It’s easy to see why Toronto’s “third-wave” indie coffee boom is still going strong. Aside from their indie rock playlists, free WiFi and expertly crafted artisan espresso drinks, it’s simply nice to have an alternative to Starbucks. But at what point does an independent café stop being “indie”? The success of popular latté-slingers like Sam James and Dark Horse has led to a number of businesses pushing beyond their first locations, essentially turning into mini-chains themselves. Here are a few that have stretched to the three-café threshold.
Sam James Coffee Bar/Sam James Coffee Pocket
With his barista championship credentials and a résumé stacked with stints at some of the city’s more celebrated cafés, Sam James haise alpha male of Toronto’s indie coffee scene. Now, he’s got a fledging empire to go along with it. He already extended his eponymous Harbord Street hole-in-the-wall-location and brought his artisan-espresso-product formula to an even smaller offshoot in Korea Town. Come February/March he’ll have a third shop in an unlikely location: the PATH beneath the Sun Life Financial district. Can indie cafés co-exist with suits and ties? We’ll have to wait and see. 297 Harbord St.; 688 Bloor St. W., email@example.com
Dark Horse Espresso Bar
The original Dark Horse Espresso bar had the laid-back, almost sleepy atmosphere typical of an east end café, but when the well-loved coffee joint opened its second location in more downtown-friendly Chinatown environs, it suddenly drew large enough hordes of MacBook-toting ’spro-sippers to overcrowd its communal tables and engender a third spot on Queen Street West. The popularity doesn’t seem to be decreasing, suggesting a fourth location, or more, might not be out of the question. 215 Spadina Ave.,416-979-1200; 682 Queen St. E., 647-436-3460; 684 Queen St. W., 647-352-3512
Crema has taken an interesting approach to franchising. In addition to two stand-alone locations, the first in Roncesvalles and their newest on the Danforth, the 49th parallel-serving café has embedded a couple of takeout coffee windows into existing locations of the vegetarian-friendly Freshii restaurant: one at Yonge and Bloor, the other at Spadina and Richmond. Slowly but surely, Crema is introducing itself into the city’s most lucrative areas. If they want to expand more, there are still plenty of Freshii’s left to invade. 3079 Dundas St. W., 416-767-3131; 53 Bloor St. E., 416-962-31313; 140 Spadina Ave., 416-551-4796; 508 Danforth Ave., 416-901-3131
Lit Espresso Bar
Though Lit Espresso briefly toyed with three locations, its hybrid design store/café location within Queen Street’s Burroughes Building was here and gone in a hybrid. Still, if you want some of their trademark Stumptown Direct Trade Coffee served up with a side of WiFi, two options remain, both of them plain and simple cafés (nothing wrong with that): Roncesvalles and College/Ossington. Could a third location still be in the works? 221 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-9700; 810 College St., 416-519-1884
Image courtesy of Andrew Louis.