Bite-sized profiles of your favourite independent bakeries & cafés

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Dineen Coffee Co.

A boutique coffee house in the heart of the financial district

By MARTA S

15-second, deliciously snackable video filmed and edited by Carrie Hayden.


The Dineen Coffee Company is situated in a heritage building in the financial district at the corner of Yonge and Temperance. In 2012, the building’s careful restoration to its former glory helped revitalize a long-neglected part of the downtown core. Its developers were not only mindful to keep the historical integrity of the original design intact — they were also deliberate in defining the caliber of the businesses that would settle into the restored space.

Dineen Coffee Co. — whose namesake is the hat and fur manufacturer the building was built for in 1897 — is exactly the kind of high quality establishment the building deserved to house.

I sit down with Jacob Fortier — vice president of development and operating partner at Dineen — one chilly evening. The coffee house is humming with activity. A spacious café with high ceilings and colourful décor that manages to be warm, eclectic, yet pulled together all at once, it recalls a different era.

The baristas are outfitted in sharp, tailored shirts and fitted vests. Everywhere I turn there are details of visual interest, from the dramatic refurbished chandelier (originally from the Royal York Hotel) right down to the bold pattern of the Chilean floor tiles.

“We started the café in an attempt to bring the independent culture of coffee to a bustling crowd,” Jacob tells me. “We wanted to keep with an independent style but also be able to produce [our product] for a busy professional environment.

“We always feel that customer service and atmosphere are the order of the day,” he continues. “We want to make sure that everybody that comes in feels that we are registering that high level of customer service. And that they feel comfortable.”

Rather than force coffee culture in their customers’ faces, the team at Dineen remains mindful of just how busy most of their financial district clientele is. No one at Dineen is going to scoff at your drink order, or tie you up with a lengthy description of your roast — unless you express interest in it, of course. Then the team is more than happy to kindly share their knowledge.

Those fabulous floor tiles appear in nearly every Instagram picture that a patron posts on Instagram.

“We have a chance to describe what our coffee is, where it comes from; but in the same breath we’re able to stand back and have people experience that coffee for themselves,” Jacob says earnestly.

“We want to make sure that every interaction we have is a qualitative one. It allows us to personalize this unique space even further by focusing on our customer base. It’s amazing to see a customer come in from a very stressful environment three times a day. To maintain that kind of community base in the financial district is very important to us.”

Respect is truly the name of game at Dineen — respect for their customers, their product, and for the history of the building itself. “We tried to keep as many of the historical elements in place as we could [when we moved in]. The challenge was to modernize the space but make it seem like we’d been here for some time,” Jacob says.

“People who come in will remember what this building was before — they’ll remind us of what was here before Dineen. It was very artist-centric. Lots of bike couriers. There was a bike courier café just around the corner.” Anyone who lived downtown in the ‘90s might recall Breadspread’s, the central hang-out for Gen X bike couriers at the time. “Generally, there’s been no backlash. We were able to hit the mark with the design in that way.”

140 Yonge St through the ages. (Photos courtesy of the Toronto Star, BlogTO, and UrbanToronto.ca)

Opening an independent business in such a large and impressive space with such a rich and colourful history was, of course, no small feat.

“When you’re opening a new business, you’re scrambling quite a bit. I think if you’re able to take a step back and realize that as long as you’re moving forward, you can access a level of patience that will sustain you. Patience is something that would’ve been nice to have had more of in year one, for sure,” Jacob recalls with a smile.

As for what Jacob — who trained as a lawyer in the past — would be doing if he could be doing anything else in the world?

“I don’t have a lot of time for much else these days, but I’m a tennis nut. I love tennis. So in a dream world, I wish I could go back to being nine years old and make that my life. But I think I was probably limited from a talent perspective,” he says, laughing, “so this [running Dineen] would’ve been a close second. We’re having a lot of fun here.”


Dineen Coffee Co. — 140 Yonge St, Toronto (Yonge & Temperance)

Hours:
Mon — Fri: 6.30am — 7pm
Sat — Sun: 8am — 6pm

All photos courtesy of Dineen’s beautifully curated Instagram feed (unless otherwise stated).
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Have an independent café or bakery you want to see featured on Boîte To Go? Contact marta@behindtheboite.com.

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