neighbourhoodcoffee.ca: Pairing coffee with local products in the GTA
When Neighbourhood Coffee in Toronto was looking to start a new business in the middle of a pandemic, they knew they would have to do things a bit differently. After three days of rapid development, neighbourhoodcoffee.ca went live on April 28, 2020—just in time for customers to put in orders for Mother's Day.
The idea was simple—focus on high-quality 100% arabica coffee, while also helping out other local businesses in need of a lift. The idea was conceived by coffee lovers and High Park residents Barry and Jennifer Hillier and their daughter, along with neighbours Chris Hales and Karen Parsons.
Where did their inspiration come from?
Barry, who has experience in advertising for larger coffee companies, had dreamt of using his passion for java to dive deeper into the industry and start his own business.
“I’ve been exposed to every aspect of coffee, even visiting coffee-producing areas including Ethiopia, Vietnam and Costa Rica,” said Barry. “I’ve been thinking for a while about creating a coffee brand that represents Toronto. There’s no better city that represents a huge diaspora of people and coffee has a way of bringing people together.”
Building a business with neighbours, family, and friends
“Jennifer and I wanted to involve our daughter in helping set up the business. She has just turned 16 and is getting hands-on experience in starting up a business from scratch, learning about cash flow, accounting, logistics, and marketing,” said Barry.
While their daughter has been helping with everything from writing a business plan to making deliveries with her newly obtained driver’s license, Barry still had a few gaps to fill while setting up his business.
Enter next-door neighbours Chris Hales and Karen Parsons. Chris has a background in IT, and helped to get their e-commerce website up and running. Karen, who is a “super-connector”, is very involved in the community and helped spread the word. Their daughters also stepped up, helping with packaging, delivery and coming up with ideas for social media.
“We needed to come up with a nice site quickly and efficiently,” said Chris. “We chose to build our site using Shopify which, like any platform had a bit of a learning curve but has a nice management tool and smooth interface. It integrates well with social media and they have many add-ons, called ‘kits’, that improve the customer experience.”
Partnering with other local businesses in the GTA
“Our business is part of a community – it’s our hope to pair up and work with other local businesses.”
- Barry Hillier
Their Mother’s Day offering included two bags of original blend coffee, plus some organic chocolate from Coco Crafted Organic Chocolates and Ice Cream (cocochocolates.ca), which happens to be located just down the street.
The partnership with Coco Chocolates was the first of what Neighbourhood Coffee is hoping to be many business pairings. Not only are they hoping to sell great coffee, Barry, Jennifer, Karen and Chris are introducing their customers to other small businesses located within neighbourhoods throughout Toronto.
For Father’s Day, they are partnering with Barque Smokehouse (barque.ca) in Roncesvalles Village to offer BBQ rubs and sauce along with their coffee.
Choosing a domain name that represents their business
On choosing a name for the business and website, Barry said:
“The notion of using the word neighbourhood was related to the fact that Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods. I’ve heard some people say that the city is too big and it's too cold; I didn’t grow up here but I’ve found the opposite to be the case. Toronto is full of enclaves of beautiful neighbourhoods that shift and change over time, each with their own interesting local businesses.”
Using the word “neighbourhood” instead of using “Toronto” or “GTA” means that if they choose to expand in the future, their domain name can scale with their business.
“We wanted to have something that can expand to other cities: ‘neighbourhood’ was built on the notion if we expand, the name will still hold up. We can all be neighbours.”
- Barry Hillier
Notably, their domain uses the Canadian spelling of neighbourhood, but they’ve also registered the American spelling and redirected it to their website.
Sourcing website graphics from local artists
Visiting neighbourhoodcoffee.ca, the quirky, colourful graphics will catch your eye. They were created by local artist Melissa Archer (melissaarcher.ca).
“In my career, I’ve been involved in the Toronto ad community, and I know a lot of people have been laid off recently,” said Barry. “In support of local artists, we’re hiring them for all of our designs, including website assets, new labels and items like mugs and shirts.”
Plans for the future
Neighbourhood Coffee is just getting started. While the business has only been running for a few months, Barry sees it currently as a side passion project. However, what really drives him are the smiles they are bringing their community during these difficult times.
“I get to do something different every day. What we’re doing is very tangible, very real and people are really enjoying our product. We’ll be adding new blends shortly and we’re looking forward to collaborating with more community partners, six feet across of course,” said Chris.