Keeping the coffee real
If great things grow from pure intentions and humble beginnings, then there is no better example of this phenomenon than Sam James’ Coffee Bars in Toronto.
When James opened his first coffee shop in 2009 in a previously decrepit junk shop on a vacant strip in Harbord, the low-key spot quickly transformed into a bustling community hub. Now, Sam James’ Coffee Bars can be found at 5 locations across the city, so you’ll always have a great place close at hand for your lovingly made caffeine hit.
The 4th location on the corner of Queen and Ossington features an original sculpture by local artist Jeremy Jansen, a heated concrete stoop and a leaning bar line the sides of the room. The 5th store on Toronto Street (opening any moment) will build on James’s increasingly sleek aesthetic, proving that you can keep your cool and stay kind on the way up.
Sam is also the owner and president of Cut Coffee his coffee roaster located in Parkdale. This is the brand of coffee used in all SJCB locations as well as many other coffee shops and restaurants in the city, like Empire Espresso, Bud’s Coffee Bar, La Cubana and Momofuku.
Here the coffee maestro talks about why he hires nice people and the importance of keeping it real.
Tell us about the SJCB philosophy?
The SJCB ethos is simply to make the best coffee we can. We are constantly aware that it can get better, and we find ways to do that. We do this without any pretense or delusions of grandeur. We’re doing it because we like it, and I think the experience in an SJCB shop is categorically “real” in contrast to the way some in-store experiences feel forced or attempted.
We hire the really nice over the really experienced, because I like teaching ambitious young people to make coffee as great as they want to make it, and teaching adults to be nice is a waste of time.
Why is it important to make your locations so very aesthetically pleasing?
I believe my stores have a chronology you can read in the design of each space. It’s obvious in fact, that the spaces have become more polished and efficient and that the aesthetic vocabulary has remained the same but evolved. I think that’s important not just for familiarity between locations but also for the narrative it tells if you pay attention to those things.
We like to communicate our attention to detail, but also the reality that it’s just a coffee shop, and it has to function first.