Locals: Max Ryan, Sandy Aleksander

  Photo:   Matt Forsythe

Prepped meals, charcuterie, cheese and chocolates — indeed, all four essential food groups are covered off at Sandy Aleksander, the one-stop shop for specialty food in Leslieville. Max Ryan, the impeccably moustachioed face behind the counter, isn't only a culinary expert. He's one of the friendliest and most personable folks in the neighbourhood, and he's just as easy sending you off with one of the shop's scrumptious ready-to-go meals as he is to carry on an eager conversation about the story of cheese and what varieties pair best with cured meats and wines. His passion is clear, and the hands-on approach at Sandy Aleksander means you walk away feeling confident in the product and happy with a nugget of newfound food knowledge. You may even have a few tricks to show off at your next dinner party.

We checked in with Max on the philosophy driving Sandy Aleksander and its place in the neighbourhood, some of the shop's best-sellers and what's in store for the future.

WHO IS SANDY ALEKSANDER?

Sandy Aleksander was the name of the original owner. When my partner Bill and I bought the business we kept the name because the reputation was already good and established in the neighbourhood. We also felt the name was fitting for the type of business and unique in its own way.

HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THE SHOP COME TOGETHER?

The original concept for the store was making it a one-stop shop for dinner ideas. As one of the original employees I listened to what the locals wanted. We have expanded on that format by adding frozen foods, breakfast items and more grocery items. We have so many working families in the neighbourhood who are constantly juggling as many balls as they can handle. Our prepared meals are a perfect solution for time-challenged people.

WHY DID YOU PICK LESLIEVILLE?

Leslieville was chosen because it's a rapidly gentrifying area and we saw a need for a fine food store here. Other than the big box store there were few options for food when we opened.

WHAT CAN CUSTOMERS EXPECT COMING IN TO THE SHOP?

Friendly, top-notch service. We appreciate our clients and hope to provide them with an engaging and informative visit. Product knowledge is key and all our staff are well-trained on all departments and products we sell. We're on great terms with our vendors and they do in-store tastings for the staff and customers. We want you to leave our store satisfied with your purchases and the time you spent with us.

HOW DO YOU THINK SANDY ALEKSANDER FITS INTO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD?

We were very well received when we opened. People loved the idea of getting fine cheese and charcuterie as well as dinner here. We have a very loyal following as well as new customers all the time. As time goes by we hope to bring new and exciting things to our store. We listen to our customers and plan accordingly.

WHAT ARE YOUR MOST POPULAR ITEMS?

Our most popular cheese right now is Fleur de Mont from Quebec, a firm sheep’s milk cheese that’s full of flavour and pairs well with many wines. The charcuterie from Dolce Lucano is a big hit for us as well. Amazing salumi that tastes as good as it looks. We have a lot of Irish customers and they love the Brennann’s Breakfast foods — it’s hard to keep in stock! Our No. 1 seller though, and from day one, has to be the mac n’ cheese with double-smoked bacon. Decadent and satisfying, we make batch after batch of it. The store smells glorious when we fry up a pound of smoked bacon for the cheese sauce.

AND YOUR PERSONAL FAVOURITES?

I’m a huge fan of the Chateau de Bourgone triple cream brie from France. Can’t get enough of it. For charcuterie, I love the wild mushroom terrine with pork and the wild boar cacciatore.  Our sheppard’s pie is second to none... I could eat it every day. And for a sweet, one of Laura Slack’s Lion’s Paw truffles fills me with happiness.

DESCRIBE A PERFECT DAY IN THE 'HOOD.

A perfect day begins with a Tango Palace coffee in Leslie Grove Park and ends with drinks at Hitch. In between there is so much to do, from the best pop-ups in the city, great galleries and shopping. I always love a visit to the Hastings Barber Shop. Great people and cuts… we laugh the whole time. We love the East Side Social. We have so many great places to eat and drink now… Completo, Ceili Cottage… you can’t do it all in one day!

WHAT'S NEXT FOR SANDY ALEKSANDER?

Getting ready to expand our grocery selections and bring in new cheeses and charcurterie items. We’re always up to something new and delicious!