Between two trends: John Lettieri on coffee and burgers in Toronto

Between two trends: John Lettieri on coffee and burgers in Toronto

Lettieri’s busy Queen Street West location (Image: Steve Harris) 

John Lettieri is in an interesting position these days. As president and founder of both Hero Certified Burgers and Lettieri Espresso Bar and Café, he straddles two of Toronto’s biggest food trends: gourmet burgers and coffee. Recently we noticed that his company decided to transform two Lettieris—one at Bloor and Bathurst and another at Church and Wellesley—into Hero Burgers. Is one hot trend overtaking another, or is the indie café explosion creeping up on the chain? We caught up with Lettieri and got his take on Toronto’s coffee and burger scenes, the future of his chain and a new concept he’s launching soon.

Two locations of Lettieri have switched to Hero Burger. Why the transition?

The lease came up, and we felt that with all the cafés in the area, we would be able to do a bit more business with burgers.

Could you see the reverse happening: Hero Burger to Lettieri?

We don’t see that happening in the future, but it definitely could be.

Both burgers and coffee have strong indie competitors. Do you think that element poses a threat to chains?

Everybody wants to get on the wagon. Competition will always be there—we invite good competition. As the categories get stronger, we’re going to see more people coming into the game.

Did the influx of indie coffee shops have anything to do with Lettieri being replaced with Hero Burger?

I don’t know if it’s because of that. We just felt that the Hero brand would be able to produce some good business there, and that there’s a need for this product in the area.

Do you think that coffee and burger markets are getting over-saturated in Toronto?

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. There are definitely a number of people getting into the game. There might be casualties.

What do you see as the future of Lettieri in Toronto?

We’re definitely looking to grow the brand. We’re going to be adding some new food elements, which we won’t disclose right now, to the Lettieri cafés and seeing how that goes.

How about Hero?

Well, we’re doing eight to 10 stores this year, and we’ll see what happens after that. We’re introducing a turkey burger and a gluten-free bun, so we’ll have a completely gluten-free burger. We’re also coming up with a new concept in March or April—a whole new concept altogether, which we’ll disclose later.