Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Why would a business run a fund raiser??

Business is shorthand for profit-making-machine, right? So why would the Coffeehouse run a fund raiser? Are we just greedy? Do we not know how to run our business? Some of the reasons may surprise you.

Historically, businesses were not just seen as the profit-making-machines that they are defined as today. This definition is just one example of how competitive corporatization has become the only lens through which we view business. A corporation, by definition, exists to make a profit and must make more this year than they did last year or they are seen to be failing. Having run a business for the past 6 years, we are constantly dealing with the way that the entire field of business is being defined solely in corporate terms. Businesses do not have to make more this year than they did last year in order to be a success, and indeed a good many successful businesses do not. For example, a neighbourhood barber shop may make the same amount year over year with small increases that immediately get eaten up by the rising cost of living but they are nonetheless a resounding success. There are many ways that business owners measure their success as opposed to the profit measure of corporate entities. One measure we can use is the amount a local population changes its lifestyle choices to support local arts, artisan products, or healthier consumption. Owners may see our business as having an educational role, or a social building role, that supersedes profit as a motivator. We may see our business as a contribution toward building a more livable city, or as an essential service that is not a big money maker, but is something we can do well -- a contribution.

Our decision to open a coffeehouse from the get-go was underlined by the understanding that we were not launching a profit powerhouse. At $2 per large coffee, it was going to take a lot of sales just to pay our rent. Community commitments such as sustainability (the recycled packaging that Tim Horton's does not use) and full service (dairy alternatives and natural sweeteners such as honey) immediately drove down any profits we might make. On top of that, we chose the coffeehouse concept over and above the cafe, bistro or coffee bar concept because we wanted to physically build community space into our premises. We built a little stage and invited community members to hold arts, social and political events -- for FREE.
Yes, we have never and will never charge to use our premises for public events. In the new EVC, we have expanded this concept by devoting even more space to our new stage and adding an in-house PA system. We exist to facilitate community development, not to fill our bank account. By the corporate measure of profits, we are an utter failure. By the community measure of local support and development, we ourselves are surprised at the success of the EVC.

Given our formative decisions, it was quite a blow to have to sue our past landlord in order to keep our doors open for our first five years. Our landlord, who owns S&M Restaurant Equipment next door to the old cafe, sent a bailiff in to seize our premises directly after we had completed the renovations to open. He claimed non-payment of rent even though he had the whole year's post-dated cheques in his possession. What ensued was over five years of legal battle, which he lost bitterly, but which cost us every cent of the little money we made plus more. The record of this battle is public and can be seen at the court house by searching East Village Coffeehouse vs. 1690416 Ontario Inc. There you can read what a number of Supreme Court judges thought of our landlord's time and money wasting tactics.
Even though we won, he has yet to honour his legal obligation to pay us and it will be a further fight, and further expense, to see a single cent of the money the court system has awarded us. We had the option of walking away from this fight, of letting the cafe close, of moving off the Dundas corridor and perhaps away from the EOA area. But if we capitulated to this bullying, what kind of message would we send to community members who were engaged in even bigger fights, for indigenous rights, transgender rights, workers rights, the fight for water sovereignty, food safety, environmental protections? A corporate entity would have seen profit loss and walked, as a local business our decision was to fight to both send out a message that small businesses would not just capitulate to this type of commercial landlord and to protect the community space where other groups could organize around even bigger challenges.

That brings us to the present day. Its a struggle to do things differently, to offer opportunities to folks who have little power or money, to step outside of dominant norms which serve that power and money. We've been closed for a year this week to renovate our new space which marks a year without income, but also a year filled with exciting plans on how to expand all that we had been doing at our old premises. There are patrons who have supported us all through this and to you we give our deepest thanks. In many ways, its not a business you have helped, but some other category of social justice entity that is otherwise self-supporting.
We don't have much leeway in our current system to redefine ourselves, especially economically. We are funneled by banks and other watchdog institutions into the same old formats which -- not surprisingly -- turn out more of the same. If we really want to make change, we need to be that change, break through the profit-driven corporate definitions that have killed the community soul of business, build new types of relationships between local business and the folks they serve and return to some ideas that have worked well in the past. Consider Ebenezer Scrooge when the spirit of Christmas past takes him back to the generosity of his first employer, Mr. Fezziwig. Perhaps Fezziwig should have run a fund raiser to keep his doors open, asked for help from the people he helped so he could grow into the new economy and keep giving. Its a community-focused redefinition of business, one that acknowledges that everyone wins when we help each other.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Then and Now

Well peeps, its been a year.

Yes, we closed the old EVC in March of 2013 and we've been working on the new digs ever since. From moment one our project was simple, knock down part of a wall and an old washroom and then pretty up the place. Clearly the old suspended ceiling had to go. In fact, it practically threw itself to the floor, it was in such decrepit shape. There never was an old floor so nothing to remove but a whole floor to go in. Otherwise, we just needed to fix up what was already here and put in the electric and plumbing that would allow us to cook and serve food. Seemed simple enough.
Here you can see the wall that divided the space, the cement floor, suspended ceiling and pillar. Behind that bump out on the back wall is the safe and inside the bump out was the original safe door, still attached by huge hinges.
The wall dividing the space is mostly gone, with just a small stretch left where we built the new comfy area. The huge yellow shelving unit is on the end of that wall and you can now look past it to the far end of the space. The pillar you see in this pic was behind the dividing wall in the pic above, but both pillars are now capped with tongue-and-groove and mirror, Paris-style. We've installed old plank flooring that we got from a wrecker, we revealed the brick wall at the far end of the space, and we made a new divide that marks out our service area. In the forefront is the ordering desk where you can now fill out an order sheet. We will fill your order and call your name when your food is ready. Actually, you can put any name on the sheet, just don't forget to come and get your food when we call it out. 
This was the old front door area. One of the first things we did was punt the steel-and-glass front door to the curb and replace it with a more historical door and entrance way. Of course we needed a spot for at least one of our banquette benches and the fabulous leaded glass window from our old foyer. We took out the 3 modern windows and retro-fitted the furthest one with our historic window. The trim above the main window was made by a woman who trimmed her London house during the deco era. We retrieved it when her old house was torn down and reused it as interior trim around our windows and stage. You'll recognize the ball lights and red tables from the old EVC and the curtain which was made by Amanda for The Briscoe.

We ditched the old side-lights and replaced them with these fantastic deco stained glass side lights. George Manury did a stellar job with the ceramic tile floor at the door with the sunken rubber mat. Fiona Graham cleared this wall of all the old plaster to reveal this warm yellow brick and Lydia at the Re-Store pointed us toward the Victorian light fixture which we immediately loved. The wind-break is made from a French door that we actually bought for its swing hinges. We needed them for the stage door.
Hard to believe that this dank dark corner is now our kitchen. To the left is that wall we took down. Really, it almost took itself down. It was a modern construction with little real wood and hardly any screws. Behind this corner was an over-sized yet strangely awkward accessibility washroom, also now gone. It was badly placed and badly built and had a bad smell. Too much bad for us, so it had to go. Here is the space now...
 This pic is taken closer to the pillar you can see in the original picture. Behind that pillar is all the space we gained for our open kitchen. Here's a better pic of he kitchen area...
The harvest table does double duty as a kitchen work table and to hold our coffee machines in the espresso area. We had extra ceiling tiles left so we used them to make a washable wall cover in the kitchen. That hefty old stove came out of a hockey arena and its a 6-burner workhorse. The pot rack is 6' long and over 80lbs without the pots. The pot on the stove is full of lasagna sauce and it smells divine.
When we had our key-turning party this is the door we used to enter the space. However, we knew that this corner was perfect for a stage and that summer, long before we seriously dug into the reno, we replaced this door with what is now our stage doors.

The leaded glass windows are from an antique shop in Lucan. The piano was donated to the stage by Candice. It was her grandmother's and has been in the East of Adelaide area for decades. Now it will live on in the EVC. It was repaired and tuned by Ralph Thorn who literally appeared out of thin air at this very door the day after the piano was delivered. The Victorian angel furnace grate was from Windsor's Gate, an antique shop that used to be down Dundas closer to Elizabeth and which used to rent the space we now have. Many things, many memories, and much history is coming home to the EVC. We are new, but we are not new, Glenn and I built this space, but we also didn't build it. In many important ways we've only gathered together the things that should be here.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Our Piano Stars on CTV

So we've been up to more than just renovating here at the new EVC. We were also interviewed for CTV:


Not bad considering that we aren't even open yet. We want to thank Jeremy Hayes for his work getting our fabulous sounding music system sorted out. But Jeremy is only one of many people who have dropped in to help us.

Dave Dillon traveled miles with a paint brush in the new place. George Manury, well the place would look nothing like it does without his carefully crafted tiling. Shawn lent us his truck and trailer to get our stuff out of the old place, then gave us an eye-popping gold trim which we installed above the main door. Rick at Ace Wrecking found our plank flooring which came out of old London attics. He also saved the original tin ceiling from a 100+ yr old church outside of the city and now its installed in the new coffeehouse. Dave Dillon and George designed our stage so that it made sense for musicians and the London bluesy rock band Backline Revival built it.

Michael-Ann cleaned and painted the insides of some of our windows, along with Dan, Candace Lawrence and Lynn Devine.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Reid Jamieson Pre-Opening Party

On Nov.29th we'll be having a pre-opening party with Vancouver singer/song writer Reid Jamieson. Reid is a fabulous match for the coffeehouse since, like us, he sees that what he is doing is political. Making songs or making coffee, it is a political act. If you write mainstream songs for profit you are capitulating to supporting the politics of the status quo. That's not Jamieson's style, and its not ours. We both want positive change, good healthy affordable food and drink, culture that has something worthwhile to express, that is once again vital to a community's sense of identity and values. Hopefully, we will both be delivering on this commitment on Nov. 29, starting at 7pm. Here is a taste of Reid's offerings:

It's Not Enough (for Healing) - Idle No More

Game of Thrones (Vote!)

a different, more real, kind of Christmas song
Sentimental Song

and of course, every great Canadian artist has a relationship with the railroad
1 Rail

The new East Village Coffeehouse is one of only 4 dates Jamieson is making in a cross nation tour - we're the only place he is playing that is closed (haha). After the 29th we anticipate that we'll need to get some last details taken care of before we can open our doors for good, but why not have a great party before that?

Ok, so you can get tickets at the Coffeehouse any day, 10am - 11pm. Only $5 advance. Check to make sure we are there by calling 226-271-6141 but we are generally there 10am - 11pm so don't hesitate to knock. Or you can purchase tickets at 


This is going to be a very fun party. Limited tickets, so don't delay since we don't want to see that any of our friends fail to get in because we're at capacity. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Packing up the Old EVC

They say that it takes 5 years for a business to establish itself as a success. They also say that London is one of the hardest cities in Ontario to open a business. Perhaps both of those things are true, but neither seemed to apply to us. The East Village Coffeehouse took off from its first moments and built up momentum despite having no street sign for the first 3 years. I still marvel that this could be the case. Nonetheless, the day arrived when our lease was expiring and we knew we had to pack up and leave.

 We gave ourselves a month to pack up right so that nothing was damaged and all was transported safely. The machines we use are heavy yet delicate, so moving them is not easy. We also had a lot of antiques that had to be taken down gently, and many many boxes of breakables to pack. In actuality, we didn't know how much was in that little space until we started to move stuff. Box after box left the premises yet it seemed to make no difference in the amount left to pack and transport. That was disconcerting.


Our plan was to get all the ornamental stuff out first, then the breakables, and last the machines and larger furnishings. We don't own a truck, but Shawn and George put theirs at our disposal for most of the move which really helped with the bigger things. That said, some of the biggest stuff was tootled down the street on  a dolly, much to the surprise of motorists on Dundas. We joked about being EOA and seeing people making off with any kind of stolen goods in such a "bad area", even freezers, in the middle of the day.

Finally the day came when we had to assemble a moving team to get the bigger stuff out. We were the picture of efficiency - people on both ends of the move and a low trailer with lots of carting devises to help us. Then, of course, there is the unexpected. One of our signature red and white counters could not fit through the door. We had built it by hand inside the space and had failed to measure for future moving. Yikes! The whole team put their collective brains together to resolve the door problem but after more than an hour it seemed clear -- we needed to take a reticulating saw to our counter and cut it apart in some choice spot where we could mend it later. That did the trick.

With our premises now emptied we had a day to clean, repair and have an inspector take a detailed report of the conditions we were leaving behind. Given our landlord, we had to be sure that all was not only in order, but witnessed by our lawyer and a third party so that there would be no opportunity for foolishness later. With pictures taken, video shot, notes assembled, and all last minute details taken care of we turned our keys over to our lawyer to return to the landlord. A chapter of the EVC had closed, but a new one was about to begin.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Were You There?

On the last weekend of March 2013 we closed the old EVC at 758 Dundas. Yes, after working for 5 years to make the little EVC a success, we were closing our doors. I thought about all the good times we had in that space, the parties, the groups, the events, the art showings, the music, and all the cool people who came in daily, weekly, and even monthly. I thought about our struggle with our landlord and our ultimate triumph at his appeal of the appeal. And I thought about our goal of creating a community space, and how that actually seemed to happen. Lots of reflection, lots of reason to feel a little sad about closing our doors.

We thought others might feel a bit of the same so we invited everyone to drop by just to say good-bye to the old place. Business had already dropped off since the word was going around that we were closing. Nonetheless, I hoped to see a few more faces than usual since we were in our last days. Glenn, Liza, Kyle and I were somewhat lost, not knowing what to do if we weren't dashing around to prepare for our regular level of business. We wanted to savour our last open days but it was hard to know how to do that, how to sit back and relax with the space and the fact that it would soon be gone. After 5 years of working almost every day, the reality of our situation seemed so unreal, so impossible. That's when you came to the rescue.

It started with the odd person dropping in and buying 1/2 dozen Carob Bars or Date Squares. Then the Rice Crispy Squares began to roll out the door. In no time the Spanakopita and Quiche were gone and the place was alive with a constant surge of fabulous folk! No sooner would I finish chatting with one person then another well-wisher would walk through the door. The macaroons sold out and the Oatmeal Cookies were going fast. People I hadn't seen in a while showed up alongside the great folks I had seen only the day before but it was all amazing. We had no time to feel sad, and no inclination to. Our last couple of days flew by in a blur of hugs, handshakes, smiles and thank yous. The days that I had kind of dreaded turned out to be very special, a spontaneous mini-event that we will always remember. Were you there?