Words and Pictures by Kelly Jones
I’m not sure which feature has made Hub Coffee House and Locavorium such a success in the one week that it’s been open. The casual neighborhood vibe that’s completely in synch with the residential surroundings? The kitchen that turns out light breakfast and lunch fare plus house-baked goods all made from local, organic produce, ingredients and proteins that are preservative-, drug-, and hormone-free? The endearing, friendly duo brewing and assembling plates behind the cash and glass cases? Or maybe it’s the organic, fair trade, and rainforest alliance coffee beans (today, the house brew is a dark-roasted blend split evenly between Yirgacheffe, Costa Rican, Peruvian, and Columbian beans).
Ah, damn. It’s going to have to be a four-way tie. There’s much to like about Hub.
“I’ve been here every other day since it opened,” my friend Alice tells me, who lives a few blocks away and today has parked herself on the wooden church pew that lines the south wall. “I was out of town one night, so I wasn’t here that day. But I’ve been here five times. Wait . . . that’s more than ‘every other day.’”
This convenience store–turned-café/eatery is the brainchild of co-owners Lisah Smith and Cyrus Lotfi (also dating). Lisah originally set out to help a friend in search of a commercial space, but that friend backed out when it came time to act, so Lisah took up the call and brought in Cyrus as business partner and investor (and occasional baker). Lisah preps the salads, sandwiches, sweets, and muffins, and her cousin, Stephen Aston, chefs the pastries and desserts (most breads are brought in from St. John’s Bakery).
“It was always going to be about the food,” Lisah smiles. We talk about how the best tastes come from pulling together high-quality, fresh ingredients in simple ways. About the difference that homemade-everything makes. Hub sources their supplies from Fresh From the Farm, CIPM, Hewitt’s Dairy, 100 Mile Market, and various farmers’ markets around town.
“Have you heard about the BOB?”
The already-popular breakfast on a bun stacks hormone-, drug-, and nitrate-free bacon, eggs born of naturally raised chickens (both from the Mennonites), with cheddar, lettuce, and a smudge of hoisin on a ciabatta bun. “They sell like crazy!” Lisah says, looking somewhat surprised at the reality of it all. “It’s all about the bacon.”
The glass cases showcase today’s other chalkboard offerings. Slices of roast chicken, brie, bell peppers, and pesto with walnuts on a kaiser ($4), say, or a veggie wrap with provolone and lemon dill mayo ($4.25), or smoked turkey with havarti, tomato, cucumbers, lettuce, and mayo on a bun ($4). For sweettooths, vegan brownies ($3) or sour cherry cream cheese tart ($2.25). Menu changes daily.
The room, like the kitchen, strives—and succeeds—to make an impact on patrons without actually making an impact on the environment. The collection of reclaimed woods, furniture, and fireplace mantle gives the space a comfortable and low-key feel. Two rows of worn antique metal trays of various shapes and sizes decorate one wall, a mirror another. A long Victorian-esque yellow couch sits at the open window, facing Shaw Street, and runs floor to ceiling, perpendicular to another wall of window on the north side. Hello, sunlight.
Bugaboo-pushing mamas, Macbook-toting students and freelancers, and Stieg Larsson–reading lazybones are welcome here. What do we all have in common? A love of simple, eco-conscious food and cups of joe served in digs that favor community over consumerism.
“We were going to call the place Shaw Street Café, but then we realized we needed a better name, and that one would come to us as the place took shape. We’re all about being local, and social, so ‘Hub’ just fit,” Cyrus tells me. “And we thought we’d open up and serve a few coffees that first day, but the people just came,” he adds, somehow managing to deliver his boast with humility. “It was like we’d been open for years.” Clearly, good things come to good people with good ideas.
My house is only about 25 blocks away from Hub. Still, I wish I lived closer.
7 to 7 Monday to Friday
8 to 5 Saturday
8 to 3 Sunday
1028 Shaw Street in Toronto
Kelly Jones is a freelance writer and editor. She teaches Food Writing at George Brown College.