Customer Spotlight: Strangelove Coffee
We sat down with Chris, owner of Strange Love Coffee, an award winning café and concept space in Toronto. We discussed coffee, technology and the difficulty of operating in Toronto’s food and beverage industry.
Can you tell us about Strange Love, where did it all start for you?
It actually all started with the name Strange Love, formed at the end of 2016. For us, it is a combination of odd things and things we love, put together. We thought, what makes us feel good? Our store itself is a mix of graphics, prints, music, designs and plants all in one space. We put our all into it and opened in February of 2017.
Starting a business in this industry is risky. What made you take the leap of faith?
I always had a passion for the food and hospitality industry. I dabbled in some restaurant concepts, but we have such incredible food options in the city. Coffee, in comparison, is still a very premature industry in Toronto, and I saw a huge opportunity there. There was this big gap in comparison with the restaurant world, even across Canada, the west coast being a prime example.
With two operating locations, what is your biggest day-to-day challenge?
Getting people to change their habits is difficult, so our aim is to just get customers in the door. We have a particular challenge with specialty coffee, where we are right at the edge of what people are used to. Coffee is strange because it’s so habitual. If you have something integrated in your routine every single day, you get used to it. It’s hard to break that.
Bringing in something new, even if it is of an objectively better quality, doesn’t matter. A good example of this is steak in the 1980s. It was the norm to eat well done steaks. Over time, there was a shift towards more rare steaks, reflecting a shift in appreciation of the complexity of a better quality product.
I think we’re starting to see this shift in coffee. It’s a combination of variables and precise measurements that really elevate a consumer’s experience.
So how do you make it a habit?
It’s really tough. It’s one of those things where people won’t even cross the street to try a new coffee. They just want to get from point A to point B in the fastest way. For us, the best way to change those habits is to give away free coffee. We found that it takes around four tries to understand why they prefer your coffee over others’. There’s quality and consistency in specialty coffee. By four, you have probably tried another type of coffee, and begin to taste and notice the difference, side-by-side. You develop an affinity for quality over a sweeter drink and begin to differentiate. An example of this is how bitter and stronger tasting coffee is actually less strong in caffeine than the lighter roasts. After a while, things like this begin to make sense.
Where do you see the future of coffee in Toronto?
In the past, what the coffee industry in Toronto has done is play to the Toronto palette instead of pushing it forward to more complex standard, similar to the West Coast’s. We’re now really trying push the industry forward in terms of the standard. I see this as similar to how the cocktail industry has evolved. They’ve created more of a fun playful atmosphere around drinking, and that’s exactly where coffee is headed. A twist on the classic, with hints from roasters and flavours from around the world. Balance as opposed to just creating a sweet drink. Providing a classic option is important. For example, we recognize the value in a typical vanilla latte, and wanted to make something something a little better. Not as sweet and more complex, so we created the Lover’s Latte, with tonka beans and honeysuckle.
“Always over serve the heck out of customers. A phenomenal customer experience is key.”
What’s your biggest advice for people looking to open a business in the food and beverage space in Toronto?
First of all, be realistic about your startup and operating costs. Regardless of what you produce, these costs will always remain. Secondly, always over serve the heck out of customers. A phenomenal customer experience is key. We know we’re the little guys, we have a huge mountain to climb. Our future isn’t guaranteed, so we need to fight and struggle on a daily basis. It’s chaos, but we love it, and our customers always come first.
How has using ChefHero made your life easier?
It’s been really good. First of all, for transparency. Everyone’s able to see what other people in the team are ordering. We have a wealth of options from different suppliers, we’re not constrained. Now, if we can’t find it on ChefHero, we don’t want it. Suppliers are incredibly old school, only wanting us to call or email them. We don’t have time to keep track of papers, I can’t even hold onto one piece of paper. It’s ridiculous that in this day and age, as a young generation, we are still expected to be operating in an ancient industry, because many suppliers have been around for long. I just don’t have time to talk to someone on the phone for 15 minutes when all I want to do is place an order. Also, your customer service is amazing, we get the same sense that you guys are a startup and are fighting for your customers, and we really appreciate that. Working with someone who comes from a genuine place and really cares about your business, as opposed to just getting every dollar out of us is amazing, because we really don’t have that much!
Interested in learning more about how ChefHero can help your business? Check us out at www.chefhero.com