Coffee Culture is a franchise. Let's just get that point out of the way. It's a medium-sized (31 stores) Canadian franchise spread across Ontario. Furthermore, it's a franchise that decided to open its first Toronto location right across the street from (arguably) the most celebrated little quality coffee shop in the city. C'mon, that is gutsy. That is oddly impressive. Who are these people at Coffee Culture? More importantly, who do they think they are?If their gaudy website and/or info pamphlet are any indication, they are first and foremost a place that has free Internet and a plasma TV. Now, I haven't thought about plasma TV in a long time, but I don't remember it being such a bad thing. Plus, the website says they carry sandwiches and welcome casual business meetings, so Alyssa and I and one of our business partners went over there for lunch on Monday to check out this confusing establishment.The first thing I notice about Coffee Culture is... the booths. There are many and they look really comfortable and over/undersized (each side is not quite big enough for two people, not quite small enough for just one). Most booths are occupied by lone individuals on their laptops, presumably enjoying that advertised free wifi, so the three of us are left with some comfy chairs in the corner next to the faux fireplace and plasma TV broadcasting a muted CP24.The offerings are extensive: grilled sandwiches of all sorts, bagels and soups of the day, espresso drinks and freshly baked (from frozen) Danishes. There is also a selection of "famous cookies" and cakes from La Rocca. Although no one can tell me where the bread and bagels come from, the service so adorably pleasant that I can only assume these people are happy I'm here.Collectively, we have three different sandwiches (margherita chicken, chicken and roasted vegetables and honey grilled ham with Swiss), a soup of the day (tomato bisque) and one coffee. The soup ($2.50 to add) "tastes kind of homemade." The sandwiches ('bout $6 each) are not terribly disappointing, obviously recently assembled and about on par with any mid level food franchise (like one of those Subway sandwiches). Alyssa is the one with the coffee and she shrugs her shoulders about it. "On the better side of standard," she says.To sum up: as far as the food and drink go, there are no surprises here at Coffee Culture, which is precisely what's so... surprising. The place is full to the brim. We couldn't even get a booth! Sandwiches are being ordered left, right n' centre and the place appears to be doing killer business, even across the street from Manic, and Kahawa which we dropped into for comparisons sake and found pretty quiet (and they even have a lunch menu and a sign offering free wifi at Kahawa).I like to drop into Tim Horton's from time to time because it's a remnant comfort from my childhood. I understand the presence of Second Cup and Starbucks because they were around way before this indie coffee house Toronto blow-up in recent years. But this new place confuses me. It's comfortable in there, but I wouldn't expect it to thrive in a quality coffee neighbourhood like this. I wouldn't even expect it to appear in a neighbourhood like this. Who are these people at Coffee Culture with their comfortable booths and their standard brew?
Photos by Alyssa Bistonath