Here are the stories behind three local Toronto business owners who unified us in the worst of times. Show your appreciation and give them a visit this fall.
For the people who call Toronto home, diversity is nothing new. It’s what defines our city of six million people. Toronto is a place where every neighborhood has its own personality. And every person, their own story. Our local businesses are such a crucial part of this diversity. The shops you see on your daily commute, with their one-of-a-kind names and experiences, have stories too that are worthy of being told. Who is behind your favourite finds? How can a store influence an entire community? In celebration of our city’s diversity, we at T.D.T Entertainment & Media took the time to talk to some of Toronto’s local business owners. Here are the stories of three business owners who unified our communities during the pandemic. Enjoy.
Irish Design House
Irish Design House is the shining result of human spontaneity. Its owner Sinéad came to Toronto from Ireland with her husband 10 years ago. Sinéad studied fashion design in Ireland and had a small brand that she came to Canada with. She wanted to sell her work to the public through a small store front, and to pay for it, her husband and her had the idea to open an Irish themed pop-up store.
“It will only last a year or two, then we’ll move back to Ireland”, Sinéad remembers thinking. Fast-forward and Irish Design House will be 9 years old in a matter of weeks. And it has transcended its humble beginnings to become the most unique and authentic celebrations of Irish culture that Toronto has to offer. Owned and operated by some of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet.
During the pandemic Irish Design House was closed on and off for 48 weeks. Sinéad described it as the hardest time to be a small business owner, a time to learn about who you truly were. During that time, she decided to sew custom masks and deliver them to local hospitals and care homes. And as the pandemic dragged on, she started selling her masks online to anyone who wanted them just to ensure the shop survived.
Irish Design House is the link that allows hundreds of artisans, all real people from Ireland, to sell their unique, hand-crafted products to people in Canada. 80% of the businesses that they buy from are 1-2 person operations. It is no exaggeration to say that this international market that adds to the livelihood of so many people would not exist without them.
Taking a stroll through the shop you’ll find hundreds of small-production products made with natural materials, nothing mass-produced made with chemicals that aren’t good for you. Ireland was the first country to make linen and it’s known for its textiles, jewelry, antiques, and pottery. You’ll soak up the history and culture when you visit the shop. You’ll come across famous Irish jewelry like the Claddagh ring, which has an absolutely beautiful design that represents love, loyalty, and friendship. Irish Design House is the perfect place to get a genuine and authentic feel of Irish culture while finding a little gift that nobody else in the world has for yourself or a loved one. Give them a visit in the Riverside area at 756 Queen St. East.
Norm & Lenore Chocolates
Norm and Lenore are the grandparents of Trent; an audacious business professional who left his stable corporate job in the middle of the pandemic to open a specialty chocolate store. Trent, who co-owns Norm & Lenore with his partner Chris, decided to ignore the fear of the unknown. During the interminable chaos of Covid, Trent & Chris opened their own small business because they were tired of answering to others. They wanted to do something they were truly passionate about.
At the start there was a lot of uncertainty. Trent recalls thinking constantly, “what can I do differently?” He describes being a small business owner as “always thinking about everything all of the time. Sacrificing your mental sanity, working every weekend, stressing about how to pay rent, but loving it all because independence is something valuable and fulfilling.”
Trent used to own a chocolate shop with his ex-wife. He’s coupled that experience with his passion to provide for his community to make some of Toronto’s best chocolate. At Norm & Lenore, they hand make every product in house and they’re meticulous about detail. Trent told us a funny story about struggling to teach his daughter to tie the bow on every piece of chocolate exactly how he wanted them. He realized that the attention to detail that he gives is something that only comes from having love for what you do. Norm & Lenore is special because of the care that goes into everything it sells and because of its unique affordability. They have specialty chocolate that doesn’t sacrifice on quality for every person in every price range. Ensuring that all the people of Toronto can partake in the joy they bring into the world.
Norm & Lenore is growing fast. You can expect to see their sweets in a bunch of different stores in the coming year, but nothing beats the experience you’ll get from visiting them in person. Check them out for a tasty snack or the perfect gift at their store located right in the Junction area at 2745 Dundas St W.
The Guild House
The Guild House started with spouses sitting around the campfire talking about their dissatisfaction with regular life. At that campfire, Cat and her husband, two nerdy lovers of games with an affinity for community, had the idea to create a “nerd camp.” Their idea grew into The Guild House, a one of a kind board game café for people to create, share, and play.
The Guild House opened a week before the first Covid lockdown. As you can imagine, this created a full set of problems for the two of them. They had to be adaptable and innovative. Instead of letting their games go to waste in a space that people couldn’t sit down in, they started allowing their customers to rent and take home the vast collection of games at their store. They were constantly making changes in a chaotic time to keep their dream alive of having a space that their community could thrive in.
Cat expressed to us that at the beginning they had to overcome immense uncertainty. She recalls thinking, “How will we be able to pay? How do we make sure we find the best staff? Can we really build the community and the customers necessary for our business to thrive?” Like many of the other Toronto small business owners we talked to, passion is what propelled The Guild House to become something special. Post-Covid, The Guild House has become what is set out to be initially. A multi-use space with a delicious assortment of café goods at the front and a library of games to play in store at the back. It has big gaming tables that are perfect for board and role-playing games. Its lively and fun atmosphere makes it the perfect place to go on a chill date or night out with friends.
Expect to see The Guild House in a few more locations in the city in the future. Give them a visit in the Wychwood Heights area at 579 St. Clair Ave W.
Irish Design House, Norm & Lenore Chocolates, and The Guild House are all owned and operated by inspiring and passionate individuals who love the people of Toronto and overcame their fear and uncertainty to bring us together in the hardest of times. They encapsulate what our city is all about. Let’s continue to celebrate their stories and the stories of all the other local business owners who make Toronto so unique.