Learning to Eatwell: Hamilton’s Sustainable Urban Food Market
Hamilton has become the site of a business boom in recent years. Store fronts that have previously sat empty are now renovated into beautiful spaces with eager young businesses ready to join the #HamOnt community. Many of these new shop windows are home to restaurants, food or arts establishments. New signs seem to be sprouting in the downtown core monthly, with both recent and long-time Hamilton residents trying to root themselves in the changing market.
Eatwell, a re-launched grocery store and restaurant on John Street South, wants to be a business that is by and for the community. Situated in the heart of Corktown, Eatwell aims transform the urban food market through offering food products that promote sustainability, are plant-based, and fairly priced.
After renovating their space into an urban food market, Eatwell reopened their doors in mid-November. Since then, the John Street storefront has become a one-stop shop for produce, a filling lunch with friends, or a vegan treat. A vegan brunch buffet is also available for just $8.99 on the weekends. Their menu refreshes each week, and shoppers can minimize waste with reusable glass jars at the bulk section.
Liam McLaughlin, one of the partners at Eatwell, explains how they are working to be a sustainable store that serves the specific needs of Hamilton.
Based on three pillars, Eatwell operates as a simple, sustainable, and affordable company. Because of their location in the downtown core, being accessible to community members is important. To keep costs down, they price their produce the same or lower than bigger grocery stores. Low income families in the core can rely on Eatwell for fairly priced produced or a good meal that doesn’t strain the budget. To encourage customers to help give back to community members in need, they have also launched a spoon program where you can pay one dollar at checkout, which allows another person to have a warm meal free of charge.
Touching on why it’s important to have a business tailor to the local community’s needs, McLaughlin says, “business is all about serving the community and if it doesn’t do that then it won’t last… we want to be a grocery store that cares about the area that it’s in. Because food is such an integral part of our lives, we want to make sure that with food comes a sort of community, a food culture around people.”
Eatwell also works with other local businesses in the area, carrying Monarch Tea and Vintage coffee. McLaughlin estimates that about 75% of their in-season produce is sourced locally, which they hope to improve over time.
As for their sustainability pillar, Eatwell works to make sure their environmental impact is as minimal as possible. In order to practice what they preach, Eatwell tries to reduce waste where they can. Produce that is nearing expiry is used on the buffet, and the prepared food is plant based, which has a lower carbon footprint than meat based dishes. Still, being a new business, they have some room to grow. Out of season produce for the store comes from the Ontario food terminal, which McLaughlin points to as a glaring issue in provincial sustainability conversations. Since the produce that comes through the terminal is not locally grown, the food must travel long distances which contributes to carbon output. The environment is polluted through the transportation process, as well as through the intensive agriculture practices that are necessary to grow the produce. Many farms that distribute to chain grocery stores grow a large amount of a single type of crop; this practice, called monoculture, drains the soil of nutrients, and requires significant use of water, power, and pesticides.
Most of all, Eatwell wants to participate in a broader conversation surrounding sustainability and affordability in Hamilton. “We want to be part of that on the ground level,” says McLaughlin, “there’s four owners in this grocery store and we want to start troubleshooting issues with food and figuring it out.”
Eatwell wants people to care about they eat, where it comes from, and what’s going into it. They hope to create a hub where people concerned about their community and environment can come, grab some grub, and discuss.
Check them out on Sunday’s for their all-day, vegan, gluten-free brunch, or ask them about how you can eat well too. For more go to @eatwellonjohn on Instagram and http://goeatwell.com. You can hear our full interview audio below!