Toronto’s recession reaction: forget Starbucks, open 10 new cafés

Toronto’s recession reaction: forget Starbucks, open 10 new cafés

Hard times, great coffee (Photo by Jim U) 

Is it just us, or are independent coffee shops becoming as common as month-long Boxing Day sales? We counted a minimum of 10 newbies that have opened around town in the past six months. For east enders, there’s Hank’s, Simple and Broadview Espresso, while the west is now home to Zoots, Belly, White Squirrel and Lit. Moroco Chocolat is somewhere in between, and Isabella’s is soon to open in Greektown. For Toronto’s newest kids on the block, the barista business might just be recession-proof—can’t say the same for Starbucks. No matter how bad times get, some things are sacred: we’ll forgo the Fendi and avoid the Vuitton, but we’ll still loosen our belts for a good brew and a fresh croissant. Jamie Kennedy, who opened the café Hank’s last year and is always near the top of the city’s food chain, says that it is full steam ahead for coffee houses. “Let’s face it—there’s a vibrant café culture in Toronto, and no recession is going to stop that. The big-buck dining out will take a hit, but a coffee and a croissant is a whole other ball game.”

And it’s not just the recession. According to Kennedy, Torontonians are embracing alternatives to designer dining. Sure, urbanites will always be eager for atmosphere, but they no longer need white-linen tablecloths to feel well fed. The wealth of new coffee houses may be part of a shift in the city’s dining infrastructure. Snack-sized portions—and prices—are easier to swallow. Raymond Emes dubbed mornings at his new Roncesvalles-area spot, Balluchon, a “latte-art-free-zone,” for those who want the morning pick-me-up without the frills. Fancy extras are off the menu for 2009; café owners Mike Cullen of Broadview Espresso and Joe Angellotti of Lit have noticed an increase in drip coffee sales and a drop in espresso orders. Still, both say their new cafés enjoy steady business, with no sign of decline.

Perhaps this success can be credited to that other thing that Toronto loves about its café culture—community. Artist Melanie Janisse and her actor husband opened Zoots in the dire straits of December. But she’s not shaken; every day, she serves to a full house of laptop-toting writers and artists seeking solidarity in the economic storm. It’s simple: the so-called “latte factor” may lead us to downsize our drinks, but we still buy coffee and its accoutrements in good company. After all, says Simple’s Racquel Youtzy of Leslieville, “coffee is kind of like booze.” And apparently, we just can’t quit the sauce.

• Balluchon, 221 Sorauren Ave., 416-516-8980
• Belly, 1574 Queen St. W., 416-567-7394
• Broadview Espresso, 817 Broadview Ave., 416-553-3833,
• Hank’s, 9.5 Church St., 416-362-1957
• Isabella’s (opens early February), 147 Danforth Ave., 905-723-8448,
• Lit, 221 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-9700,
• Moroco Chocolat, 99 Yorkville Ave., 416-961-2202,
• Simple, 1303 Queen St. E., 416-466-2345
• White Squirrel, 907 Queen St. W., 647-428-4478
• Zoots, 1438 Dundas St. W., 416-536-2233