HOW TO BREW A COFFEE SHOP IN THE HEART OF THE BEACHES
by Wayne Roberts
Toronto makes it onto most lists of top world cities to live in, and the Beach or Beaches, low-key though they may be, boast most of the qualities of life that push the city over the top.
And what or who deserves the credit for that?
The Beach, of course, is fundamental, but life is not just a beach, despite the popular saying. The singular Beach became the plural Beaches because of the many purposes and stopping points created by the people who live in the area.
And, terms such as Arctic Beaches show, the community can expand well beyond the sandy lakeside because of the defining power of its neighborhoods and main streets, including Queen, which has been dubbed the best smalltown main street in Ontario, and Kingston Road and even Danforth Avenue.
Let’s drink to all the names we give to the Beach, Beaches and Arctic Beaches.
And one great place to celebrate with a drink, and an icecream as well, is at Juice and Java -- in the heart of the Beach, and with the heart of the Beaches.
It holds many of the clues that solve the mystery of Toronto’s acclaimed livability – which, Heaven knows, is not due to majestic mountains, great transit, exciting night life, high-minded politics, affordable housing, or gushing natural resources that create and spread easy wealth.
We need to look elsewhere for clues.
Most pundits who try to explain Toronto’s livability end up talking about Toronto as a city of villages.
The Queen Street strip in the Beaches exemplifies this village-ness, if there is such a phrase. And, to drill down a little deeper, we could say that it takes a village to raise a main street that can connect this well with its surrounding neighborhood.
Toronto has 75 distinct villages, according to Yelp, each with their own distinctive watering holes, 2500 of which feature coffee.
The independent coffee shops rely mainly on local walk-in traffic, which makes them even more expressive of their neighborhood.
Which brings us to Juice & Java, the subject of this meditation.
As the equal billing of juice & java makes clear, it aims to be more than a coffee shop.
There are more than enough places in the Beahes to buy any number of kinds of coffee or juice.
But only one place offers coffee or tea in the spirit of Sesame Street.
The theme song for that timeless TV kids show has it that on a “sunny day, sweepin’ the clouds away,” you’ll find “friendly neighbors there, that’s where we meet.”
As a community space, JJ provides Beachers a range of what they need when they hang out and meet.
Coffee is the first word to come off the lips when going for a break, but there’s also juice, tea, crepes, sandwiches, light meals, a post office, reading room, wifi – and, why not throw these in the kitchen sink too?? – postcards, books and T-shirts.
All these side dishes tell us that JJ is what city planners and urban sociologists call a “third place.”
A third place comes after home and work -- the two places where people spend most of their time on any given day.
But in a healthy, vibrant and livable city, a close third behind home and work is a place in the neighborhood where people spend casual time with friends.
Cheers is the TV show that made such places famous.
Toronto is a city that thrives not just because it has so many villages, lots of places where different kinds of people can live differently.
Toronto works because it also has so many third places that bring people together.
They are to the balance of a community what a third leg is to the balance of a stool.
Which is why it’s worth some time figuring out how places such as JJ became little coffee shops that could.
ONE PURPOSE IS NOT ENOUGH
The Beaches is one of Toronto’s few neighborhoods where people intentionally come to live, raise kids, spend their free time, make their friends, and grow old – not just any old place where the right house at the right price was for sale at the right time.
We’re an intentional community, so to speak.
There are three outstanding reasons why the Beach developed this way.
The oldest is the boardwalk along the lake, which sets a strolling pace, and provides a common amenity and experience of place to exchange comments on.
Second oldest reason is the porches in front of so many Beach homes. They are what one classic architecture book called transitional spaces. They orient residents to the street, not the private backyard. They turn the front of homes into a people-watching spot, and at the same time, invite passers-by to nod and say hello to the person lounging around a few yards away.
Third reason why the Beach developed the way it did are the shops that mushroom along Queen,. They serve outsiders looking for something special, and locals who like to buy everyday items in the same neighbourhood they like to spend the rest of their everyday lives.
All three of these Beach traditions share what has been described as the mysterious but vital quality that a place either has or doesn’t have.
That quality was named by the late visionary architect Christopher Alexander, author of The Pattern Language. Instead of having sharp edges and clear lines, the pattern language of great and comfortable places have a blur to them that provides what Alexander called a transitional space.
If I’m sitting on my porch, I’m telling anyone who passes by that it’s okay to say hello, or wave, or say something short and sweet.
The boardwalk is the same. It gives space to think your own private thoughts, or to have a deep discussion with a mate, but also to be casually interrupted by someone passing the time of day.
The Beach is rich with such transitional spaces and opportunities.
The same goes for a café that co-evolves with the Beaches environment, free from the dictates of distant chain owners.
A great neighbourhood cafe is a transitional space where you can finish a deadline pecking furiously on a laptop, get deep into a book or piece of music, have a private conversation with a dear friend -- or just shoot the breeze with the chatty person at a nearby table.
That’s Helene’s dream -- a Beaches-area coffeeshop that covers the waterfront of whatever people want to do.
We don’t want possession of the business or to follow a formula that people buy into, says Helene bergeron, the owner of JJ. “We want people to take over, and make it their own.”
Some designers call this “the IKEA effect,” a reference to the furniture superstore that has offerings for people from all walks of life, not just people of one type -- be they cool teens, hipsters or ageing hippies.
THE POWER OF TEN
The key to the success of the Beach-area boardwalk, streetscapes and shops has been identified by the avant garde city makerswho work with the Project for Public Spaces in New York.
For a place to work, to be truly alive and buzzing, it must have ten functions. It’s called “the Power of Ten.”
A place can’t just be a destination attraction, like an aquarium or hiphop museum or amphitheatre for superstar entertainers.
Instead, it must address ten everyday and humble needs of everyday and humble people as they walk through their life. Ten reasons to be there, ten things to do there, ten kinds of people who are coming there, ten reasons why anyone there will enjoy people watching the other nine people who also came there.
This is the scene on the street or parks of a successful space.
Cafes can either be predators in these spaces, taking advantage of the crowd to operate their high-volume business formula and drive other businesses out (need I name names?)… or they can add value to the mix by bringing their own power of ten – which is precisely what the Project for Public Spaces encourages for healthy main streets.
Ten is a high number of services for any business to offer.
But it’s amazing how quickly you can count beyond ten at Juice and Java.
One, you can come here for a juice or java or looseleaf tea or smoothie, and find a comfortable place to sit down and stay as long as you like, including the solar-powered patio.
Two, you can come here for a light, affordable but nutritious meal, without the formality or higher price point of a restaurant.
The juice in the company name of Juice & Java, and the nutrition in light, affordable and nutritious meal comes from owner, chief cook and bottlewasher, Helene Bergeron.
Helene ran a spa in Brampton before coming to the Beaches, but didn’t leave behind her dream of running a business where people can relax while enjoying healthy food. That’s why daily specials are featured, so nutritious ingredients can be brought fresh every morning and eaten that day, providing the taste that some quick service restaurants try to match by adding fat, sugar and salt.
Three, you can use the washroom, without having to ask for a key, or sneak by a sign that says “customers only.”
Four, you can check out a book on the bookshelf and take it home. If you’re like me, you can even sneak in, and dump your own books that you couldn’t bear to throw out.
Five, if you’re a local artist or photographer, you can ask to have your work hung there, so you can be enjoyed by your neighbors, and maybe spotted by someone who wants to buy your work.
Six, if you’re feeling guilty about being out of touch with an old friend, you can buy a postcard and stamp for two dollars, and take a few moments to drop a line to someone and make them feel special.
Seven, if you’re tired, isolated and bleary-eyed in your basement home office, and want a little change that’s as good as a break, you can rent a hot desk with wifi here for the price of a coffee.
Eight, if you knit and want to join others who knit, you can come to the knitting club that meets here in the evening.
Nine, if you have a book that is hot off the presses and are looking for a place to hold a neighborhood launch, you can hold your event here.
Ten, if you don’t have time to whip up nibblies and treats for a birthday party or special event, you can ask here about getting your event catered.
And, for good measure, three more things above and beyond The Power of Ten to do here.
Eleven, if you like the variety of stores on your favorite shopping street, you can help sustain it here. The fresh ingredients in the JJ lunch specials, together with the variety of special looseleaf teas and the dazzling range of ice creams – just to give three examples -- come from businesses just down the road.
JJ is a business that supports neighborly business-to-business dealings. Economists call this B2B.
It turns out that B2B is more important to overall economic well-being than B2C, or Business to Consumer companies. But the number of B2B sales is drastically cut in modern times by chain stores and franchises, which buy almost everything from outside suppliers chosen by the outside owner.
Disruption of B2B by chains that only buy through Head Office is why too many local economies hemorrhage jobs, why variety is lost on main streets, and why local food is so hard to find. If you like a local economy with variety, then support local Business to Customer stores that support local Business to Business.
Twelve, if you appreciate informal supports for community well-being and mental health, check out the pictures on the wall near the stair wall that leads to the back room. My family’s picture is there, along with pictures of other neighbors. There’s a saying written alongside the portrait gallery: “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
The ability to get by with the help of friends is disappearing, warns American sociologist Marc Dunkelman, author of The Vanishing Neighbor.
It used to be that most people had three rings of personal relationships – very close ones, middle ones of neighbors and casual friends, and more reserved relationships with people at work or social organizations.
The middle ring has been disappearing of late, Dunkelman worries, leaving a hole of sociability in many people’s lives. A good coffee shop can restore that middle ring.
Thirteen, is you want to be seen wearing something distinctive and a real conversation starter, you can pick up a Beachey-keen T shirt or sweatshirt that’s been custom-printed downstairs after the cafe closes.
My next project is to turn this list into The Power of 20. If you go to my blog (www.wayneroberts.ca) or twitter site (@wrobertsfood), you can send me your suggestions. Let’s keep this conversation going about what makes the Beach and Beaches such a great place to live and support.
Wayne is widely regarded as one of Canada’s leading food analysts. He writes regularly for www.rabble.ca and www.Torontoist.com . He’s a former manager of Toronto’s internationally-respected Food Policy Council, and author of 12 books, including Food for City Building. He has lived in the Beaches for over 30 years.