When Mitchell Stern, Steve Ballantyne and Mike Roy opened their brewery in Toronto’s Junction Triangle last fall, they had no idea that the neighbourhood – which is rapidly becoming synonymous with craft breweries – had only recently lifted its alcohol ban in 1997.
Luckily for them, the storied history of the area meshes well with the brewery given that Station Cold Brew Coffee Co. doesn’t make beer, they cater to the caffeine-fueled crowd.
“We are a coffee brand disguised as a beer brand,” says Mitchell, who handles the businesses marketing duties. “Everything we do is kind of modeled after the craft brew scene – it’s the same thing those customers (are looking for) local, crafted quality premium products.”
It was Steve who initially came up with the idea to launch Toronto’s first cold coffee brewery after sampling the good stuff while on a mission to New York’s Centre for Social Innovation on behalf of Toronto’s CSI.
“He was blown away,” says Mitchell. “He came back to Toronto, did some research and realized nobody was really making this at the wholesale level.”
Sure, some Toronto cafes and roasters had taken to brewing small batches, but Steven wanted to go big so he brought Mitchell onboard for his marketing expertise and Mike as the missing link, the brewmaster.
“Mike had been making cold brew in the city for a few years and really knew what he was doing,” says Mitchell. “From there we developed a couple recipes and we kind of capitalized on the community at CSI.”
Station did a couple of tastings and focus groups surrounding their cold brew products, tapping into the diverse array of entrepreneurs at the co-working and meeting space.
“We took some really great feedback from the community and CSI which helped us get to our signature cold brew coffee,” says Mitchell.
Shortly after, the trio began hawking its cold brew through its first breakfast chain customer in June 2014, while interest in Station’s coffee continued to rise.
“For the first year and a bit we worked out of a commercial kitchen we were renting but in the middle of last summer we went from very, very, very small to small,” says Mitchell. “We're still a startup but the middle of last summer we really started to ramp up and develop great relationships with big customers like Whole Foods.”
Hence launching the brewery in September.
Since then Station has seen a lot of walk-in traffic, people coming in and getting 64-ounce growlers filled from the companies cold brew taps and kegs or picking up bottles form the bottle shop.
In time, Mitchell sees Station’s cold brew coffee spreading across Canada in time, but there’s something intrinsically Torontonian about the brand, something fueled in part by the city’s increasingly internationally recognized food and cocktail culture and the community growing around it.
“Toronto has an amazing community of people who have opened up and appreciated the brand for what it is – it’s a city of early adopters… so diverse and so willing to accept new things,” says Mitchell. “We're proud to say we're brewed and bottled in Toronto however that doesn’t mean we can’t sell it in Vancouver or small town Saskatchewan.”