Tag Archives: Experience

The Olympics are over…but the newfound appreciation for Korean Cuisine goes on!

A few weeks ago I was getting together with a former SQM employee and for a bit of fun I gave her the challenge of picking the restaurant. She asked me if I preferred better food or a fancier place and I responded that I’d like better food. I don’t care how fancy it is as long as the place has good food and a good atmosphere. Since her background is Korean, she picked a popular Korean restaurant near Yonge and Finch in Toronto.

Huh Ga Ne is a traditional BBQ restaurant that is open 24/7. They have your regular tables and the more traditional ones where you sit on the floor. I’ve been there three times now and it has always been insanely busy! The restaurant offers authentic, ethnic, and delicious cuisine!

The staff are very friendly, helpful, and are happy to make recommendations. I’ve tried both hot pots and barbecue…both options are excellent and filling. They have a nice selection of beers and drinks to choose from. Other than one small television that is usually tuned to CP24 and the news, all of the other, large screens are constantly playing kpop, which I personally find adds to the fun atmosphere. It truly is a relaxing, casual place, with a great Korean atmosphere.

Given the amount of business, the products are certainly fresh, and even though I’m cooking some of it myself, it has always turned out to be tasty and flavourful. Even better, it’s reasonably priced….two to three people could eat for $40.00 -$50.00 depending on what you order. If you want something not too far from midtown Toronto, and a fun, authentic experience, I suggest this cozy Korean spot.



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Spice Girls Are Not the Headliner Anymore!

If you’re an avid baker, you may have realized that there is a worldwide shortage of vanilla beans. Not only is the price of supply skyrocketing, but it’s also making it difficult to find good quality beans. Since my wife had a recipe that required several vanilla beans, I went on a search looking for beans at a reasonable price. During my research, I came across a store that I used to be familiar with when I lived downtown. House of Spice located in Kensington Market in Toronto on Augusta Avenue.

I called up to find out if they had the product I was looking for, and much to my surprise, they stocked a few different varieties of the bean. The most popular is the Madagascar vanilla bean and while other places quoted as much as $12.00 a bean, House of Spice was selling them for $6.95. My wife and I decided to go down there to check out the quality. Much to her excitement, the beans were fresh and of high quality!

While we were there, my wife started looking around and found a number of different and unique ingredients that she had been searching for. Items like pickling salt, Ethiopian spices, and several different types of coffee were all right there, tucked into the little store. In addition to the wide selection of products and reasonable prices, perhaps what was just as important, if not more, was that the staff were extremely friendly and very knowledgeable.

When it comes to something like simple salt and pepper (this store had 4 different varieties of specialty sea salt and truffle salt!) you don’t need an expert, but with other products you need someone who understands what they are for, and how they should be stored. The employees at House of Spice were helpful, and clearly know their business! Although it is a small store, they manage to stock a lot of different items, so I would plan on browsing the shelves. In fact, why not make an afternoon of it? There are lots of other food stores in the neighborhood, as well as great restaurants to grab a bite.

House of Spice is definitely a worthwhile place to check out for anyone interested. Enjoy your cooking and shopping and remember to invite me for dinner!

House of Spice


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What’s Hip and Happening around the Holidays


December is always a cheery time of year! With the holidays just around the corner, more and more holiday-themed activities seem to be popping up around town. Many stores are taking part in holiday festivities, and with no shortage of holiday cheer going around, it’s always nice to engage in one or more activities. Some of the more popular activities, which I enjoy, include:

Toronto Christmas Market – Down in the Distillery District, the iconic Christmas market is on until December 23rd! Enjoy Christmas music, magical lighting, singing, dancing, visits with Santa, and everything to get you into the holiday spirit. Though the experience is purely magical, it’s $6.00 to get in on weekends and lineups can be lengthy.

Starbucks Holiday Cups – I always enjoy the little things that add bits of holiday spirit. Starbucks offers some cool and interesting holiday drinks with a fun design on them. It’s a great pick-me-up, and a great way to warm yourself up. This year’s design encourages customers to colour and draw on the white background of the cups.

Skating at the Harbourfront Centre – Want to do something active, fun, and festive? Skating is the perfect way to engage in holiday cheer while burning some calories at the same time. Visit your local skating rink and rent a pair of skates – or bring your own. The Harbourfront Centre has a beautiful, scenic outdoor skating rink and best of all – admission is free!

Holiday Fair in Nathan Phillips Square – At the heart of downtown Toronto, celebrate winter by shopping in the market, skating, or simply enjoying the view at their annual holiday fair. Until December 23rd, experience different foods, find that perfect gift, and listen to some live Christmas music!

The Nutcracker – Experience the magic firsthand when you see The Nutcracker live in theatre! As an all-time classic, and world-renowned play, the National Ballet of Canada has been performing every year since 2005. It’s an amazing and entertaining family activity, and suitable for all ages. Catch it now until December 30th.

Get Involved with A Charity – Whether it’s helping out at your local food bank, preparing meals for the homeless, running a toy drive, or collecting clothes and personal care products for those in need, getting involved with charities is something that should not be overlooked during this busy and hectic time of year.

Whatever you choose to do, and wherever you choose to go…from all of us at SQM, have a safe and enjoyable holiday season, and a happy and healthy new year!


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Leisurely Shopping at Lee Valley


Many years ago, I was introduced to Lee Valley Tools when I required some specialized equipment and supplies for a wood working project. Since that time, I have often returned to their stores for specialty items, but quickly realized that there is much more to them than meets the eye.

Not only does the store have fun and creative little stocking stuffers (it may only be November, but the holidays are just around the corner), but these tools are practical and useful – for things you never knew you needed help with.

As an example, my wife once received a portable can opener at a Secret Santa event. It’s small, safe, and easy on the hands, using a butterfly-shaped crank design instead of the usual handles that require great strength and effort. She loved it so much, we immediately ordered a new one when it inevitably broke years later.

Ever since then, she’s loved the place. She told me that any and all types of gifts she was in search of, she could get at Lee Valley. We were recently going through the website and commenting on the cool and practical things we had found on there. It may be important to note that not all items online are available in-store.

The folding phone holder, for example, makes every outlet your personal charging station with a simple, albeit ingenious, solution. Hang it over your charging plug, and create a small shelf for your phone while it charges. Your phone is kept safely out of the way!

The people who work at the store are very helpful, knowledgeable, and polite. In fact, they’ve helped me with my own specialty projects in the past.

For those looking for good quality service and unique items – be it for a gift or a project, I highly recommend checking out Lee Valley Tools.

Lee Valley Tools


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Breaking Boundaries at Best Buy


Although I wrote about Best Buy a few months ago, this is an unrelated experience, and one which I felt was worth sharing.

Let’s rewind the clock to a couple of weeks ago.  I had been shopping for a laptop and was checking out different options, going through reviews, pricing, visiting different stores, and somehow ended up at the Best Buy at Downsview.

I was very pleased with the knowledge of the sales staff, and in addition, Best Buy had the best prices of all the competitors I was looking at.  In fact, these days, they apparently even go so far as to match prices from other reputable businesses.

In addition to buying a laptop, I needed a Microsoft Windows license.  As a result, the salesperson suggested that I get a Geek Squad membership, which would save me a significant amount off of the regular cost. At first I was skeptical, but when I did the math, between the Windows license, a monthly movie pass, and the added benefit of technical support, I thought it was very much worth it to try out for six months.

In terms of technical support, I’ve brought in different items to be fixed or looked at by Geek Squad. So far, all have been fixed to my satisfaction, and in fact, they’ve consistently exceeded my expectations in terms of getting my things back to me as quickly as possible.

During my most recent Geek Squad visit, I was probably pushing it a little, and really put them to the test. I had been having problems with my phone charger, and while the Geek Squad representative was able to partially fix the issue, the end result was that I needed a new one after only having bought it a couple of months ago.

Since I didn’t have my receipt (my fault) I didn’t have much hope that they could do anything, however, without hesitation, one of the employees at Best Buy provided me with a new charger!  I was completely stunned. My jaw dropped and I walked out of the store with a huge smile on my face.

While the phone manufacturer is known for making their customers jump through hoops to address issues, Best Buy stood behind the product, and their goal of leaving their customers satisfied.

In last week’s blog, I suggested retailers were going to have to step up their game in their battle against Amazon and other online retailers.  From my recent experiences at Best Buy, they clearly understand what they need to do to be successful, and they’re doing a terrific job!

Best Buy (Downsview)

Geek Squad (Downsview)


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Fun and Friends at the Freeman Family Day Centre


Over the past few weeks, I’ve posted several blogs regarding my aunt, as she is recovering from a broken hip.  Around the same time my aunt broke her hip, my father enrolled in a program at Baycrest, specifically at the Freeman Family Day Centre.  The program is a day program for seniors, allowing them to keep active and engaged while socializing with other seniors.

Once accepted into the program, seniors can choose to come up to four days a week (the program runs Monday to Thursday) as well as either half days or a full day (full days run from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  Typically, the day begins with coffee, pastries, and some informal socializing.  After everyone settles in, one of the group leaders discusses current events, which typically results in some entertaining conversations.  The participants then get active with low-impact seated exercises, known as Stretch and Kvetch, which is run by one of the physiotherapists on staff.  After morning exercises, several program options can be selected, ranging from art, to music, to book reviews, or even movies.

After working up an appetite, the members all head to the dining room for lunch, sitting with those with common interests.

The program then continues until 2:30 p.m. with a variety of options for activities.

When it comes to getting to the program, there are several transportation options.  Aside from driving or taking the bus, many attendees use taxis, Wheel-Trans, or iRIDE, to get them to and from the facility.

The cost of the program is approximately $40.00 a day, plus any transportation fees.

The program director and the rest of the staff are great to deal with.  Whether it is helping new members adapt to the routine, getting coffee, assisting members to the washroom, or taking people to the next event, there is always help every step of the way.  The staff are truly amazing people and are always there to help.

My dad originally attended the program and now that my aunt is on the road to recovery, she attends as well.  Whether it’s the two of them or the other attendees that I’ve met, they all seem to enjoy it.

I know when folks hit 80 they become very set in their schedules, but for anyone that has a senior in the family and wants to keep them busy and active, I personally recommend the Freeman Family Day Centre.

Baycrest, Freeman Family Day Centre


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Woes of the Retail Industry


Typically, I use this blog to highlight outstanding businesses, however, from time to time I address particular and pressing issues that impact consumers or businesses.

The other night I was in one of the grocery stores in my area, to pick up a few items that we needed the next day.  I arrived at about 8 p.m., and the store was fairly busy with at least five customers in each checkout line, waiting to pay for their groceries. One of the five cashiers had just closed their lane, and despite the long lines, a second cashier indicated that she was closing as well, informing a customer in her line that he would be her last checkout of the evening.

In more recent times I’ve had similar experiences at other grocery stores and retailers alike.  In addition to the frequent frustration that customers are having trying to obtain assistance from a sales person (especially in big box or department stores), retailers are now making it more difficult and time-consuming to pay for purchases and get out.

As a person who works with many companies in the retail industry, I often hear from my colleagues that “the industry is changing” or that “retail is having its challenges.” While this may indeed be the case, I’m beginning to wonder if the industry is partially responsible for causing this to happen.

Let me explain…to be successful in any business, you have to provide an excellent experience for your customers. Time and time again, surveys show that customers want friendly and knowledgeable staff, products readily available, the best possible price, and in many cases, speed of service is also a factor.

Assuming that these businesses have the product in stock, their most important asset is their employees, and they are marginalizing their company’s strengths. As people’s lives become busier and more hectic, retailers are actually pushing their customers to look for better ways of getting what they need.

To add to this, there currently exists a giant online retailer, that provides outstanding service in a very efficient manner, and gets products to their customers in a short amount of time. Is it really any wonder that the retail industry is getting its ass kicked by Amazon?

Make no mistake about it, while Amazon is an amazing company, and gives customers another option for buying products and services, many people still like to see, touch, feel, or try on items (especially clothing) before making a purchase.  This results in them coming to a store and giving that retailer the first…and best…opportunity to make the sale.

Until the retail industry improves the shopping experience and reconnects with their customers, I’m afraid that their woes will continue.


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