Alison Fryer is managing partner of Toronto’s Cookbook Store. She co-founded the 800-square-foot shop in the Yorkville district (known for its shopping) with her business partner, Josh Josephson, 26 years ago. Fryer talks to PW about business, which is surprisingly good this year; the changes she’s observed in food culture over nearly three decades; and what books she’s excited about this fall.
PW: How long has your store been in business?
AF: Since 1983. Back then, there were only 500 cookbooks published a year. Now it seems like 500 a month.
PW: What changes have you seen in cookbook interest from consumers over the past 26 years?
AF: When we opened, it was the cusp of when people were becoming more engaged about cooking and a little more creative. Interest in food and cooking took off in the late ’80s. Then chefs became celebrities in the ’90s, with the Food Network, and here we are. There’s so much happening with food politics now. It’s such an exciting time.
PW: How has your store weathered the recession?
AF: Business is great. Last Christmas was a little up and down, but this year has been very strong. Traditionally when there’s a crisis, people tend to stay at home more—therefore they cook more. A lot of younger people are very knowledgeable about food but they don’t know how to roast a chicken, so we’ve seen a huge increase in the sale of basic cookbooks. We still sell lots of Joy of Cooking,and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is extremely popular.
PW: What else are customers interested in?
AF: The chef books are still doing really, really well. The classic example this season is Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. He started at the top of the pyramid with The French Laundry Cookbook, and has now inverted himself to come up with a book that all of us can use.
PW: What are you handselling this fall?
AF: The Country Cooking of Ireland by Coleman Andrews. It’s gorgeous, and he has a following. There’s a British writer that we’re enamored with, Nigel Slater. His book Tender is stunningly beautiful and celebrates the food and the land. Stéphane Reynaud’s book, French Feasts, is another. All things French these days are flying off the shelves because of the Julia Child movie. He has a broad appeal to chefs and to home cooks. It’s true bistro food. C Food by Robert Clark and Harry Kambolis, a Canadian book, is another, from the fish and seafood restaurant in Vancouver. Also, Clean Food by Terry Walters, The Pleasure of Cooking for One by Judith Jones, and Venezia by Tessa Kiros. And Phaidon’s Coco is interesting and has sparked discussion, which is a good thing. I think all these books should do well this Christmas.
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.