Mike from Relay Coffee was doing an Aeropress demo at the Farmer’s Market when a customer recognized him and asked, “Who’s at the shop on Concession?” This gentleman was used to seeing Mike at the coffee shop on the mountain most Saturday mornings. Mike assured the concerned customer that the shop was open and taken care of. It took a little bit to allay the gentleman’s worry. Although this may seem a little bizarre or extreme, Mike wasn’t surprised at all. He said that was on par with most Relay customers. They are emotionally invested.
If a business is doing its job right, the community will be emotionally invested in the business. People rely on these businesses, not just to provide a product or service, but to feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves, to a community.
There’s a place on Barton Street that has this nailed down – 541 Eatery & Exchange. It’s run by a handful of staff and a small army of volunteers. Their menu is designed to be affordable, but the food is still high quality and healthy. They host nutrition classes and buy local as often as possible. But their stand-out feature is their pay- it-forward “button jar.”
Buy a meal and donate a dollar or two. Those two dollars are represented by two buttons that are put into the button jar. Anyone can then use those two buttons to buy something worth $2. This exchange and the lack of qualification needed to access the buttons creates an equal dining atmosphere.
The buttons are an important part of who 541 is. When they ran out of buttons one day, they posted a plea for help on Facebook and Instagram. “The response was incredible,” the front-of-house manager, Abby, marvelled. “I had never seen the jar so full.”
541 is an asset to the community because people feel welcome. There’s a lack of discrimination and inequality and the food is some of the best in Hamilton. They are committed to quality and to the community they serve, so the community is committed to them.
James Street North was rebuilt by businesses who knew they had to take care of their customers if things were going to turn around. White Elephant took up residence on James Street in 2008. The owners, Hollie Pocsai and Jane LaBatte, love clothing that is handmade, vintage, and Canadian.
Hollie and Jane have a jazzy, geometric sense of style that people adore. “When they find out that everything is handmade and Canadian, they want to know more,” Jane noticed. “They walk out caring about where their clothing comes from.”
It’s a cause their customers can get behind. But ethics aren’t the only reason people are invested in White Elephant. Hollie and Jane are genuinely concerned about making sure every customer has the best experience possible. They do everything they can to get each customer exactly what they were hoping for.
In 2014, they put plans in motion to open a White Elephant store in Westdale. They were persuaded to run a crowdfunding campaign as well as pursue traditional financing, such as bank loans. “When we launched the campaign, we thought, ‘Oh God, we’re gonna be sick,’” Jane said. They were worried about asking too much of their customers. Their crowdfunding goal was $9,000. The community responded by giving $10,000.
Hamilton is an emotionally invested community. Of course, the crowdfunding sponsors received gift certificates equal to their donation. That just means people trusted Hollie and Jane. They knew that what they gave was going to be honoured, not just in dollars and cents, but in quality product and ethical value.
Relay Coffee’s community is a result of similar elements. Passionate about coffee. Relay roasts its own beans and every cup of coffee is pour-over brewed. They are intentional about consistency. Mike will often train other cafés and shops that serve their roasts on how to brew the perfect cup of coffee. No matter where customers encounter Relay coffee, the experience is everything they hoped for.
When you look at 541 Eatery & Exchange, White Elephant, and Relay Coffee, you start to see many elements coming together that form strong communities around them:
These communities are all over Hamilton and they are the mark of true business success.
TRY THEM YOURSELF!
541 Eatery & Exchange
541 Barton St E, Hamilton
133 James St N, Hamilton
590 Concession St, Hamilton
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