In Toronto's increasingly crowded and curiously complex coffee house culture, what you drink is rapidly taking a back seat to where you drink.
Case in point is Nespresso's newest Boutique Bar, a soaring, sophisticated space which opened at the start of October in Yorkville. After opening its first Canadian flagship in Montreal in 2009, Nespresso set its sights on the high-end Bloor Street and Avenue Road retail area in Toronto. When the curtain finally lowered on the dated Cumberland Four movie theatre after 31 years of operation in May of 2012, Nespresso found its ideal setting.
"We don't want to be a small boutique in the corner," says Jacques Demont, president of Nespresso Canada. "And we were attracted, of course, because all the international brands are there, but I think it is more the spirit of Yorkville because this is exactly the Nespresso spirit – trendy people, nice place to be – this is what we want.
"Finally, when we found the movie theatre, it was the perfect thing for us."
Though the Nespresso Boutique allows customers to sit and relax in luxurious surroundings, it also exposes the public to the Nespresso brand, which has been built by and large on importing the barista experience into homes via pod-based coffee machines. The front of the boutique houses the café, the back end carries all the current iterations of machine, with all 21 grand crus, or varieties of coffee, covering the far wall.
After signing a long-term lease on the property, the company spared little expense in the 17 months it took to outfit the new boutique. The concrete front was cut away and replaced with a two-storey floor-to-ceiling glass facade. With seating for 47 guests inside and a further 14 on the Cumberland Street patio, the 14,122-square-foot property provides an atmospheric setting for a relaxing cup of espresso away from the hustle and bustle of the street.
"This space is really particular, thanks to the lights, because of the height and that's what's impressive here," says Caroline Desvaux, Nespresso Canada brand manager. "For instance, the Paris boutique, it's more intimate and this one is more about light and space. It's always because of the space we are working with so it's always different things."
The Swiss-based firm now has locations in 199 cities in 48 countries, with more than 300 outlets worldwide. Attention to detail is evident from the moment you step off Cumberland Street to be greeted at the door. Italian architect Goring & Straja of Milan designed the vaulted interior, as it does all Nespresso boutiques worldwide. Denmark's Fritz Hansen supplied the designer furniture.
Given that Nespresso sees Toronto, the fourth-largest city in North America, as second only to New York in importance on this continent, according to Mr. Demont, positioning the brand for success in Canada's largest market is obviously a solid strategy.
Mary Mowbray, the senior vice-president at Colliers International, says that in terms of choosing an ideal location, Nespresso has found a good fit.
"It's about establishing the brand," she says, "… So being seen as a higher-end, higher-quality brand, going to a Yorkville location definitely does support that."
Though Nespresso may be the new kid on the coffee house block in Toronto, it is hardly alone. Another European-styled coffee shop reached even further back into history than a 1980s movie theatre to develop its own take on java time.
Dineen Coffee Co., situated in the 19th-century Dineen Building at Yonge and Temperance streets, was the brainchild of co-owners David Fortier, Ivan Schneeberg and John Young, and opened last April with a singular aim – to provide downtown coffee lovers with an alternative to the cookie-cutter coffee experience.
As Mr. Fortier explains, "The heart of the idea for us was, why can't we have fantastic, independent coffee with unbelievable service where people greet you and know your name and know exactly what you're looking for, understand the time pressures that you're under, but also serve you something that really is a treat."
But it's the building that sets this place apart from its competition. Eighteen-foot ceilings, original exposed brick and a chandelier that once hung in Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel, and was rediscovered in an antique store, all lend the property an ambience that harkens back to when the building opened in 1897 as a furrier's shop. Though the footprint is certainly not large, roughly 1,500 square feet with seating for about 30, the atmosphere generated inside is what led the trio of owners, all of whom oversee a downtown Toronto TV, film and digital media production company, to take the plunge, lease the space and get into the coffee business.
"It's absolutely huge; for us it was the key and it went hand in hand with the coffee," Mr. Fortier says. "We felt that the work that's been put into the building was very admirable and was really what got us going. If you look at some of the architecture and some of the restoration that's going on around the city it's really inspirational to us. We thought [the Dineen Building] was the perfect opportunity to bring a little old-world style, a bit of new-world flair to a new coffee experience."
Though Mr. Fortier is open to creating more stores in the Dineen mould, he insists that they won't be cutting corners just to open up another outlet. Based in the heart of the financial and tourist districts, and with a 24-hour gym across the street, the current Dineen location ticks all the boxes, and that precise mix can be hard to find.
"It sounds to me like a very happy marriage of concept, operators, owners and the real estate," Ms. Mowbray says. "It's really amazing to see that happen and it's kind of turned what was a blighted little strip into a stunning jewel."