Supercoffee just might be the herald of a new era in Mount Dennis. Earlier this year, I wrote a story on the potential revival of the west end neighbourhood, which Toronto Life dubbed the worst in the city, and speculated that the future gentrification of the area probably wouldn't involve "a chic maternity boutique, an organic charcuterie, or an indie coffeehouse."
A couple of weeks later, I received a Twitter message telling me that an indie cafe was indeed about to open at Weston Road and Eglinton West, in the very heart of Mount Dennis. Just as the long winter loosed its hold on Toronto, Supercoffee opened its doors to serve lattes and scones just a short walk from the weed lot remains of the old Kodak plant.
Entering the shop, it's as if you're getting ready to order in an indie coffee shop in Leslieville , Roncesvalles or Queen West . All the cues and smells are there - fresh ground espresso beans, baked goods, background jazz, recycled wood countertops and industrial metal chairs. This was exactly as owner Cassandra Nicolaou intended it, even if her own history with the space goes back to long before indie cafes were every city's sign of health.
When I grew up in Mount Dennis, Supercoffee's space was a diner where I'd go with my mother on the way home from the library and shopping on Weston Road. I'd order fries and a shake and scroll through the selection of songs on the jukeboxes mounted in every booth. A few years later Cassandra's dad had bought the place and opened a sub shop where late night munchies could be satisfied, and Cassandra worked shifts behind the counter.
By the '90s the sub shop was closed and the space went through a succession of tenants as Weston Road and Mount Dennis declined, hitting rock bottom when Kodak closed in 2007 and the last of the neighbourhood's industrial history died. That's old news now, and Mount Dennis is tipped as a Toronto neighbourhood about to happen - depending on how long you're willing to wait for them to finish the new transit hub and Eglinton Crosstown LRT car barns set to go up on the Kodak lands.
Cassandra and her family decided not to wait. With a front door right across from the hub where the LRT, the Georgetown GO and the Pearson Express will all stop, Supercoffee is poised to caffeinate commuters - when they come. In the meantime, Cassandra says that despite her family's long history in Mount Dennis, the opening weeks have been a bit of a culture shock.
The area is diverse, both ethnically and in age, and selling boutique coffee here is a trailblazing effort, with only Tim Hortons and a Coffee Time setting the standard for years. Baked goods mostly come from Circles and Squares and OMG Baked Goodness - probably the first fresh-baked desserts the neighbourhood's seen since the local bakeshop closed in the early '80s. Some customers have never seen a scone, that stalwart of the indie coffee shop.
Cassandra says she's made sure to have tea on the menu - a staple for older locals - and to keep most of the drinks menu under four dollars and tax-free. Her beans are Classic Gourmet's Rufino roast , familiar to any downtown coffee drinker, and the WiFi is free, though few all-day laptop users have set up office yet. The shop is open from 7am to 7pm, though Cassandra has thought about opening earlier to catch traffic from building trades workers on their way to the job.
"If you create a nice space," she says, "hopefully people will treat it nicely." Setting up a coffeehouse in Mount Dennis is homesteading, to be sure, but Cassandra says she'd rather give it a try here than where the competition is established and abundant. "I can't imagine opening a coffee shop at Bloor and Ossington."
Writing and photos by Rick McGinnis.