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Grocery Stores

The Sweet Potato

Posted by Joshua / Posted on April 1, 2008

The Sweet Potato
The Junction is emerging as the destination for the organically-inclined in Toronto. I visited the newly opened organic grocery store The Sweet Potato on a cold Tuesday morning and was immediately warmed up.

The grocer advertises "natural foods... sweet prices." I am often sceptical of reasonably priced organic food but this time the claim rings true. Everything from organic grape tomatoes ($1.99 for 1 pint) to pure organic agave sweetener ($6.79) is no more expensive - and often cheaper - than you'll find at the big box grocers.

The prices are a result of bulk buying (there's a large storage area in the basement) by owner Digs Dorfman, who has run the High Park Organic Market for two years. He's also reduced overhead with used and recycled refrigerators and shelves, and buys as much as possible from small, local vendors who do not supply the big grocery stores.

Sweet Potato Toronto

I find competitive prices on the usual suspects, such as Amy's Organics or Wolfgang Puck's canned soups ($2.99/can) as well as on local products, such as Toronto Sprouts ($0.99/package). I also find organic PEI pre-washed potatoes ($1.99 for a 1.5 pound bag), organic baby carrots (2/$3.00 on 1 pound bags) and an extensive selection of Celestial Seasonings tea ($1.99/box, all sizes) and bulk coffee.

Sweet Potato Shelf

One friendly employee points out that The Sweet Potato is not a caf? or health food store; it's a grocery store. This emphasis is evident in the full range of products: produce, canned and dry foods, perishables like milk, eggs and cheese, baby food (Earth's Best jars are 2 for $1.50), diapers, as well as cleaning, beauty and paper kitchen and bath products.

I spot several organic tofu options and a mix of faux "meats." Non-vegetarians will be pleased, though, that they will not feel out of place with packaged deli meats from the local Beretta Organic Farms.

With Alice's Farm Baked Pies supplying homebaked goodies, I find on my visit the carrot nut and pineapple zucchini are as tempting as the banana loaves (all $6.99 each), as are the bumbleberry and wild blueberry pies ($9.99 each).

The store's biggest hurdle so far has been underestimating its popularity; many of the usual baked goods were not available as vendors took a break for the Easter weekend while The Sweet Potato remained open and bustling.

There's also a take away counter offering sandwiches, wraps, coffee, tea, fresh juices and smoothies. I enjoyed a mango colada smoothie ($4.99) and noted I could also opt for protein and medicinal varieties, or build my own. Future plans include adding prepared foods like hummus and rice dishes. Expect the goods in 6-8 weeks, when production levels can be increased.

Smoothie

The Sweet Potato sees itself as one part of a thriving community. They complement efforts by other local businesses, such as The Beet, but also offer what nobody else does: An organic grocery store that could replace your regular grocery store. And with summer's fresh local produce around the corner, I've got one more reason to make The Sweet Potato my first stop.

Discussion

25 Comments

Chris Orbz / April 1, 2008 at 01:10 pm
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I actually work for this place now, and I do genuinely find the prices to be quite good on many things. There's some stuff that's expensive, it _is_ in some ways a specialty foods store, but I've been pretty impressed by the prices on staple items and the produce. I do work for them, so dismiss that entirely if you like, but I've been vegan and thus inherently into health foods for 8 years and if I wasn't honestly impressed I just wouldn't have said anything.

It's great to have this and the Beet in the Junction now, and apparently there's more related businesses to come... it was pretty sad when Toronto's oldest vegetarian restaurant, The Vegetarian Restaurant at Keele/Dundas, closed down a while back.
Josh / April 1, 2008 at 03:14 pm
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I've been very happy with the place since it opened.

My only complaint is that they're using open-front coolers for the dairy/eggs/etc. which is troubling from an energy-use standpoint.
kat / April 12, 2008 at 02:48 am
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WTF - I live like ONE second south of this address and I've never heard of this place! I'm setting my alarm and going there FIRST THING tomorrow morning!!!! SO STOKED!
Malcolm Bastien / April 15, 2008 at 10:07 pm
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I couldn't believe this place when I first stepped into it. Albeit the big brown and orange sign leaves something to be desired, this is one of my favorite stores to browse through when I know that all I'm going there for is either a couple of boxes of tea and a coffee.

I've lived in the Junction my whole life, and it's finally becoming an area where I want to spend time at.

This store rocks.
Xander / April 18, 2008 at 10:49 am
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The Sweet Potato is a great addition to the Junction. I really like not having to travel far to pick up tempeh and other goodies. Their coffee is also pretty good.
Debbie Hanley / August 24, 2008 at 11:49 am
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I liked prices but too many of the products were from outside the province, country, or even the continent. Not bad, but there are much, much better options for organic produce in Toronto. I won't go back to this one.
Tim / August 30, 2008 at 11:48 pm
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Really like the emphasis on local produce. Debbie seems to overlook the fact that Canada has a pretty significant period of cold that disrupts the availability of local foods.
Janine / November 2, 2008 at 05:39 pm
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I shop here every week for grocery items and find the quality of food to be fantastic. I love being able to buy my milk in the glass bottles (which, yeah...are kinda gorgeous) which are environmentally conscious as they can be returned and reused. I am growing more impressed every week as I see the food selection expanding...excited that Sweet Potato now carries Rowe Farms meats. I'm definitely a huge fan of this store.
replying to a comment from Debbie Hanley / December 5, 2008 at 12:40 pm
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Debbie, where do you like to buy organic?
replying to a comment from / January 11, 2009 at 10:33 am
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I'm ALL ABOUT the GURU Organic energy drinks at this store!! LOVE EM and the price!
bleh / February 2, 2009 at 08:43 pm
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that guys is hot..... more reasons to visit.
Tina replying to a comment from Tim / February 19, 2009 at 03:17 pm
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Debbie has a good point, in August... most things carried in the store should be easily sourced from Ontario.

I think the Sweet Potato has so much potential but it just seems like it's a business run for the money as opposed to the love of food (or whatever). The staff are slow and unhelpful, prices are good but the place looks really dirty. I also think the cafe is a distraction (and bad coffee at that).

Maybe more exposure would get them to take their business seriously, I have not seen ads anywhere nor flyers. Have heard bad things about this place for many people in the neighbourhood.

Joshua replying to a comment from Tina / February 19, 2009 at 10:03 pm
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Interesting you mention the cafe... when was the last time you went in? They just re-did that whole area and the cafe is basically gone, pretty much just a self-serve coffee station. I'm a regular shopper but I do find that the produce is hit or miss due to it being winter and depending on when they got a delivery.
Kristine / March 27, 2009 at 11:02 pm
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I completely disagree with you Tina. I have now been shopping at the Sweet Potato for over a year now and find the staff to be very helpful and very friendly. The cafe is now gone and there is a self-serve coffee section as well as really good sandwiches and salads. The coffee is fair trade AND organic and is roasted in house (which is always exciting!). And as far as the coffee being bad...you should really try the House Roast Dark. It's amazing!

All in all I have very much enjoyed the Sweet Potato as an addition to the Junction. I'm excited to see how they might grow.
AND if and when their freezer section comes back in!
Z / May 24, 2009 at 08:46 pm
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The Sweet Potato is the best grocery store in Toronto! Extremely fresh produce and great prices.
Tom replying to a comment from Kristine / July 22, 2009 at 08:59 pm
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I have found the staff at times to be extremely rude and at times friendly. The nearby metro sells a lot of organic produce, exact same carrots etc.,and at a lower price than the sweet potato. I must admit that I do not find the sweet potato to be exactly as great as some of you claim. In short not a super bad place, but definitely not the greatest, and the new staff are not as courteous as the original group.
Michelle replying to a comment from Chris Orbz / September 9, 2009 at 11:22 pm
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Hey Chris, I was just wondering if the people that work at the store get employee discounts? I've never worked in a grocery store before and I love health food but it's just so darn expensive on a students budget!
David / December 31, 2009 at 02:49 pm
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I moved into The Juntion a few years ago having migrated from Roncis village. I was excited when the fair trade organic chocolate place opened up and equally excited when the Sweet Potato opened up. I'm the envy of a lot of my granola friends now. Love the Harmony organic milk. You get to recycle the glass bottles keeping more out of the landfills. Lets face it, no everyone recycles those waxed cardboard containers. I love the great breads and banana loafs and excellent produce section. I noticed that the No Frills around the corner has started carrying the Kicking Horse Coffee brand. Looks like someone has been snooping around The Sweet Potato. It's a great neighborhood and with all the recent additions, of new restaurants and fine Organic Trade, I'm sure its only going to get better.
T replying to a comment from Tom / February 15, 2010 at 06:22 pm
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Hey Tom, I just wanted to say your comment left a smile on my face - I am part of the "original group" of staff and have gone in a few times since and been a little disappointed by the new people working there. The Sweet Potato was/is a great place and the owner, Digs, is a really nice guy, but unfortunately the new staff are less-than-friendly and seem a little unhelpful.
And to Michelle - we did get discounts when I worked there, but it wasn't huge - if I remember correctly it was 10% on all produce and some of the other stuff in the store, and a slightly higher discount on the take-out cafe area food (which is no longer there, unfortunately)
Deb / March 12, 2010 at 03:17 pm
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Hi All,

I used to frequent the Sweet Potato when it first opened but I just kept getting let down by mediocre food quality... I was never able to find more at the SweetP than I could at the No Frills around the corner, who carry almost as much local and organic during the summer!!!

My issues with the food quality and storage, etc. were seconded Wednesday by the Sweet Potato being shut down by Toronto Public Health for a RODENT INFESTATION! There was a DineSafe Closure notice, but the Sweet Potato's own sign said they were closed due to a hazardous leak, not according to the Toronto Public Health Website! And I quote "Operator fail to prevent a rodent infestation".

YUCK! I've seen the back of this place from the No Frills car park too, and it's a disgusting mess! To stay open they should source better produce, and clean up! We need a real green grocer in the Junction, and the Sweet Potato doesn't cut it!
GoldFish / April 13, 2010 at 01:37 pm
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I'm also one of the former staff at The Sweet Potato and still a regular customer. Lots of the staff I worked with have moved on to other jobs or gone back to school but there are still some staff that have been working at the store since it pretty much opened.

I, for one, think the staff at the store are super friendly both the ones I know and the new ones. I'm always asking questions about product because I'm often on the hunt for exciting new stuff and I only ever get lots of friendly suggestions and help in dealing with my many allergies.

I live in the area so shop at the No Frills too because The Sweet Potato sadly doesn't have everything. But the produce and selection at No Frills doesn't even compare! The majority of No Frills is definitely not organic or local --- even in the summer!!

And so they closed down for a day. The store is in tip top shape the last time I was in (this past Friday) and there's nothing to be worried about!! I picked up my delicious basket of organic produce, including local peppers!

I personally think that it's a fantastic grocery store and recommend it too anyone I come across. Combined with No Frills you only need to make the occasional trip for some rare unusual ingredient to different neighborhood.

P.S. Michelle - Staff discounts are 10%, but not in every department. Yet 10% off on food was a nice incentive to buy yummy food!
R replying to a comment from Deb / May 13, 2010 at 07:28 pm
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The back of the store is a "mess" Deb because the store receives a lot of their products in cardboard boxes and they are doing their part by saving them up to recycle them on the weekly business garbage pickup in the Junction. I have never seen any garbage back there. There are also green compost bins and a recycling bin in the back. Sorry that being eco-friendly is offensive to your sensibilities.

I've always found that the staff are helpful and friendly but if they don't know the answer to a question they are honest about it.

It may also be helpful to remember that the nicer you are to people, the nicer they will be to you!
gjr / March 1, 2011 at 03:30 pm
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A year or so ago I shopped there and didn't think much of the quality. but what really turned me off was seeing organic apples from New Zealand. I think organic is great, but the carbon footprint on those, when we have an abundance of apples around Toronto, cannot possibly make it worthwhile. And any store that stocks things like that doesn't get my business.
Colleen / May 24, 2011 at 03:12 pm
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If your interested in the healthiest chocolate in the world, this is the chocolate for you! visit www.myxocai.com/colleenbrandse to find out more! Eat it or sell it, it's up to you! It's the only chocolate in the world that is processed with a patented cold-pressed method, which preserves ALL the antioxidant and nutrient values! Google it if your leary and you will find lots of information to support this product! Join my team or just get healthy. P.S. it has no sugar or fat added
ATP33Toronto / October 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm
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I went into The Sweet Potato recently for only the 2nd time ever (went there once briefly *years* ago, barely remember it) & was extremely pleased & surprised with the selection & some of the prices (not of meat though, sadly - they carry organic but not in a price range I can afford - what store does?). The location is out of my way but much easier to get to on TTC than I realized & I'll definitely go back. Disappointed the cafe is closed though. Where else can I go for a sandwich or salad with organic meat in it in this city without paying a Hazelton-Yorkville fortune?

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