Cafe Culture Thrives in Kingston

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When Logan Kerr and Matthew McCartney decided to realize their dream of running a café, they knew exactly where they wanted it to be. Back in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario.

The husband-and-wife team had moved to Ottawa in 2013, where McCartney – a stone mason – participated in the restoration of the Canadian Parliamentary buildings. That’s where Kerr discovered her love of the hospitality industry and developed the confidence to take the leap from barista to café owner.

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That leap took the couple to the heart of Kingston’s Inner Harbor neighbourhood, where they spent a year transforming a former laundry mat into The Elm Café.

Opened in June 2016, the space is now bright and welcoming, and home to a sidewalk patio, fresh brewed coffee from Toronto’s Pilot Coffee Roasters, an ever-changing menu of house-baked treats, and plenty of community spirit.

Community was what we were looking for, and we definitely found that here,” says Kerr. “The Inner Harbour is full of artists and creative minds. It’s a place where people are bringing back that sense of neighbourhood”.

The Elm Café is just one of several new independent coffee shops providing Kingston residents, students, and tourists with their daily fix of caffeine and community. In fact, it’s fair to say that the city is enjoying a coffee culture revival.

Jess Huddle and Cade Pentland-Boyce are another couple building their future in Kingston one perfectly-brewed bean at a time.

They made the move from Melbourne, Australia to be closer to Huddle’s family, leaving their former careers Down Under. Instead, they decided to introduce Kingstonians to a taste of Melbourne café culture.

“In Melbourne, the cafés have the trinity of really good service, really great food, and really great coffee,” Pentland-Boyce explains.

It’s a triple-threat that has already made Northside Espresso and Kitchen – located on the upper end of downtown Kingston’s Princess Street and opened in February 2017 – a popular draw, despite the lack of WiFi.

“In Australia, cafés are about spending time with your friends and enjoying your coffee without screens,” says Pentland-Boyce. “The focus is on the ritual, rather than on using coffee as a fuel.”

Northside takes a craft approach to their brew, using beans from Vancouver’s 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters paired with an Aussie-inspired all-day breakfast menu. “Our aim is to be fresh, vibrant, and different,” says Pentland-Boyce.

Down by Lake Ontario is Juniper Café, owned and operated by a couple who decided to make Kingston home after a decade living and working in Vancouver. 

“I had lived here before and knew there was opportunity in hospitality here,” says Amber Thom, who runs Juniper Café with her partner Chef Jamie Hodges. “We also liked the idea of living in a smaller community.”

Located inside Kingston’s Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning and open since January 2016, Juniper Café has the distinction of offering the city’s only waterfront terrace – where guests can enjoy the view across to Simcoe, Wolfe, and Garden Islands while enjoying some of the best coffee and food in town.

“We are passionate about using locally-sourced food in our menus, always,” says Thom.

The menu changes weekly, and offers from-scratch baked goods, soups, salads, and sandwiches. “Simple food, thoughtfully prepared,” she says. “Our breakfast sandwich has developed almost a cult following.”

I’ve seen a real growth in Kingston’s coffee scene over the past five years, fueled by a new generation of young professionals attracted by the city’s location, affordability, and laid-back lifestyle,” says Thom.

“We call it rush-minute when there is some after-work traffic,” she jokes.