Stasis: Purveyors of Local Wonders
I’ve always loved farmers’ markets. Who doesn’t, really? The panoply of beautiful, fresh produce and handcrafted artisanal goods - proudly offered directly by the growers and craftspeople themselves - is only a glimmer of the bountiful world beyond our city’s imaginary walls. But it’s the weekly gathering of a community which amplifies the distinctive bustle and buoyancy of the market, reminding us that we are part of something larger than an exchange of dollars for goods. Together, we contribute to a lifeline, a cycle that keeps us all connected, nourished and healthy.
Farmers’ markets also signal the beginning of summer and the coming of fall. Now, the air is frigid, the trees are bare, and the plague of Christmas carols has settled long ago. The season for fresh things and colourful things, and all the treasures in-between is far gone. But until we see them again, when the frost clears and the trees burgeon once more, where do they go?
There’s a good chance that you might find that specific brand of white wine vinegar or your favourite pickled beets at Stasis. In addition to producing some of the best preserves in the city, the little shop on Roncesvalles also carries a carefully curated selection of specialty goods. Things you might have loved once and thought you’d never see again.
Stasis began as a farmers’ market vendor in 2010 by Julian Katz, much like many food start-ups. A red seal certified cook, Julian has graced reputable kitchens across the city, including The Drake Hotel. It’s while working under Lynn Crawford at Ruby Watchco that he developed an obsession with traditional preservation methods.
Years ago, it was customary for a household to preserve fresh product at the the height of its ripeness. To defy the ravages of time with centuries-old techniques of fermenting, curing, canning, pickling, and preserving. Today, most of us leave it to grocery and industry to provide us with, not so much what we need, but what we want, when we want it, regardless of geography or seasonality. But with the mass production of these goods, have these large scale producers really captured the true and pure flavours of a naturally well-grown fruit?
Julian was committed to not only capturing that moment where a fruit or vegetable was at its peak, but to sourcing the best directly from the farmers. He then experimented with recipes that enhanced and complemented the natural notes of the product, in order to fully appreciate its true qualities.
What is crucial to Stasis, which is also a main criterium in sourcing the other products the shop carries, is clean ingredients. Stasis’ fruit spreads, for instance, is a testament to that. “The fruit spreads are really low in sugar; half the amount of sugar of a regular jam,” Julian explains. “That’s why we call them fruit spreads, because you have to have 68% sugar or 66% sugar to call it a jam. [...] That’s way too much sugar. Even the use of cranberries in our spread was me not wanting to use commercial pectin to make a pure, clean product. So, we blend cranberries; it gives a nice acidity and it helps with the set, and it changes the colour. It’s all about preserving the inherent qualities of the amazing products that are grown in Ontario.”
Julian’s jarred and bottled experiments, taking up every waking moment of his time off, inundated his small apartment. So, selling his concoctions only made sense. Still working the arduous chef’s hours, Julian juggled his time between his full-time job, crafting his preserves, and the farmers’ market circuit. Six markets to be exact. It is around this time that Julian met his wife, Emily Pennington.
Julian met Emily in his apartment, he tells us, as they smile at each other lovingly. “She was sitting on my couch,” he says. They laugh, before explaining that they shared a mutual friend; Julian’s roommate at the time.
Having been there from the very beginning, Emily’s unwavering support has been instrumental to the growth of the business. With extensive experience in customer service and a corporate stint on Bay Street, Emily later joined Stasis full-time and manages the business side of their operations.
A year after launching Stasis, Julian made the leap and left Ruby Watchco to focus on his business. They needed a production facility and found a former pizzeria on Roncesvalles. But what began as a kitchen for Julian to create his preserves and a storefront to sell them year-round evolved into a market of its own, fueled by their network of artisans and the Roncesvalles community.
“In theory, this was going to be us making preserves here and selling them in the front,” says Emily. “And because the neighbourhood was so dynamic, involved, and lively, all of a sudden the store started to expand rapidly. And also, because we were working with so many amazing artisans at the farmers’ market, how can we not sell their product?”
“We’re here for the neighbourhood and we’re here to support local producers,” adds Julian.
Artisan products found at farmers’ markets are often small batch and sometimes made by people who are just getting started, making it difficult for vendors to find distributors for wholesale. Stasis is an opportunity for these vendors to find their footing and earn some income outside of the all-too-short farmers’ market season. Stasis has also helped fledgling entrepreneurs launch products by carrying them in their store, helping them grow their sales and build a customer base until the business can stand on its own two feet.
Beyond the farmers’ market network and up-and-comers, the rest of the sourcing is driven by mere curiosity. Julian spends a lot of time outside of making his preserves researching products. Keeping his ear to the ground, and following businesses on Instagram, if he doesn’t find what he’s looking for, Julian has even requested some of their closest suppliers to create products.
The primary focus is local, but great finds can lead to exceptions as long as the producers align with Stasis’ core values of high quality, clean ingredients, and ethical production. With limited shelf space, Stasis’ standards for carrying a product are extremely high. “We’re small, so we can’t have every kind of everything,” says Emily. “So, if we’re going to have one kimchi, it’s got to be the best.”
All this means that rather than go through a handful of wholesale distributors, Stasis works directly with each farmer and artisan to fill their shelves and source their ingredients. It’s important for Julian and Emily to have a direct line with suppliers. Traceability, accountability and trust is at the root of their relationship with them, and are reflected in the relationship they have with their customers. These values and the high standards for their products are what keeps their customers coming back.
For Stasis, preservation is a theme that runs deep in their business. Through the creation and production of their preserves, old and treasured traditions are new again. This includes family recipes, such as Uncle Harold’s Pickled Beets or Mom’s Chicken Soup, both of which can be found at the store. But their commitment to preservation goes far beyond honouring Ontario-grown products and family recipes; it’s a commitment to preserving the craft of artisan food itself and the essence of the meaning of community.
A lot of great things come out of this tiny neighbourhood shop. They’ve captured and immortalized the sense of community that farmers’ markets can only bring once a year. When nothing grows in the dead of winter, Stasis is a place where you can still be welcomed to find the bounty of the summer. A place to come together where the cycle continues year-round, keeping everyone connected, nourished, and healthy.
Words by Kimberley Kwo. Photos by Abhishek Dekate.
A special thanks to Julian and Emily for giving us a tour of their shop. Pop by their location in Roncesvalles and say ‘Hi’ for us.
Full location and hours of operation details can be found on their website here.