Saturday, April 26, 2014

New Coffee Shops Along Gerrard - Part 2

This is the second part of a continuing series whereby we explore the cafes and coffee shops along Gerrard Street, in particular, the newly evolving and gentrifying India Bazaar... ah hell, I live in the neighbourhood and wrote about some of the changes happening in the area in August 2011. Now it's time for an update.

There is no series but there are some happenings that prompted this post. At the time I wrote the first post, Lazy Daisy's Cafe and The Bandit were opening. A third cafe, Sideshow Cafe was on the strip between Coxwell and Greenwood. Upper Beach Cafe was in the midst of moving from morning commuter focus to renaming and reframing itself as a local lunch and brunch place called Beach Hill Restaurant to align itself with the local BIA name.

There was change in the area for Gerrard Street. In one of the reviews, I felt that there would still be some semblance of East Asian influence in the area and I'm still not sure how accurate I was. With some of the new cafes and coffee shops now popping up along here, there more of a community focus and a reflection of people living in the area.

With three more shops opened or opening along the stretch, something must have changed. The early adaptors have shown the way. Dawn at Lazy Daisy's Cafe added craft beer and wine and throws additional late night events. These events include a comedy night that leverages talent in the area and provides a way for established stand up comedians to test out their material. A lot of the events are driven by area mothers. The place has become a place to be to connect career moms on mat leave and socially active mothers like those that drive school events. That's important when you are trying to attract a customer base but it seems that some of these new places, it is the customers who begin to define the place.

The Flying Pony focuses on the gallery aspect. If LDC is a place for mothers then Flying Pony is for the more artistic bent. There is a distinct book vibe in the place. You walk in and at the center of the communal table there are books to take and leave. Wide comfortable chairs mix with shared tables and spaces with a back area divided from the front by the kitchen. The walls have constant changing art. The colours are both artsy in a traditional bohemian flair and reflective of the South East Asian vintage of the area. A bicycle rack sits outside. The coffee is fair trade and baked goods constantly come out of the oven. This is a place for artists and artsies.

Further down the strip, Brickyard Grounds has high gloss wooden tables, coffee and light fare. The light fare part is important. The whole place, in the best way, reminds me of the converted Coffee Times. Now hear me out. When I came to Toronto, the cafe scene was a little odd. The only places that felt as if you had a community were these ex-franchisees of Coffee Time. I wrote a post about how each was a reflection of their owners and the community. This is a great thing. The light fare reflects the area in the offerings. There are flavourful and pronounced spicings available. They sell rotisserie chicken and are working on getting local craft beer -- on TAP! It is an updated Mom and Pop Greek shop. This is a place to come as family.

The Social Gardener will be opening soon and it really drives home the point that I'm trying to make here. It's focus will be on  -- well, let's pull a quote from them --
Riverdale’s best kept secret is an eco-hub called The Social Gardener, providing a working model of change that is responding to emerging social and environmental issues with community economic development and civic cooperation.
It comes from a social justice and social enterprise perspective and focuses on what a cafe provides rather than on what it serves. A look at the coffee menu does reflect that approach as well. This is a place to come to work and share ideas.

Will all of these places still exist when I get around to posting a third update? In short, I think they all serve a particular community. There is not much in the way of difference for the product they are supposedly serving, coffee. None of these will win barista awards or become destination eateries. The real value in these neighbourhood places is in the community they bring and serve. A friend recently talked about how she needed a new cafe in the neighbourhood so that she could talk about the women who frequented the cafe where she usually went.

This particular area is diverse in an socio-economic way even though it is not reflected in skin colour or ethnic backgrounds. A mature area where people come to settle down and that is shown by the businesses that are growing and those that are leaving. I'm sad to see the slow dismantling of Little India and hope that some kernel continues to stay but I'm heartened to see what is happening. Every five minute walk can get me a change of community and keep me inspired and connected to different people. I like that.

Update: Brickyard Grounds has closed up. It was the first to succumb. 10/3/2016

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