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How important is Coffee Time to Little India?

Posted by Chris Bateman / May 20, 2014

toronto coffee timeCoffee Time is a strange and perhaps even important kind of coffee shop. In Little India, at Gerrard and Coxwell, it's a no frills alternative to the neighbourhood's new indie cafes and an important all hours social hub for the community's working class residents, a fact that's easy to overlook when a rowdy customer spills out onto street in the small hours, shouting obscenities.

A new mini-doc by Made By Other People (you might remember them from their short film about Craven Road) hopes to change that perception, or at least give the changing neighbourhood a look at what the store means to its regulars. Filmed last winter, it makes a strong case for controlling the pace of gentrification in Little India, lest it force out businesses important to the wider community.

"It's a staple of the neighbourhood," says director Kire Paputts. "It's kind of like a hub for a lot of people in the community who don't necessarily fit in with a lot of what's happening with gentrification."

"There's few spots on the strip that still kind of cater to the working class, and that's just one of them. The thing with Coffee Time is there used to be four of them in the immediate neighbourhood and now there's only two left ... I wanted to document the place and people that went there before it's gone."

Vern, the store's window cleaner and family member to two of its staff, echoes that sentiment in the film. "In this community, somebody living on social assistance that's getting roughly around $600 a month, how can they afford to be going to some of the higher-end coffee shops, let alone just barely being able to afford to come here," he says.

Vern also captures the essence of the shop with this doozy of a quote:

"A friend of mine come in [to the coffee shop,] he was drunk. A guy and his girlfriend were arguing, he got involved because he shoved her, and next thing I know he's getting beat by with a chair from the coffee shop. But yeah, this area is really nice."

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.



Jeremy / May 20, 2014 at 03:20 pm
I walk by this coffee shop on my way to the Goodlife Fitness most mornings. The patrons are exactly what you'd expect - lifelong smokers who look like lifelong smokers, scratching away at lottery cards, and staring out the window for hours on end nursing a small coffee. Everyone seems to know each other and depending on who's outside smoking when I walk by, I tend to get the occasional smile and nod. Will be interesting to see if the shop is there 5 years from now...
Job Bank / May 20, 2014 at 03:27 pm
All coffee times are nasty! There all filled with neighbourhood scum. I have no sympathy for anybody who lives off monthly $600 welfare cheques . If they got a job (even at minimum wage) they can still make more than government assistance. All the people I know who are on welfare are just straight up lazy individuals who blame others for their failed lives.
Aloisius Jones replying to a comment from Job Bank / May 20, 2014 at 03:49 pm
The effort it takes for you to maintain the illusion of humanity must require a lot of energy.
LMIH replying to a comment from Aloisius Jones / May 20, 2014 at 04:17 pm
Thats a choice line you just wrote Aloisius Jones. Impressive!
Jai replying to a comment from Job Bank / May 20, 2014 at 04:20 pm
@Job Bank. You're an ignoramus. As a social worker I can tell you right now there area thousands of people on welfare who are NOT lazy. Nobody wants to only live on $600 a month! You can barely survive on that! Have you tried it? As a social worker I am disgusted by stupid comments like this. But luckily you're not the majority and just a sad judgmental minority.
Bob / May 20, 2014 at 05:00 pm
regardless of your economic situation.... Coffee and donuts are so harmful! By no means was I a heavy coffee drinker, but I finally kicked the habit, along with the snack I used to eat with my coffee. I feel so much better and alert. IMHO, If you're down on your luck and are not eating well, the last place you should go is a coffee shop. Sorry, this off topic.
Water into beer replying to a comment from Jai / May 20, 2014 at 05:11 pm
Well, take $200.00 a month off for cigs, another $100.00 for lottery tickets and another $200.00 for booze and that puts a hole in that $600.00. No wonder they nurse their coffee. Our tax money goes unchecked toward a multitude of vices...vices we all pay for in court and policing costs and inevitably through our health care system.
steve replying to a comment from Job Bank / May 20, 2014 at 05:20 pm
Tidy little statement, did you think of that yourself or did someone have to help you? Never fails the ignorant and uniformed try to qualify what they say by including a version of the "All the people I know" statement. When in reality it says you a boor and have nothing to contribute to society.
nm / May 20, 2014 at 06:00 pm
Wow nothing attracts the horrible people like an article on gentrification and displacement.
Wontyoubemy... / May 20, 2014 at 06:41 pm
These films are a really good reminder that there are all different kinds of people in this area/world and that we deserve a place we feel welcome - and (perhaps a little unbelievably) for some people that place is coffee time.
ROB FORD ON CRACK / May 20, 2014 at 06:45 pm
Anyone who's getting $600.00 dollars a month through social assistance should be buying Walmart folgers and drinking it at home while looking through employment listings. Not hanging out in coffee shops for derelicts and street scum. Coffee Time attracts the same sort of people at all their locations and I wouldn't shed a tear if the entire chain disappears or gets bought out by Timmies.
ROB FORD ON CRACK / May 20, 2014 at 06:55 pm
Kudos to Kire Paputts for the fine doc.
stopitman replying to a comment from ROB FORD ON CRACK / May 20, 2014 at 07:37 pm
It's funny, because some of the "indie" and high-end coffee shops attract a fair amount of the scum of the upper class. Goes both ways.
confused replying to a comment from Rafa / May 20, 2014 at 08:14 pm
My neighbourhood has all 3 of those within 2 blocks.
Davy Gravy replying to a comment from Aloisius Jones / May 20, 2014 at 08:20 pm
I'm not so sure about that. Looked like pretty minimal effort to me.
Davy Gravy replying to a comment from Water into beer / May 20, 2014 at 08:23 pm
Hope you never find yourself down on your luck there, Ayn Rand. You'll find there are far too many people with your ignorant, uninformed attitude standing by to crap all over you. Best of luck. Chump.
Davy Gravy replying to a comment from ROB FORD ON CRACK / May 20, 2014 at 08:25 pm
And I wouldn't shed a tear if your house gets expropriated for a methadone clinic.
stonerduane / May 20, 2014 at 08:36 pm
coffee time is great for donut holes! gentrification is costing us our souls bro!
kire / May 20, 2014 at 08:50 pm
Great discussion. If you liked the Coffee Time video, check out the other videos on the gentrification of Gerrard Street East.

Colin / May 20, 2014 at 08:53 pm
Wow. The uglys of Toronto come out to diss on people down on their luck who have a bit if a haven. (You guys voted for Ford, am I right?)
KD / May 20, 2014 at 09:29 pm
I actually live in the neighbourhood, on Hiawatha, and have lived there for the past 23 years. A lot has changed within the last 4 years or so, and it's good to know some of the older businesses are still around. While it is good to see new business moving in and seeing the neighbourhood revive, we really don't need 5 coffee stores between Coxwell and Greenwood. A lot of the things that are opening are just replicas of each other, boring.
M replying to a comment from KD / May 20, 2014 at 10:20 pm
Unless you currently run a shop maybe you should lay off the people who had the balls to take a chance on opening a business in a neighbourhood that's no sure thing.
Kdizzy / May 20, 2014 at 11:20 pm
People on social assistance should learn to budget if they're spending their money at this hole. After watching that video I'm even more excited for the inevitable closure of this, and all of the franchise
Paige replying to a comment from Rafa / May 21, 2014 at 12:04 am
re: Rafa

What about Second Cup?

- Espresso Bars: Wealthy white collars, e.g. Downtown Bay Corridor and uptown Bayview Village

- Second Cup: Middle Class White Collars, e.g. North York Centre

- Tim Hortons: Everyone who needs to grab something on the go, nostalgic people, new Canadians.

- Starbucks: Hipsters, college kids who just got their OSAP grant. Nostalgic recent business grads flirting with the student staff.

- Coffee Time: Old/Middleaged /Tired/ looking people with much more time than they have money, smelling like smoke.
Dave / May 21, 2014 at 01:05 am
Wow ,some people disgust me and I'm not talking about the patrons of coffee time . I've lived in the neighbourhood for close to 30 years and the patrons of this place are mostly seniors and poor/working class ,all very nice people .
Ray / May 21, 2014 at 07:05 am
BUT meanwhile were concerned about the welfare residents at Jilly's???????
tnt / May 21, 2014 at 08:59 am
You know I'm usually an asshole about scruffy donut shops and stuff like this but I just can't help shake my head at the vile arrogance that today's Torontonian has. I'm guessing that that main contributors to this thread are the younger generation that grew up in the 90's and early y2k, because if this is a reflection of people's opinion from my generation, the 80's and 70's crowd, then we've just become complete and utter heartless assholes..I can understand the young ones thinking , being entitled and all, that the future is all rosey as they pay for their overpriced chicklet houses and sip on Frappucinos and eat gourmet cupcakes...But guess what sunshine, in the 80's so did we, then boom, all gone. Anyone can find themselves on welfare , yes even a person that's hardworking and genuinely good.Never judge or think that you'll always be at the top of the heap.Try developing your sense of compassion and positivity rather that your sense of seething contempt, it'll come in handy if or when you find yourselves knocked off that high horse..
big z / May 21, 2014 at 09:46 am
I really don't mind the patrons of this coffee time, or that they have a place in the area to hang out where they feel comfortable. But please don't call them 'working class'. I don't envy them or begrudge what they must do to make ends meet, but they are not working class people by any reasonable definition of the term.
tnt replying to a comment from James Punt / May 21, 2014 at 01:14 pm
Cheers mate...
Spike replying to a comment from ROB FORD ON CRACK / May 21, 2014 at 01:34 pm
Lookee here, another asshole speaking their mind on something they know NOTHING about, just like Job Bank did. Do you know how hard it is to get jobs these days, Rob? Or has Daddy's money protected and cushioned you for so long that you have no idea?
Job Bank / May 21, 2014 at 03:28 pm
Sorry for my ignorance guys I apologize.
redheadednomad / August 31, 2014 at 03:57 pm
I wonder how many of the vitriolic writers who are disparaging Coffee Time's clientele have ever set foot inside one of the cafés? As a new Canadian working the late shift, I used to visit Coffee Time's pretty regularly. The advantages it has over its competitors are late hours, cheap food and drink (the fist-sized chocolate brownies got me through a few cold nights), friendly, unpretentious staff, and an absence of morons braying into their mobile phones. There was also something comfortingly authentic about the place.

Coffee Time outlets in Toronto have been disappearing as the gentrification of our city ripples further out. Unfortunately, this is a sign of those less fortunate being further displaced. Even if you don't patronize Coffee Time, don't judge those who do.

André / August 31, 2014 at 05:21 pm
I like Coffee Time for all of the reasons redheadednomad mentions, especially its late hours. It's not great food, but there is something reassuring and comforting about the franchise. I spent a lot of time studying in the 24 hrs one that used to be at Bay & Elm, and even though I no longer live in that area I still miss it.
Chris replying to a comment from redheadednomad / April 9, 2015 at 08:22 am
"an absence of morons braying into their mobile phones."

If only the better coffee places could improve themselves with this feature ...
Good old days / April 9, 2015 at 08:26 am
Who rememebers when it used to be KFC? Back in the 90s
East of Yonge / April 9, 2015 at 09:05 am
Even after the re-brand .. There is definitely still a nostalgia about these places. I've usually always visited coffee time out of necessity over the years .. but if they all disappear I think I will miss them on some level. I also agree with some of the points they raise about displacement .. Not everyone will benefit or enjoy the process of gentrification.
SSF / April 9, 2015 at 09:47 am
I've lived down the street from this Coffee Time for years. As selfish as it sounds, I'm thrilled that gentrification is happening in this area. In the summer, many of the Coffee Time patrons bring their chairs out on to the sidewalk to smoke and it looks extremely trashy.There is no patio here, and is not set up for that. Sadly, it seems like it's a hang out for those with very little in their lives. Often times, late at night, I'd walk by and see patrons sleeping at the tables. Perhaps what this area needs more is a community centre geared to helping these people create value in their lives. Maybe with a coffee shop inside, geared towards the patrons who do not have the resources or feel they do not fit in at the other local coffee houses.
I'd also love to see the Fleur de Lis gone. I've seen countless people stumble out drunk from that place and have walked by witnessing people screaming at each other. On family day, getting off the bus at 3 pm across the street from this place, I witnessed one man holding down another in a snow bank, punching him repeatedly in the face. The girlfriends came out to break the fight up, there was more screaming, then they all went back in to drink some more.
I do love the diversity and how eclectic the area is becoming, but as in life, everything evolves, everything changes. Sorry...I think the absence of these places would be a good thing.
MyLittlePootine / April 9, 2015 at 09:53 am
It's pretty sad that so many people act like people who are poor should be absolutely miserable and don't deserve the "luxury" of going out to get a coffee and socialize.
Its a dump / April 9, 2015 at 10:00 am
That side of the street really isn't Little India anymore. And this coffee shop is a dump. Full of your Dawes Road-type white trash and TTC streetcar drivers on their break. What indie coffee shops are within walking distance of this place? None that I know of.
Rocky replying to a comment from Its a dump / April 9, 2015 at 10:56 am
Flying Pony, Lazy Daisy's are within walking distance of Coffee Time. You don't really pay attention do you?
Its a dump replying to a comment from Rocky / April 9, 2015 at 12:41 pm
Lazy Daisy is a cafe with a full food menu, not an indie coffee shop like The Bandit for example.

Pony is also a dump.
Michael H / April 9, 2015 at 12:53 pm
It's "an "impeedment" in the gentrification process"? Must be a university student.
Lola / April 9, 2015 at 01:32 pm
I am one of the people that has taken a risk on this area and opened a business, knowing full well that there will be some gentrification, but also that were are in an urban environment. With that comes a mix of income, ethnicity, culture and lifestyle. That Coffee Time was here long before many of he new residents, who also knew full well what they were investing in. Yes, of course it would be nice for some if everything was new and shiny, but then we would be a mall, not a beautiful and eclectic neighborhood. Everyone needs a place to go, socialize, spend their time and money, how they see fit. Without judgement. Would it be better if there weren't drugs being sold out of there or if we didn't have visible drug addictions and alcohol abuse? Sure, but that isn't the fault of Coffee Time. That is a much bigger problem that the community could address in other productive ways, other than hiding behind a computer screen and judging like cowards.
SSF replying to a comment from Lola / April 9, 2015 at 04:19 pm
Hey Lola
On many of your points, I do agree with you. However, in my opinion, I do not think that the Coffee Time in question would be a great loss. I love the mix of culture and diversity which the area offers, and it's not about being shiny and new either. (Look at Eulalie's Corner Store. There's not much shiny and new in there, but it's the most interesting new restaurant in the area.) In your post you mentioned the drugs being dealt out of there as well as the visible signs of addiction. All of that is very sad, I get it, but I wouldn't miss it.
I think the customers in question would be better served with a community/addiction centre, that had it's own coffee house, perhaps even run by the patrons. Now that's something I could get behind. I'd also love to see the Fleur de Lis gone. Do you know how many screaming matches and fights happen not only inside, but right outside of the place as well? Lots. Both physical and verbal.
I know I may sound harsh, but in cases like this. I don't see change as a negative thing.
stale baked goods / April 9, 2015 at 06:35 pm
This place only puts doughnuts that arrive at 8 pm out at midnight or later
By noon or 2 pm, typically very little left.
RiverdaleBoy / April 11, 2015 at 07:39 am
Both Chris and Kire referred to these patrons as "working class," and some of them fit that label, but they aren't the ones polarizing this discussion. Working class people can't spend all day hanging around a coffee shop. The customers people are complaining about seem to me to be people with mental and or substance problems. It's hard to imagine them working.

I spent a few years on welfare when I was a teen. I never could afford to spend money in a coffee shop or on booze or drugs or a even phone. Groceries, housing and transit were a challenge. The experience was one of isolation, loneliness, and depression. I'd seek distraction from that experience in public places that were free- parks, public spaces, and libraries. I spent lots of time on Yonge Street, Sunnyside beach, and the Met Ref library. I eventually finished school and moved on, and I credit my working class resilience for that.

The people we are arguing about have deeper issues than "class," and some of them might benefit from help they'll never get at Coffee Time. Many will frustrate all efforts to help them. The neighborhood, with or without them, is moving on. Any effort to prevent that is misguided and quixotic IMHO.
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