Saturday, April 11, 2009

Panacea for what bothers vegans

Annex emporium owner gave up engineering career to open `oasis'

Toronto Star - Saturday, April 10, 2009


Imagine walking into a store and not being able to impulsively buy the cheese, chocolate and marshmallows on offer.

For vegans, satisfying a sudden craving can mean scrutinizing ingredients, buying online (and delaying gratification) or pushing a cart down the same aisles where a tried, tested and true product awaits them. Surprise and choice are not readily available.

Ken Bontius wanted to change all that.

"A comment I hear a lot from shoppers is, `We don't have to read labels here'," says Bontius, owner of Panacea, Toronto's first all-vegan store, "People can do regular shopping here and not feel threatened."

A vegan and animal rights activist for 19 years, Bontius left a six-figure job as senior engineer at a successful firm. "The last couple of years, I was struggling with what I wanted to do with my life," he says. "Even though I had seniority in the company and could say yes and no to a lot of things, there was still a lot I just had to live with."

Bontius, with no retail experience, partnered with Pam Hryskiw to open his dream store on Bloor St. W. at the border of the Annex and Koreatown.

Now Panacea is an "oasis for me," he says.

Inside the neatly stocked shop, hard-to-find items such as Sweet & Sara Marshmallows, Boardwalk Chocolate vegan truffles and dairy-free Tease Cheese are presented in second-hand store displays and commercial refrigerators. Mineral cosmetics by Herbs of Grace, Freeset bags (made by former female sex trade workers earning fair wages), new spring clothing from Gramicci's eco line, Greenicci, and an abundance of personal care and household items also line the walls.

"Although veganism is a growing community, we are spread out," Bontius says, noting some patrons travel 30 minutes to the store. "We have a lot of regular customers and I also have great conversations with people who aren't even vegetarian but like the product range and the business being here."

Bontius hopes the large array of vegan products will help educate non-vegan consumers about the sustainable, socially responsible and animal-free options available.

He says has no regrets about opening his store during a recession and thinks the business will grow more organically as a result.

"I opened up at the worst time during the year," he says of the store's November opening. "January and February have been slow, but it is picking up. Instead of double-digit annual growth, it will be a single-digit annual growth."

Although Grassroots is nearby, and other eco-friendly stores are regularly popping up, Bontius views them more as a community than competition.

Since Panacea does not sell produce, he sends customers down the street to Organics on Bloor.

When people ask about vegan shoes, he suggests Left Feet in Kensington Market.

"It's all about promoting the products and the lifestyle, I don't see it as competition," Bontius says, "We all have to help each other out."

Panacea is at 588 Bloor St. W.

Erin Kobayashi is a writer based in Toronto.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Becoming Vegetarian Seminar

This workshop is ideal for Vegetarians, Vegans or anyone who is simply looking to include more meatless meals into their diets. Together we will explore a variety of vegetarian foods, products, resources, supplements, essential vitamins and minerals and so much more!

WHEN: Tuesday, April 14th 5:30-6:30pm

WHERE: Sukha Yoga & Nutrition Centre, 142 Lake Street, St. Catharines

Presented by Melissa Aubertin-Coutu, Registered Dietitian.

Pre-registration is required

$15 for Sukha members
$20 for guests

For more information visit:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Vegan Party of Canada brochure!

Wow! Look at me, I'm actually writing a blog on my blogsite!

Anyways, things have been busy as usual and I haven't been posting a lot of news articles because I was getting ready for the 2nd Annual Eco-Fest Niagara which took place on Sunday, March 29th at Club Roma in St. Catharines.

Judging by how many vegan carrot muffins were taken from our basket, I'd say the number of people attending was way down over last year.

And I'm always surprised how many people come to these environmental fairs with Tim Horton's coffee cups that they probably got from the drive-thru on their way to the event (Tim Horton's is one of the official sponsors of Earth Day this year).

People just aren't getting it! The organizers from St. Catharines Climate Action Now should perhaps mention this in their ads for next year's Eco-Fest. A friend of mine suggested that everyone who comes with a reusable coffee mug receive a door prize or something.

But one thing Eco-Fest visitors were getting was our new Vegan Party of Canada brochure! A special thanks to Sarah Salvatore from George Brown College who designed this edgy, informative and very attractive brochure, which addresses health, the environment, animal suffering and world hunger.

I'd also like to thank Dinesh for helping out at the event and everybody who stopped by.

Of course, printing these brochures isn't cheap so if anyone has some loose change or a few hundred dollars they aren't using, we'd really, really, REALLY appreciate the financial help.

Any and all donations go to the printing and purchasing of educational materials to distribute to the public at events such as Eco-Fest.