A Taste of West Coast Roast Comes to Midtown (Yonge & St. Clair)
By Merone Tadesse
When Vancouver based coffee company JJ Bean first began talks of opening a Toronto location over two years ago, Manuel Cuevas didn’t hesitate a minute to volunteer. “When they said they were looking for people, I was the first one to say ‘me!’ But I wasn’t even a manager or supervisor or anything…I just worked there.”
Now he is a proud manager of the brand new JJ Bean location at 2 St. Clair Avenue West and Yonge Street. The third of the coffee company’s openings in Toronto – after its Adelaide and roastery-adjacent space in North York – St. Clair has been open for only two weeks and already has regulars who, by the staff’s own words, “come every single morning.”
Back in British Columbia the franchise boasts 18 locations, though it remains only in the beginning stages of its eastward expansion. The St. Clair spot echoes other Toronto JJ Beans in bringing Pacific Coast themes to the local coffee scene, such as west-coast inspired blends, and vegan and gluten friendly lunch options a la the culinary mainstream of Vancouver. This not to mention that many staff members are BC transplants themselves who bear a “chill Vancouver vibe.”
However, in fashion that JJ Bean proudly proclaims as its hallmark, the St. Clair location is built in a style and ambience that harmonizes with the local clientele. More residential than its Adelaide counterpart, St. Clair has a “design and concept based on the neighbourhood,” said Cuevas. So as you can see it’s like a house. And I think that blends with midtown Toronto and what we have around us.” Also unlike Adelaide, this location is open on weekends, emphasizing its neighbourhood coffee shop feel and function.
The neighbourhood ambience emanates naturally from an energetic, eager staff. “It’s like a little family,” says Cuevas. As almost all of the staff were hired while the shop was still in construction, all were integral parts of setting the premises up, from cleaning up concrete dust to buying first mops and brooms.
That’s not to forget the bustling daytime commercial traffic though. Many of the already-regulars are suit-clad when at St. Clair for their fix – usually looking for more than just caffeine. “Often when they’re in their office, they’re not talking much to anybody. So then we’re the ones they talk to,” said Cuevas, adding that JJ bean is intentional about offering conversation and community. “We want to honor [our customers] in that sense. That’s what makes the company so successful in Vancouver, and why the move to Toronto going to keep doing well.”