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Red Rocket (Danforth)

Posted by Robyn Urback / Posted on January 20, 2012

Red Rocket Coffee Toronto DanforthRed Rocket (Danforth) is the original Leslieville location transposed. After five strong years on Queen East, the cafe's owners say they had no choice but to leave their former location. "Basically," Pamela MacDonald says as we take a seat on the first day of the Danforth opening, "the landlord wanted double the rent. Which, we know, is not market value. It's not a fair price."

Red Rocket Coffee Toronto"There were lots of games," she continues, commenting on how she saw the landlord (Queen Street Partners, which also owns the Toronto Standard) conduct his business. "And it was more than just how it ended — in that way, it was a very unhappy five years."

Red Rocket TorontoThe relationship Red Rocket had with the Leslieville community, however, was anything but unhappy, and many loyal customers were heartbroken to see them leave.

"We left out a guest book," co-owner Liako Dertilis says, taking a seat to join the conversation. "And some of the things people said; it was really emotional."

"People met their life partners in our cafe. We watched kids grow up. Really, we're still trying to digest it all."

Red Rocket Coffee TorontoPamela and Liako had all of seven weeks to get out and find a new place, and I could certainly see the residual stress in their faces. They managed to find this new spot on Danforth just east of Greenwood by following up on a tip from "Bob," the notorious espresso machine repairman used by many independent Toronto cafes. The first steps included getting in those splashes of red rocket colour, installing an awesome window bar made from reclaimed wood from a rubber factory, and doing their best to make the transition as easy as possible on their customers.

Red Rocket Toronto CoffeeThat gentle transition, of course, means keeping the coffee just the same, and my Americano ($2.40/$2.95/$3.45) is pulled using the same Reunion Island blend, and it tastes just as bold and full-bodied here as on Queen East. Granted, the corner spot in Leslieville sure was a great place to kick back, especially in the spring when the sun would saturate the cafe through the windows, but Pam and Liako have done a great job in making the new space feel bright, modern, and open. Along with the regular pastries and baked goods, Red Rocket has plans for a weekend baked brunch, as well as possibly applying for a liquor license and extending hours in the evenings.

Red Rocket TorontoThough they're happy in their new spot, Pamela and Liako say they know their departure shook some of their former neighbours, especially those who occupy buildings owned by the same landlord. "It's scary when a successful business is pushed out by a difficult landlord," Pamela says. "I know some of them are worried."

Red Rocket Coffee TorontoLiako and Pamela are now focused on creating the same sort of community feel they had in Leslieville at this Danforth location. "A coffee house should be like a pub, but with coffee," Liako says. "And while we do have great coffee, I think it's more about the service, the personal attention, the sort of feel you provide. It's all about building a community, and we're hoping to do that here."

Red Rocket Toronto20120119-redrocket-03.jpg
20120119-redrocket-11.jpg20120119-redrocket-01.jpgPhotos by Jesse Milns



Leslievillian / January 20, 2012 at 09:18 am
Shame that they had to leave their old spot due to a greedy landlord.

Red Rocket are great people. Best of luck to them on the new location. Go check them out!
Milverton / January 20, 2012 at 09:33 am
Steve / January 20, 2012 at 10:43 am
Best of luck to their new location. Danforth/Greenwood is not an easy zone to be successful in for the more gentrified crowd, though it sorely needs it.
piero / January 20, 2012 at 10:52 am
That's a great addition to that neighborhood and very close to Thierry's bakery makes for a great 1-2 combination. I just may have to move back to my old hood.
Chris / January 20, 2012 at 02:06 pm
I was a faithful customer of the Leslieville location, and was heartbroken to hear of the Rocket's departure. The new location is wonderful, and this stretch of Danforth needs a business like this one ... Pam and Liako's dedication to their former home on the stretch of Queen East brought an incredible vitality and sense of community to an area that was characterized by the streetcar yard... and it became something very very special. A friend who lives in the heart of downtown talked about it as a real 'getaway' from the rest of the city.

I have tremendous hope (and faith) in their same commitment to their new location... The Rocket is not another Starbucks... it's a business that is committed to the idea of community -- to helping build a sustainable foundation in their neighbourhood that will bring people in, make them comfortable, and make them want to stay.

Danforth is very very lucky to have The Rocket... Leslieville's sad loss is Danforth's gain. I hope the people in the Rocket's new neighbourhood will embrace them and nurture this business with the same care and love that Leslieville did.
Gordon / January 20, 2012 at 02:38 pm
All the best at your location Red Rocket, it looks great in the pictures. I think you chose well as you did with Leslieville. Come back and visit us in the 'hood once in a while. I'll be sure to drop by your new pad as well.
Stella / January 20, 2012 at 02:50 pm
I just drove past the old location, and thought, "what a terrible shame." It's a real loss to our neighbourhood, but I wish them fantastic success on Danny.
Ivana / January 20, 2012 at 02:54 pm
These guys are great! There's a great sense of community within the shop, the baristas are always cheery, chatty and friendly, the vibe is relaxed, the coffee - delicious and those chocolate shortbread cookies are to die for.

I love this place and commute from High Park to (now) Greenwood to get my fix.
Kev / January 20, 2012 at 03:31 pm
The indie coffee shop - the canary of gentrification.

And I'm not sayin' that in a bad way. This is a block from my house and that stretch of the Danforth desperately needs some successful community-minded businesses. I've been almost half a dozen times since Red Rocket opened here and the staff is great and so is the coffee. It sure beats another dollar/convenience store. Glad to have them in the 'hood!
Danielle / January 20, 2012 at 05:11 pm
This is the third cafe in that space in the past 3 years, if it's where I think it is. Niche used to have a location there and Three's Company was there until recently (so an indie coffee shop isn't really a new addition to the area).

It's unfortunately a tough area to operate in. Hopefully Red Rocket can make it work!
jgam / January 21, 2012 at 10:15 am
I've been a home owner in this neighbourhood for 3+ years and believe me - We NEED this space desperately. The Only is the only decent coffee spot (it's awesome)on the strip and it's at Donlands (too far for a quick a.m. stop). Thanks for coming to the hood Red Rocket - you'll be well loved, promise!

More loved if you get that liquor license too ;)
Peggy DLee / January 23, 2012 at 04:18 pm
Oh my God it's amazing!!!!
Vern Leach / January 24, 2012 at 07:45 pm
All the best in your new location it looks great and will visit when Tara comes.
Arby / February 3, 2012 at 07:37 pm
I hate to have to do this, but I have no choice. I was really quite abused today at the new Red Rocket on Danforth. Mistakes I don't care about, including slights by people in a bad mood. I'm human. I make mistakes. I have even made the mistake of treating my fellow humans improperly once or twice in my life. But abusive behavior by uncaring people should not be rewarded. It should have a light shone on it.

I'm a coffee geek and I think the indie coffee community is wonderful. I recently crawled with a shop owner and introduced him to other shop owners. It wasn't so that someone could put someone else on the spot. The owners I introduced my friend to were also friends of mine. (A proper indie coffee shop is more than just coffee. I care more about the atmosphere, especially the people, than I do about whether the coffee is perfect.) I just thought good people would like to meet good people. A good time was had by all.

But I won't be taking my friend to The Red Rocket when we crawl again.

I was totally sympathetic when I heard what happened to Red Rocket on Queen Street. That and a couple bucks doesn't get me anything I really want at Red Rocket on the Danforth. What did I do wrong? I complemented them on their new location. I told them good luck and have fun. I verbally sympathized with them over their forced relocation. Oh, I also mentioned that my single espresso was too much in volume. And I explictly stated that I was offering that comment as feedback and didn't want another drink or anything.

I didn't mention that it was quite weak and thin, which it was. In any case, I never had a chance to once I mentioned that the drink was not right. I got "I'm sorry. I can redo it," and "What do you want me to do?" and "We can make it the way you want it when you come in again." I explained that you should of course customize drinks for customers, but in the case of espresso shots you can't really do that (beyond short or long). I tried to tell the barista that I am aware that drinks will vary (everywhere, for all kinds of reasons), but there's variance and then there's quite 'off formula'.

A manager was there and she joined the conversation. I really just wanted to leave it there. I'm more interested in supporting indie coffee, even shops whose coffee I don't think wows, then I am in winning an argument about whether an espresso is made right. The barista acknolwedged that she's doing it the way the owner wants it done. I accepted that and in fact, that was my view. If the owner trains his or her baristas a certain way, What can the customers who get drinks that they don't like do about it? (I don't know how experienced this girl is or whether she's actually making espressos just the way the owner does and I wasn't going to grill her. However, I found the espressos and espresso-based drinks at the old location were never quite right. The service was fine. The shop was fine. People were happy and all was well. Good for them.)

At this point, I really just wanted to leave. I was being pressured to please give my criticism and so I did. But I only repeated what I said. The girl kept saying "What do you want me to do?" Well, I didn't want her to do anything, but I suggested that she visit other shops (offered a few suggestions) where they do it right to get an idea what a single shot looks and tastes (and feels) like. Well, Now I was being offensive! The manager then started dumping on me and was listing all of my offences, prompting me to utter the word "ego," which was too much of an answer for her, at which point she said that maybe I should leave. I said "No problem. Bye, bye."

If anyone thinks that there must have been more, There wasn't. I don't swear. I wasn't angry - until I left the shop and thought about my treatment at the hands of someone whose shop I was happy to see appear on Danforth.

As for Reunion Island Coffee, I like it. I actually haven't had a lot of it, but I know I like it. When Adam gave me a bag to take home after my tour there a while back, ground for French Press, I discovered that I had lost my French Press. I had boiled the water and was really hanging for coffee and so I just dumped it into the pot of boiled water (after a few seconds), then poured it through a filter. It was awesome!

As for the espresso I had in the new RR, while I didn't feel it was made right, the familiar aftertaste was very, very nice. I just haven't had much Reunion Island coffee in indie coffee shops where they know how to pull shots.

I care about people who care. I will decide how I feel about RR going forward.
Kyle / February 4, 2012 at 10:05 pm
Liako replying to a comment from Arby / February 7, 2012 at 04:02 pm
As one of the owners of RRC, I'm quite distraught to here of your recent experience at our new Danforth store. Both my partners and I take great pride in making all of our stores' environments as welcoming and approachable as possible. We follow a "coffee house" philosophy way of doing things rather than "espresso bar".
I encourage you to contact me (Liako) if you wish to discuss your experiences here at Red Rocket Coffee any further.
I would welcome and thank you for the opportunity.
Arby / February 7, 2012 at 09:55 pm
Thank you Liako. I don't know if I wish to discuss my experience with you. (We may talk some day.) Others here, as well as myself, might like to know what the difference is between a coffee house philosophy and an espresso bar philosophy however. Are you suggesting that a coffee house doesn't have to try that hard to get espresso right?

I truly prefer to meet under better circumstances. (I love meeting coffee shop/espresso bar owners and will continue to do so.) You've got a business to run and, for my part, everything that happened is laid out above. I don't have more to add really.

I was compelled to report here, fully aware of what it means to a struggling small business. Which should tell you something about how I was treated. You weren't there. I was subjected to body language that said more, in fact,than just the words I reported. It was quite unpleasant. Use that information however you may.
MyTwoCents / February 10, 2012 at 11:21 am
@Arby: Given your account of your experience at RRC, it doesn't sound like it's fair to say you were "abused." You ordered an espresso. They pulled you a shot. You didn't think it was right and voiced your opinion. They offered to redo it, and the barista explained that she was doing it the way she had been trained. Then they asked what you'd like them to do to rectify the situation (a response which is Good Customer Service 101, so good on RRC for doing that), and you suggested they visit other shops to see how they make their espresso.

I can count on one hand the number of times I'd visited the old RRC on Queen, and I haven't yet been to the new location. But the fact that they've been around for years and have a loyal following seems to indicate that whatever they're doing, they have a solid following.

I love Manhattans, and when I find a bartender who makes one that I think is spot on, I'll make a point of ordering a Manhattan anytime I'm in that bar or restaurant. But if I order a Manhattan somewhere else and the ratio of rye to vermouth is off, and they offer to make me a new one, I'll take them up on it or I'll drink the one they originally gave me. I won't tell the bartender to visit other bars to see how it should be done.

My ego isn't that big.
w-hat replying to a comment from Arby / February 10, 2012 at 04:35 pm
You are a pedant Arby. You should open your own shop if it matters that much to you and show everyone how it's done. Good luck.
Mike / February 11, 2012 at 10:46 am
Arby: I have to agree with "MyTwoCents". It sounds like the baristas were just trying to ensure you left satisfied and they were defending their boss - all signs of good customer service and traits of a good employee. I haven't been to the new shop yet, but I know the baristas at the Leslieville location were quite lovely. If you find young girls just trying to do their jobs threatening and "abusive" then you have an interesting concept of what "abuse" is.
PJ / February 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm
Will definitely travel up to the Danforth from Leslieville to visit! Need my fix of shortbread, good coffee and RR smiles!
Andy replying to a comment from Arby / March 24, 2012 at 08:46 pm
Yeah I agree with @Mike if you think that is abuse. I think you have issues and am personally glad a good coffee shop is finally in my neighbourhood.
Phil / August 18, 2012 at 10:21 am
Your muffins suck and cost too much.
I've visited cafes all over this city - yours isn't the
worst ...

... but maybe you should take a closer look
at the messages you're sending off, cuz you
don't merit repeat customers
Steph replying to a comment from Arby / September 22, 2012 at 09:23 pm
dude, get a life.
Dale / December 13, 2012 at 11:29 am
Just had a delicious latte from Red Rocket. The Baristas were friendly and enquired about the capacity of my reusable KeepCup to ensure that the drink was prepared correctly.

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