Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Front view of the Cookbook Store on Yonge St. The shop is closing its doors after 30 years, Toronto, Feb. 26, 2014. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Front view of the Cookbook Store on Yonge St. The shop is closing its doors after 30 years, Toronto, Feb. 26, 2014. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Great chefs, home cooks, food writers and Julia Child: Lucy Waverman says goodbye to The Cookbook Store Add to ...

My first meeting with Alison Fryer in 1983 at The Cookbook Store was the start of a relationship that has blossomed over the years. There was an immediate bond between us, through our shared Scottish background, a love of all books, haggis and real Scottish shortbread. We had both grown up with that Scottish objectivity (some say stubbornness) that allowed us to battle over issues and still remain friends.

That same stubbornness helped Ms. Fryer, as its manager, turn the store into a major underpinning of the Toronto culinary fabric. And now it is closed.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The Cookbook Store, at the corner of Yonge and Yorkville, was a hotbed of kitchen gossip, restaurant tips and food discussions. It had soul, warmth and strength. Crowded around its counters you might find great chefs, home cooks, well-known food writers and even international celebrities, all brought together by their love of food and books.

Despite the store’s prominence in the community, it fell victim to changing circumstances. After 31 years, the historic building was sold to make way for a condo development. “The past year has thrown us more challenges than ever before,” Ms. Fryer said. “Endless road and utilities construction, extreme weather and online competition had a devastating impact on our sales.”

(Above: Chef Eric Ripert visits The Cookbook Store.)

“We could not operate the store under such adverse conditions,” owner Josh Josephson said. “The bureaucrats at City Hall give no consideration to the merchants who lose money during their endless road works. There are no concessions. Traffic dropped and it was financially detrimental for us to continue in that location. We thought we had another deal and another store but it fell through and we gave up.

“We hope to continue the newsletter and find a place for the events,” he added.

(Above: Jamie Oliver.)

When I published The Penny Pincher’s Wine Guide in 1983 my mother, who owned a kitchen shop down the street on Yorkville, brokered a deal with the young social sciences graduate then named Alison Day to host my first book launch at the store. That circle was closed last November when The Globe’s wine and spirits columnist Beppi Crosariol and I launched our book The Flavour Principle at the Cookbook Store.

The store’s reputation grew alongside those of celebrity chefs, many of whom would drop by for a signing and a chat. Ms. Fryer says her fondest memory was hosting Julia Child. “It was a huge adrenalin rush to meet this charming food icon and see the lineup for autographs snake out onto Yorkville as far as the eye could see,” Ms. Fryer said.

(Above: Anthony Bourdain.)

Another high was introducing Anthony Bourdain at Massey Hall in 2010. Food had finally taken centre stage and The Cookbook Store was sharing the spotlight. “[Massey Hall] was a sold-out venue for rock stars,” said Ms. Fryer, “and then it was a sold-out venue for foodies.”

Before celebrity and chef were linked in the same sentence, The Cookbook Store brought in restaurateurs such as Gordon Ramsay and Thomas Keller, who signed books and gave lectures to captivated audiences. The store offered lectures, workshops and practical skills, such as how to use a knife. Ms. Fryer was magic in putting together ideas and people for fun events, such as the Hannibal-themed series “eating offal” and many more.

(Above: Gordon Ramsay.)

The store was also a kitchen counter for problem solving, and even an informal job mart – Ms. Fryer helped me when I needed a recipe tester. She asked me to try her young employee, Eshun Mott, whom she thought would be a perfect fit.

After a happy 12-year stint in my kitchen Ms. Mott is now a cookbook author herself and food editor at Today’s Parent.

(Above: Nigella Lawson.)

It’s impossible to put a price on what The Cookbook Store did for its community. Most of us who write cookbooks went to Ms. Fryer for advice about themes and titles. And the publishers came, too – on one occasion, HarperCollins CEO David Kent ran over from a meeting with several potential covers for Jennifer McLagen’s book Odd Bits to solicit the store’s advice on the most saleable one.

Kevin Jeung, a former employee, recalls Andoni Luis Aduriz, chef of the renowned Spanish restaurant Mugaritz, visiting the store in 2012. “I walked into the store to meet Aduriz and walked out with a stage position at his restaurant,” he said. Mr. Jeung now works at the award-winning Grace restaurant in Chicago.

(Above: Giada De Laurentiis.)

“I constantly remind Alison,” Mr. Jeung said, “that even though The Cookbook Store has no stoves and no dining room, it has done just as much for my career, and that of others in the restaurant business, as any kitchen job.”

Unlike recipes downloaded from the Internet, cookbooks have character. There is always the right book for every cook, and matching the two was something the staff at the store took pride in.

(Above: Curtis Stone.)

The doors may be shutting, but there will still be a few crumbs at the corner of Yonge and Yorkville. On March 23 the store is having a potluck lunch for customers and colleagues, who are encouraged to wear red – the store’s colour – and, of course, bring a dish from their favourite cookbook.

Lucy Waverman is a cookbook author and food columnist at The Globe.
Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Memories of The Cookbook Store

The Cookbook Store has been a kind of reference library for me for decades. Alison and her team will definitely be missed in our community. I’m shocked and saddened that she won’t be moving to another location. –Mark McEwan, chef and head judge on Top Chef Canada


When I was a young cook, The Cookbook Store opened my eyes to types of food and chefs from around the world that I had only heard of in kitchen gossip. I remember standing in front of the international section browsing through books too expensive for me to buy, wondering which to save up for. Every major food city needs a culinary book store. The store will be dearly missed and I feel bad for the young cooks who won’t have the opportunity to experience it. –Grant van Gameren, chef/ owner, Bar Isabel


The Cookbook Store outlasted so many independent retail stores because of the quality, consistency and integrity of the staff, and their deep and thorough understanding of their customers. For all those who love food and cooking, what’s sad is there’s now a hole that will never be filled. –David Kent, CEO HarperCollins Canada


More than just a place to buy books, The Cookbook Store was an integral part of the food community for the advice Alison and her team gave and the authors they featured at events. Their enduring legacy will be all of the cookbooks that will continue to occupy special places on our shelves. Cooking is, after all, one of the happiest, most creative and rewarding of do-it-yourself skills. –Bonnie Stern, food columnist and cookbook author

Page 1 2 3Next

Follow on Twitter: @lucywaverman

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories