are and will remain open under the Summerhill banner. The All The Best brand of prepared food, including their famous cheese straws, would live on, and most importantly to Merry and her co-owner Jane Rodmell, as many of their employees as possible could keep their jobs under Summerhill Market management. On the phone, on the Thursday, Rodmell repeated that conviction, that the sale was bittersweet but she hoped the best thing for her team and would lead to opportunity for the former All The Best employees.
All The Best Fine Foods was thirty-five years old. It began as All The Best Breads, the bakery component to a group of shops set-up around the Summerhill LCBO. Me and various versions of my family have been shopping there for about as many years. The series of shops were conceived by the magazine publisher, entrepreneur, environmentalist and investor Michel de Pencier, and included a butcher (Olliffe), and fishmonger (Pisces), and a greengrocer (The Harvest Wagon). The fifth store, in what became known as the five thieves, was the Perfect Mix, a party store. Jane Rodmell arrived at All The Best early in the scene. Her husband had a connection to de Pencier and she had gourmet retail experience from her native London, England. Sue Merry was an early hire, and the store was transformed from a bakery to a gourmet provisioner that took its mission only selling “the best” very seriously. All The Best Fine Foods became more than a traiteur to neighbouring Rosedale and Summerhill, it was a destination shop, where foodists would travel from the ends of the city to find that rare ingredient required for Saturday night’s recipe. Like the recently closed Cookbook Store, All The Best was a hub for the emerging Toronto food scene of the past 30 years and it will be missed not just as place to buy delicious food, but also a place to learn about the best ingredients or the latest food trend.
Sue Merry and Jane Rodmell weren’t just my providers, they were early supporters of my first food and wine website, Gremolata, and continued that support when Jamie and I launched Good Food Revolution. I am very grateful for that. They also became my friends, and friends of my wife and children. I know their passion for good food is strong, and I am sure they will each emerge from the loss of their beloved store to do something interesting and cool. In the meantime, they deserve a rest after a long run, and thanks for feeding us so well.