Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with husband and wife Charlie Iscoe and Laya Bail who run Sunday Farms out of Toronto and Creemore, Ont.
What is Sunday Farms?
Charlie: We provide consumers with access to locally sourced, pasture-raised meat conveniently delivered right to their doorstep. We think we’re uniquely positioned to provide a convenient solution for busy consumers that are looking for quality meat that they can trust.
How did the business get started?
Charlie: Neither of us actually worked in the food or farming space prior to starting Sunday Farms, but we’ve both been passionate and conscious foodies for a long time. It’s actually one of the things that brought us together in the first place.
We had spent 11 years working in senior finance and marketing roles in New York City, even though we’re both originally from Toronto, and prior to COVID, we had both decided to leave our old lives behind and take some time to travel and think about the next chapter.
Then COVID hit, which forced us back to Laya’s family farm near Creemore, Ontario. That’s where we spent the next several weeks reading up on some of the shortcomings of our food system in factory farming. That’s also when we teamed up with my brother, Alex, who’s our other partner in the business, and who’s been sourcing directly from farmers with incredibly high standards for years for his own family and some friends. But we realized that accessing this kind of quality is very time consuming and very difficult.
So, we recognized a real need to make it more easily accessible. That’s why we decided around the start of COVID to officially leave our old lives behind and start Sunday Farms where we’re out to change the way we consume meat.
What inspired the name?
Laya: We really wanted to capture the collective of farms that we source from. And, to us, Sunday is synonymous with the family meal, when you come together and connect. Food connects us more than anything else does. It connects us to the land. It connects us to one another, to our families, and to our friends. And thinking of the Sunday meal, that idea of coming together over food and connecting over food is really one of the backbones of Sunday Farms.
What are your most popular products?
Laya: That was something we were very curious about. Actually, we started with only a curated box as our first product. The idea there is we really wanted to kind of communicate this message about eating the whole animal, which is how we buy animals. It’s part of our sustainability. We were worried that given the choice, people might only want a small part of the animal.
But as we’ve expanded our selection of products, what we’ve seen is that people really do eat different parts of the animals and have different needs depending on their family size, their preference, and their backgrounds.
In terms of what’s popular, the briskets are quite popular, and so is the pork shoulder for pulled pork and tacos—we were worried about those finger cuts sitting around, but most of our customers are cooks themselves and are adventurous in the kitchen, so they really do embrace different cuts. Then, of course, the ribeye, the king of steaks, is always popular.
But it’s all seasonal, so burgers in the summer, chicken burgers and beef, that’s a no brainer. Chicken wings in the summer is another big one. And then in the winter, people go for more of the roasts.
How do you choose the farms you work with?
Charlie: We have a proprietary database, if you will, of farms in Ontario that we have reached out to or plan on reaching out to in the future. We’ve already reached out to a number of them—we source from a handful of farms throughout southern Ontario—and the process involves getting on the phone with these guys and making sure that they agree to the same philosophies as us, which is that all of our animals are fed their natural diet.
Laya: In the case of pigs and chickens that are omnivores, they get to peck and scratch for bugs and get nutrients from the soil and forage for their natural diets.
It is a pretty rigorous process, which the average consumer obviously doesn’t have the time to do. And that’s one of the big value adds that we’re bringing to the table here, is giving that transparency to people.
How does your service work?
Charlie: We offer flexible and fully customizable subscription plans where consumers can select and modify product options that fit their preferences and their overall lifestyle.
We then bring the meat to our facility, pick, pack and sort it, depending on the customer’s orders and their needs, and then we deliver it through a local courier right to their door.
Laya: The way we work with people outside of our typical delivery zones is communication through Instagram and through a newsletter. If you go on our site and your postal code isn’t accepted, you can add yourself to a waitlist or a future geographies list where you get news about where we’re popping up. We also share news about new delivery routes and expansions.
We’re actually having a pop-up this weekend in Bala, Ont. at Jack & Stella. What customers can do is either email us with an order for pickup at the pop-up or we give them a dummy postal code to use and they place an order with a note that says Bala pickup and we’ll get it to them out there.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Charlie: As it relates to people not being able to go out during COVID, people started cooking a lot more at home. They had to get more comfortable in their own kitchens, which I think has been a positive for our business.
What does the future look like for Sunday Farms?
Charlie: When we launched, we were just in the core Greater Toronto Area. But we have recently expanded out to cover Hamilton, Milton, Newmarket, and we go as far east as Bowmanville. We also do the pop-ups in Muskoka. And because we still go to Creemore quite frequently, we personally deliver to people between Toronto and Creemore. So, we’re inching out more and more, and a lot of that is just driven by us listening to our customers and hearing where they are and how they want us there. So, we’re not slowing down anytime soon.
I think our plan is to reach most of, if not all, southern Ontario by the end of this year. We don’t just want to be doing these pop-ups in Muskoka, we want to be able to be there full time. So, I think geographic expansion is on the near-term horizon for us.
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