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Northern coffee heads south

New cafe in Toronto owned by Sudbury-born resident to feature Sommelier de cafe/Old Rock coffee and tea

The made-in-Sudbury coffee revolution is marching southward. Sommelier de café/Old Rock has landed in downtown Toronto, with a former city resident picking up a licensing agreement to sell their coffee and tea in their establishment.

Co-owner Luc Roy announced they have entered into a licensing agreement with the owner of The Dock on Queen, to sell Sommelier de café/Old Rock coffee and tea. Luc, who points out the coffee roasting is done by his wife Carole and he oversees marketing, said he is of course happy, and explained why they decided to try licensing rather than franchising.

“Licensing encourages people to be different,” he said in an interview at the Minto Street roastary.

“We ensure the quality of the coffee – we will still be roasting it ourselves – while the licencee can make the space to sell it any way they wish. It's also less expensive for the people involved and they have more creative leeway.”

The licensing agreement includes all products and training, leaving the licence holder to do the rest, including sourcing any food they wish to sell. He called Sommelier de cafe/Old Rock “micro” entrepreneurs, as they let the licencee do as they please in terms of marketing.

“We want to turn licencees into connoisseurs of coffee, hence the name sommelier,” Luc said. “We want to share the experience of great coffee and if anyone wants to join our family we are open to talking about licensing.”

The Dock is owned by former Sudbury resident and musician Mimi O'Bonsawin. She stated in an email that The Dock is a homage her life growing up in the region.

“The Dock is Northern Ontario through and through. We are all from up north and decided to bring a little of that to Toronto. Even the wood we recycled is from an old school in Espanola. The canoe we have hanging on top of the bar is my grandfather's canoe.”

She explained Old Rock has been a customer of her father, Pete O'Bonsawin's, business in Val Caron, King Sportswear, for a while and the coffee company had a great reputation. They had been talking about having a café in Toronto for some time and she took the opportunity to inquire about a licensing agreement. They did all the renovating and designing themselves, with help from Luc.

Luc said they never had any idea their coffee would become this popular when he and Carole started selling her roasted coffee beans at the Saturday Farmers Market. Once people warmed up to it, he said it seemed to wake up a desire for high-quality coffee from different parts of the world in people and they opened the Sommelier de cafe/Old Rock.

“Sudbury has always been a coffee-loving city and I think people were ready to try something different,” he said. “We had ambitions, but we were never sure which direction it would go.”

That led to the second location of Durham to test the popularity of their product. Late last year they decided to release licences to sell their products. It was not widely advertised, Luc said, but they were getting interest very quickly.

“We've had four people express verbal intent, so it's not just a causal inquiry, people want to be a part of this,” he said. “There is a licencee on Lasalle as well. There will likely be more.”

With the growing demand he said they are definitely going to have to expand the roastery and possibly a separate facility. He said they have plans drawn up for another roaster and the headquarters will always be in Sudbury.

Despite the plans for expansion, he said they are staying true to their fair trade and careful roasting mantra.

“There's an art to roasting great coffee, not everyone can do it,” he said. “We've sent samples of Carole's coffee to cuppings and it consistently comes out scoring very high. We have a great product and we want people to join our family.”

The Dock has a soft opening on May 29. O'Bonsawin stated the grand opening is the following week.

“We are just flying here. Going with the flow. People are excited to try something new and fresh from Northern Ontario.”