Customer Spotlight: Spirit of York Distillery Co.
We caught up with Simon Ho, a Torontonian who's made a name for himself crafting cocktails and drinks at some of the best local spots around town. His passion for the craft has led him to his latest venture at Spirit of York Distillery Co., located in the Distillery District.
We got together to talk about the inspiration behind the premium spirit, some humbling advice for restaurateurs, and how ChefHero has helped them save time on supply ordering.
What got you into the space?
[Simon] I’m good at eating. Good at drinking. A lot of people in my family have been in this business for a really long time, and because of that I learned how to cook at a really young age. I was exposed to a lot of different, really good food really early on in my life.
It started as one of those things where you’re like, “I think this is going to be really fun for a bit”, and I’m still here.
So how did Spirit of York come to be?
[S] Gerry Guitor has been my guiding light into this. Gerry and Brent Peters approached me a few years ago and asked if I wanted to answer some questions on this awesome project that they had a brilliant idea for and, naturally, I said sure. They explained the philosophy behind it and eventually asked if I wanted to help them make it happen. It was something I was passionate about and enjoyed doing so I said yes.
Really, everyone involved with this project are the reason that this is happening. They put so much faith in me and gave me the support system I needed to succeed and an awesome team on top. It was a pretty easy decision to say yes.
What’s the team behind Spirit of York like?
[S] We are a team. There is no one owner because we want to be owned by Toronto and Ontario. We want everyone in this city to feel like they own a piece of this place. We have 35 shareholders right now and we have a collective desire for each individual to be able to say, “this is my distillery.”
How would you describe the atmosphere of this place?
[S] It’s certainly not like a bar. It’s a living, breathing place that has been changing and evolving for the last year and half that we’ve been open. When we first opened our doors, we were just doing tastings.
I believe that everyone that walks in can find something here that they enjoy, from the spirits to the learning experience. Our front of house is representative of who we are behind the glass; were honest and transparent, which is why you can actually see the distillery through the glass.
There’s a wide range of people coming into this space. We have customers who come in to learn and witness how spirits are made and others that just come in to enjoy a glass of gin and tonic. We have such an eclectic crowd here and we aim to service everyone in a way that keeps them happy.
Why did you choose the Distillery District for your location?
[S] To start, the Distillery District in Toronto is one of the most visited tourist destinations in North America. It attracts people from all over the world so we wanted to create a cool space where they could meet others and taste some delicious spirits as well.
Our logo was designed to represent the three core aspects and values of our spirits (hence the three lines).
First, we value history. This used to be the largest distillery in the world; there’s history here. We wanted to produce something that was close to the traditional sort of way that spirits were made. That’s why we use 100 percent rye grain and produce spirits in small batches. We chose this location because it’s a beautiful historical site that we wanted to be a part of.
And what are the other two?
[S] The second was probably the easiest one for us to figure out: the liquid. We wanted to produce a premium spirit. We’re committed to producing the best spirits that we possibly can and I think that comes across in the product.
The third, and probably most important leads back a little bit into your atmosphere question: community. Toronto is the largest city in Canada right now. We’re also one of the most multicultural cities in the world. That’s so important to us and we believe it’s something that should be celebrated. Our core belief is that the sum of all the small communities in this large city are what make it as great as it is. That’s why we’ve committed that 10 percent of our net profits go back to community-led initiatives.
What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to start up their own place?
[S] Be humble and do it because you love it. There’s going to be downsides to every job, but if you dwell on the things that get you down, it’ll create a toxic being inside you. Especially in the hospitality industry, people create cocktails and dishes because they love to create. So don’t lose sight of that.
Why did you choose to partner with ChefHero?
[S] It saves us a lot of time. Being able to amalgamate all of my suppliers into one spot has made it a much more efficient process. Instead of having to run around and find things we didn’t have, and call several different parties to get what I needed, it’s right here in the app.
I get back some peace of mind and sanity, which is very important to me. Not having to go to several different places to get everything is also fun. Being able to do it on my phone in the moment or on a computer in one spot to get everything done has definitely made life easier.