Bonbons and bars on Bank – Alicja Confections

by Maddy Warlow

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Photos: Maddy Warlow

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, an eye for flashy design and a love for some exotic flavours, then Alicja Confections should be your go-to place! Known for their unique Postcard Chocolate Bar, Alicja Buchowicz, her fiancée Nick and her team put a modern twist on traditional chocolate-making techniques. As a chocolate lover myself, I jumped at the opportunity to support a locally run, woman-owned shop in the business of creating delicious treats.

Buchowicz hasn’t always worked in the chocolate industry; she only started her own brand in 2015 after leaving a previous, more traditional chocolate shop in Winnipeg, her hometown. As a creative person, she had been accepted into a prestigious design school in Los Angeles, but the tuition was just out of reach. She began working in sales jobs but found no inspiration for her future until she got into the business of chocolate. In 2015 she made her first set of bonbons for the Christmas season, hand tempering the chocolate from her experiences at the Winnipeg store, sold out on Etsy and through friends and family in Winnipeg.

She found herself in need of a creative outlet after leaving her Winnipeg chocolate shop position and focusing solely on sales, and so came her own chocolate creations. Buchowicz puts her creative talent to work through marketing, packaging and branding of her own work combined with her position as a chocolatier. Before the Ottawa opening, she sold her products at markets and pop-up shops within larger stores. She soon realized she had put herself on the map. “It’s more important to me that I like what I’m doing, it’s not about the money,” she explained. The Ottawa location was opened for the 2017 Christmas season in Fifth Avenue Court, as the first storefront for her confections.

In speaking with Buchowicz, it was clear she was passionate about her shop. She explained how the loss of her father, who worked at a chocolate shop in his youth, put her dreams on hold but allowed her to recognize her goals as an entrepreneur. She realized that wasn’t the route she wanted for herself after being contacted by a large wholesaler to supply her chocolate bars. She ended up opening a quaint shop on Bank Street, a decision she described as a “no-brainer.”  “There’s no chocolate shop on this massive stretch of street and I love the community here,” she explained when I asked her why she decided on the location. “No chocolate store? I am okay to fill that void!” she said excitedly.

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Alicja Confections at 829 Bank Street opens your senses to a world of chocolate. Photos: Maddy Warlow

Walking into the shop, you immediately see evidence of Buchowicz’s creative eye. That flashy neon pink sign illuminates the shop with the words: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. The store is quaint and the funky packaging stands out. Buchowicz describes her chocolate creations as “new, weird, interesting, funky, delicious flavour you can’t find anywhere else,” and her store follows the same mandate. A white brick wall accentuates a shelving unit filled with different designs of the Postcard Chocolate Bar and serves as the perfect photo-op backdrop. Crisp, clean white marble provides elegance to the shop, as do her gold leaf detailed bonbons on display.

The website extends the coherent design even further. Hosted on an easy-to-use platform, all the beautiful Postcard Chocolate Bars are on full display. The site provides photos, updates, news and social media connections to keep in touch and in tune with the latest Alicja creations.

Getting into the festivities of the season, the shop hosted an “Easter Bunny Design Contest” for their first ever Easter of 2018. The contest allowed for chocolate lovers and designers alike to try their hand at colourful, creative designs as inspired by Buchowicz herself. The three winners will have their design realized in chocolate form. This was a great opportunity to get her name out by combining her love of chocolate with a sense of community, as facilitated by the Glebe.

When asked about the proposed redevelopment of Fifth Avenue Court where she is located, Buchowicz stated that she hoped all the local businesses had enough support despite the outcome. After attending the redevelopment public meeting, she said, “people were very passionate at the meeting, which reaffirmed how happy I am to be in this area since the people really care.” Overall, she has a positive, uplifting outlook on the current situation and her future as a chocolatier in the community.

Swing by Alicja Confections at 829 Bank Street for a Nicholas Bar (milk chocolate with potato chips), a Cereal & Milk bar (cereal and marshmallows in white chocolate) or a grapefruit hibiscus bonbon! These are only a few of the unique and delicious flavours that the team has on display. Describing herself as a “jack of all trades kind of person,” Alicja and her confections are worth a visit, if only for the smell of fresh chocolate alone!

Maddy Warlow, a volunteer writer, is working on her Bachelor of Communication and Media at Carleton University. She has an interest in all things chocolate, the dogs of the Glebe and music.
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Purple Urchin does it naturally

by Michael Abbey

Purple Urchin_logoI remember seeing the purple door on Somerset near Preston belonging to Purple Urchin on many a stroll through Little Italy. I recently chatted with Rebecca Pereira at the Bank Street Purple Urchin in the Glebe. She is the smooth and collected owner with a passion for epidermis-friendly products. She hails from Sault Ste. Marie, though born in British Columbia. Pereira went to school for business and worked for a few years as a bank teller. But her keen interest in animal rescue was in part what led her to start the company. She was also increasingly disappointed with the volume of material that ends up in landfill and wanted to pursue a business that plays a role in reducing that waste. Purple Urchin also follows a natural, less harmful ingredient regimen.

She followed a linguistic whim at the outset – the sound made by the “ur” letter combination, as in purple – when she named the company. The décor of the Bank Street store is colourful, warm and reflective of the company’s passion for natural, natural and natural. The store is wheelchair- and little people friendly. The Somerset location is now strictly for manufacturing.

I had always thought of soap and only that until I strolled into her store in the Glebe. And indeed a quarter of the product is soap. “I thought soap would be fun; it’s useful and smells good,” Pereira said. We started off with unpackaged soap and grew from there. We do about 25 kinds of bar soap, all natural mixtures. We make liquid castile soap by hand as well as body butter and so much more.”

Besides soap there are a few baby products as well as shaving aids for men who choose to scrape their faces with sharp metal instruments, and a number of other products for the face. The flagship offering does not have any preservatives, which is a theme that runs throughout their product line. The anti-aging serums are state-of-the-art, containing ingredients like borage oil, argan oil, sea buckthorn oil, evening primrose oil, jojoba oil and carrot seed oil as well as a few others, with names as exotic as they are friendly to the face.

Pereira wholesale business is with natural food stores and health food merchants like Herb & Spice and Whole Foods. Her products are also in the Andaz Hotel in the Market and she is making efforts to expand into the boutique hotel arena. I wondered about the demographics of her clientele. “Traditionally we had a lot of people in their early 30s from Centretown. They were interested in supporting the local community businesses” she explained.

We discussed the pros and cons of opening in the Glebe. She has had some but not a lot of interaction with the BIA. She found out that she can have a table on the street during the Great Glebe Garage Sale and she is all over that.

I left with the impression of an entrepreneur who has a passion for natural products that can play a vital role in the well-being of her clientele. She is proud that her products work very well and are of high quality. “If I personally don’t believe a product works well, I don’t sell it.” The commercial giants use the cheapest rather than the friendliest packaging. Purple Urchin is at the opposite end of that spectrum, a characteristic Pereira is proud of and so she should be. 

Michael Abbey is a retired high-tech professional and bridge enthusiast who writes about business for the Glebe Report. He can be reached at abbey.fenderpbs@gmail.com or on Twitter @Prefer Majors.

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Rebecca Pereira, owner of Purple Urchin, the new Glebe purveyor of handmade soaps and other vegetarian body products Photo: Michael Abbey

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Stag Shop – sizzle and spice come to the Glebe

by Kate McGregor

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Stag Shop manager Tim Hill is a family man who has been in the retail industry for 13 years. Photo: Kate McGregor

Stepping into the Glebe’s adult fun store, I almost caught myself looking for a shopping cart. How different was Stag Shop’s bright and colourful interior compared to the dimly lit sex shops I furtively perused during my university years.

If you think that Stag Shop is a destination for hunters, think again. Those crops, paddles and whips on display aren’t horse-riding accessories. But let’s back it up a bit.

Stag Shop is a Canadian-owned retail business that was established by the Horea family in 1972 in Waterloo, Ontario. The store has grown to 28 locations across the province. The Horeas opened two new locations on Bank Street in December 2017, one in Centretown and one in the Glebe. According to Sarah Goertzen, Stag Shop’s marketing director, the two stores respond to the changing demographics along the two-kilometre stretch.

As a retailer striving to become mainstream, Stag Shop works hard to normalize sex and pleasure and to promote sex-positive attitudes and sexual well-being. “Safety first” is a guiding principle no matter what your gender, sexual orientation and sexual activity.

While Stag Shop’s website is popular with customers who prefer to order products from the privacy of their own home, many enjoy dropping into the store to chat with the knowledgeable staff and to browse and touch the products before they buy. The day I was there all the customers were women.

My updated education about sex toys started with manager Tim Hill, a warm and gentle bear of a man who gave me a guided tour of the stock and invited me to hold the products, some of which, I have to say, looked like beautifully made works of art. Hill is a family man who enjoys axe-throwing for a hobby and has been in the retail industry for 13 years, always seeking to be involved in something different. Of the Horea family, he says, “They are 100 percent involved in the business…Stag Shop is a big company with a small company feel.”

Three of the four sales people Hill employs are women and three of the four call the Glebe home. I was impressed by their diverse backgrounds: one is a counsellor who specializes in seniors and college-age youth, one is an active member of the LGBTQ community who supports youth coming out and offers clinics on consent, and the third is a part-time college student. Charlotte, who was behind the counter the day I arrived, offers four years of experience working in sex shops.

The well-stocked shelves and displays boast a wide range of products for couples and singles including sex toys, lubricants, massage oils and lingerie. There is even a novelty section with fun products for bachelorette and birthday parties. Of note, Stag Shop promotes several lines of Canadian-made products: We-Vibe, a brand designed in Ottawa that brings couples together in creative ways and fancy lace collars manufactured in Gatineau by Ego Driven. Stag Shop offers a product replacement plan for any of the vibrating toys you purchase.

Acknowledging the uniqueness of their new location in the Glebe, Stag Shop will be replacing the busty mannequins in the window with more gender-neutral mannequins to display their popular line of sexy lingerie. Thinking about a party with a sex theme? Tim and Charlotte would be pleased to help you organize it and will even come to your home to demonstrate the products you have chosen to your delighted guests. In addition to their support of Ottawa Pride activities, Stag Shop provides free condom give-aways at Carleton University events. They also encourage the public to post their sex-related news on their community bulletin board. For people curious to know more about various topics, Stag Shop offers workshops on activities like bondage, role-playing and the proper use of sex toys.

For customers too shy to ask questions, Stag Shop offers a “Stag Shop University” rack by the door with pamphlets on various topics. Alternatively, information for beginners, how-to guides, a glossary and videos appear under the Stag Shop University section of the website.

Let’s face it, sexual pleasure is all about choices. Some of us love it, some of us seek it and some of us can’t be bothered. But if you are thinking about spicing up your bedroom play or upgrading your aging sex toys, Stag Shop offers quality products for solo acts and couples.

In the words of American entertainer Mae West:

“Good sex is like good bridge. If you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a good hand.”

Kate McGregor is a certified Integral Master Coach™. 613-884-1864; kate@kmcommunications.ca;www.kmcoaching.ca

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Yummy Meat Pies: a hidden gem

by Jacob Hoytema

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Yummy Meat Pies owner-operator Sami Ben Abdelmalekdding veggie toppings to a zaatar (thyme-based) pie. Photos: Jacob Hoytema

Like all hidden treasures, it takes a little digging to get to Yummy Meat Pies. It’s buried beneath a blanket of scaffolding near Bank Street and Fifth Avenue so you might not see the entrance if you were just walking by. But those who do discover it will get to experience a warm atmosphere and a unique new blend of Mediterranean cuisine unlike anything else in the Glebe.

A wall-posted menu and an “About Us” section are the first things you see after stumbling through the door at the old Booster Juice location. But visitors normally can’t read far before owner-operator Sami Ben Abdelmalek greets them with a “How are you?” and a smile before explaining the unique Mediterranean fusion he’s produced.

“People might think, OK, it’s just a meat pie or a sandwich. But no, it’s something that I’ve worked on myself. I know my stuff is definitely different,” Ben Abdelmalek says.

Ben Abdelmalek admits that the “meat pies” label is a slight misnomer. Notably, they don’t resemble a pie at all but instead are more like flatbreads. And while a few of the pies do use a halal beef spread, many of the options are actually meatless; pesto, cheese, and a thyme-based zaatar are some of the vegetarian staples.

After the basic ingredients are on the flatbread–Ben Abdelmalek says he spent years on his dough recipe–it goes in an oven for a few minutes like a mini-pizza. Once cooked, the pie is loaded up with toppings from a veggie bar and eaten folded in half like a donair.

The “yummy” part of the name comes from Ben Abdelmalek’s daughter who would use the term frequently as an infant.

The meat pie is a common format and Ben Abdelmalek says his menu is inspired by Turkish versions of the dish. He adds, however, that he’s made it his own by blending flavours and ingredients from around the Mediterranean.

“I am a Mediterranean guy” when it comes to food styles, Ben Abdelmalek explains. “I have a hint of the Italian, the French, the Spanish and our side too, which is the Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian.”

He’s from that region himself, hailing originally from Tunisia. He came to Ottawa nearly two decades ago and has spent that time working as a chef at various hotels and restaurants, and even in the kitchen at CHEO. This is his first business venture and one he says he’s been contemplating and planning for years. His wife helped to develop the business, designing the logo and menu boards.

Thus far, he’s been keeping his prices low. All of the pies are cheaper than $4, putting him in the same cost range as a fast food chain, though with more small-business charm. It’s precisely the kind of personality-filled, grab-and-go, international eatery that’s common in other Ottawa neighbourhoods but has been missing in the Glebe.

Ben Abdelmalek has big dreams for Yummy Meat Pies. Although he’s only been open since mid-November, he already speaks eagerly of trying new menu items and opening up more locations across the city. But he says he’s hindered by the construction next door at the corner of Bank and Fifth, which has kept him from growing in this early stage.

“The scaffolding is the major, number one problem I have,” he says. Because it’s right in front of his windows facing Bank Street, it’s difficult for passersby to notice his storefront, besides which, pedestrians are choosing to walk on the clearer sidewalk across the street. Ben Abdelmalek says these obstacles have translated into low sales for his first few months.

He recently hung two posters on the scaffolding outside his door, bearing the words “cheap + delicious,” and showing pictures of menu items to attract more customers.

Even so, Ben Abdelmalek keeps a positive outlook. In spite of the construction, he says he finds the Glebe a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood and that the signs are helping a bit. He adds that he’s even begun to notice some returning customers after being open a few months. Regulars like this will eventually spread the word about his concealed eatery he says.

“With my product, with my knowledge, it’s a matter of time,” he says with a nod.

Jacob Hoytema (@JacobHoytema) is originally from Carleton Place but is now thrilled to live in the Glebe. He has just finished a journalism and literature degree at Carleton University.

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