Brewing in a new neighbourhood
If you’ve walked down Charlton Avenue West and past Central Presbyterian Church anytime in the last couple of years, you’ve probably looked longingly at the empty former convenience store on the corner of Caroline Street South and wished for a coffee shop. At the end of February, your wish finally came true.
A need for community
Christine Larabie and Chris Redmond moved to Durand about 10 years ago, when, Larabie says, “the neighbourhood wasn’t really where it is now.” But the couple was won over by the character and charm of the old homes and tree-lined streets. Still, what they really craved was a sense of community. Both were pursuing higher education, and so, Redmond explains, “when we would study, we were always looking for good spaces to be productive, feel comfortable, and feeling like we were doing something as well, so we didn’t get bored.”
They began to get involved, organizing a garbage pick-up day last year and participating in the Durand Neighbourhood Association, where Redmond sits on the board. “It wasn’t until the last five years or so that we started actually feeling that community, by walking by the same people every night while walking your dog, or doing things with the neighbourhood association,” says Larabie. The decision to open Durand Coffee was motivated by a desire to extend a sense of belonging to more people in the area.
Until the end of last year, Larabie was working at McMaster in student recruitment. A communications and new media masters graduate, she had never worked in a coffee shop before. “I wasn’t really in love with working in an office setting,” she says. “I prefer this kind of social environment.” She underwent training at the Canadian Coffee and Barista Academy so that she could bring her perfect pour to Durand. She also signed up for the City of Hamilton’s Starter Program for young entrepreneurs.
“I love working with other small businesses, and local ones wherever possible,” says Larabie. “We’ve been really welcomed into this business community.” She sings the praises of Cake and Loaf bakery and raves about Toronto-based coffee roaster Propeller’s attention to detail and support. Mes Amis supplies the café with gluten-free, vegan options. “I just love the whole mandate behind Mes Amis,” Larabie explains. “I think it’s amazing that Ruth Anne [Van Holst] was able to combine something she was passionate about from a social standpoint with her business model. I realized, that’s exactly what we’re doing here, too!” She has been impressed with the flexibility of suppliers, like when Terra Teas offered to create a signature tea for Durand. “It really helps us distinguish our business, but at the same time it’s mutually beneficial.”
If you walk into Durand Coffee with a stroller or a walker, you shouldn’t have any problems navigating past tables and chairs, as the whole design took neighbourhood needs into account. “We had a pretty good idea of the demographic living in the area,” Larabie says. “There are a lot of retirees, there’s people working from home, and there’s also young families, so given that, we wanted to have a really comfortable, spacious, and accessible space. We want people to feel at home.”
The décor of the space incorporates different shapes and colours, with a mid-century modern meets eclectic flea market meets Pinterest project feel. From tall stools by the windows to a church pew on one wall, to a funky living-room-style seating area in the back, you’ll find a spot where you’ll feel right at home—which is the point.
Larabie, 30, and Redmond, 33, who got married in November and live with their wire-haired fox terrier, Cherie, are undeniable coffee shop geeks. The two are world travelers whose favourite coffee shops run from Café Olympico in Montreal’s Mile End to Reykjavik Roasters in Iceland, and from Propeller in Toronto to Coffee Collective in Copenhagen. “My favourite coffee shops are always neighbourhood cafés that are nestled into residential areas,” says Larabie. “Corner locations in particular.”
While in Sweden, they took to the tradition of fika, when everyone takes time out of their day to sit down and have a treat and coffee. They were also impressed with the Danish culture of hygge, a kind of cozy, warm time with friends and family. “Think winter months, lighted candles, close, comfortable space—that held a lot of inspiration for us,” says Redmond, who recently defended his PhD from Ryerson in public policy. “In general, we love connecting with our community, especially living down here. Having a space like this really facilitates that.” For him, a thoughtful third space (somewhere that isn’t home or work) is essential to building better communities.
The driving passion
Looking ahead, the vision for Durand Coffee is that it will be a meeting space for anything from neighbourhood association meetings to book clubs to film nights, and more. “I’d love to host a coffee education event,” says Larabie. “I feel like we’re actually contributing to the community here. Since we’ve opened I’ve already met 50 or 75 people that I never would have otherwise ever met, if this place didn’t exist.”
Larabie believes that if there aren’t these kinds of third spaces in an area, then it can be harder to strike up a conversation. “Whereas if you see them more often, at a coffee shop or an event, then you’re more inclined to know your neighbour. I think that’s really important and it gives people a sense of community and a sense of belonging. That’s really what drove this coffee shop,” she muses. “I have a personal, vested interest because this is where I live.”
Both Redmond and Larabie have a strong image of how Durand Coffee will look in a year or two: busy, with people sipping coffee both inside and out, coming and going, or hanging out on the corner with their dogs. They’re both delighted that they get to be the ones to bring this particular corner of Hamilton to life.
“Every corner café has a place in our hearts,” says Redmond. “They draw you in. And this corner has so much visual richness, especially with the church across the street and the fact that you can look out to the escarpment with all the trees … It’s just beautiful. The sun really shines down into this space; we barely have to have lights on.”
So how’s it going so far? On opening day, there was, unsurprisingly, already a steady flow of foot traffic coming through the door. “We took the paper off the windows last week,” Redmond said, “and we’ve had people coming in every day and telling us that they think this is what the neighbourhood was missing … which is what we thought.”