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Like most people, you’ve probably thought of coffee as the elixir of the gods that fuels your day. Fuel, ironically, is the operative word when thinking about important things like climate change, renewable energy and sustainability.
If you’re an eco-conscious person who happens to live around or is travelling through the east end of Toronto, Mira Vilutic and Eddie Gobran’s low-waste cafe Poured Coffee should be on your radar. While speaking to Vilutic about the inspiration for the eco-friendly cafe, she points to a “family Friday” event at her child’s school about two years ago.
“I’ve always wanted to open up a coffee shop in Toronto but didn’t really have a great vision of what I wanted to do,” says Vilutic. On that fateful day, one of the speakers happened to be a climate activist who talked about the amount of waste created by everyday acts like buying your morning coffee.
“When I learned that one million disposable coffee cups end up in Toronto’s landfill every day and that only nine percent of what goes into the recycling bin actually gets recycled, I got really angry, but I also had an epiphany,” says Vilutic.
That epiphany morphed into a plan to launch an eco-conscious store behind a street-facing cafe. Dubbed The RE Place, the store would offer a wide range of sustainable, locally sourced when possible, household goods.
“I wanted the everyday consumer to walk into the cafe and maybe wander into the store in the back,” Vilutic says. “The store itself has about thirty different products focused on environmentally-friendly items like detergent, shampoo and even bamboo toothbrushes.”
Poured Coffee would follow the same ethos by either offering first-time customers sanitized, renewable coffee cups or allowing returning customers to use their own reusable tumblers. In this way, the cafe would become a sort of proverbial honey for the human bees exploring the Danforth strip. A Toronto cafe that can boast of never serving a single cup of coffee in a disposable container has to be a rarity in a city that loves its java. According to Vilutic, direct trade coffee through a local roaster doesn’t just spark brain cells but also lowers your latte’s carbon footprint.
“Our coffee is packaged by our local supplier in huge food-safe bins that are dropped off, picked up after use, sanitized and reused for the next shipment.”
Last October, Vilutic and Gobran found themselves in the unenviable position of launching their hybrid cafe at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, amid all the uncertainty of shutdowns for Toronto’s restaurant and hospitality industry. “We weren’t eligible for grants because we didn’t have a 2019 tax return to submit,” recalls Vilutic.
Although the decision was a challenging one to make, Vilutic ultimately decided to go through with the opening, even though she hadn’t signed her lease yet.
“I could’ve backed out, but I truly believe, much like in the way we had an immediate response to the threat from Covid, we need to take immediate action on climate change,” Vilutic says. “Though climate change is a gradual process, when it finally slaps us in the face there aren’t going to be quarantines or vaccines for this. I could live with myself if the business failed because I’d be able to look my children in the eyes and say I tried to do my part for my community and the planet.”
As for making the cafe and store work up until this point, Vilutic remains both optimistic and flexible. She says that the business has had to pivot multiple times, and again for the recently-implemented vaccine passport and new indoor dining protocols.
In the spirit of supporting a local lifestyle, fresh baked goods are provided courtesy of acclaimed pastry chef Tina Leckie of Fiorentina Restaurant.
“I remember having lunch there one day and picking up a cinnamon bun that was life-changing, so when I opened up my own business, I knew I had to call her up,” gushes Vilutic. Just like their coffee roaster, Leckie drops off her irresistible baked goods, like flaky croissants, carrot cake, butter tarts, cinnamon buns and deep-fried beignets, in reusable trays that are picked up afterward.
Aside from locally-sourced coffee and sweets, the cafe also showcases the work of local artists, which gives customers something else to marvel at while washing down heavenly pastries with reusable tumblers of honey oat lattes.
“Artists need the support and the opportunity to showcase their talents,” says Vilutic. “I envisioned Poured Coffee to be a place people gather and learn about sustainability, and now I’m also learning about art too.”
When it comes to sustainability and the planet, Poured Coffee succeeds in creating awareness and more importantly, action. Through operating a food business based on community, caring, delectable pastries and chocolate-infused coffee, Vilutic and Gobran have made reducing waste and fighting climate change a fun daily experience versus an anxiety-inducing challenge.
The community ethos here is strong and whether referring to your neighbourhood or the planet, is summed up beautifully by Vilutic’s parting words.
“If you don’t genuinely invest in your community, your community won’t invest in you.”
Mira Vilutic, co-owner of Poured Coffee and the RE Place on the Danforth.