Imagine stumbling into a café, whose owner sees you fatigued by Life’s hit & run disposition. They reach out their hand to you and say, “I feel you. I’ve been there, too.”
Just when I thought London, Ontario was void of any decent third-wave coffeehouses, my hometown pulls a fast one and Backroads cruises into town.
Arriving at the height of summer 2017, Backroads has become a shining beacon of hope for Old East Village (OEV). For anyone who grew up in London, the OEV or anything east of Adelaide St (known colloquially as EOA) was stigmatized for being “sketch city”; complete with old decrepit buildings, broken storefront windows, and gang-related graffiti. This part of town wasn’t a place you would want your mother to find you hanging around.
Thanks to recent and much-needed urban development, this area has been restored and re-purposed, welcoming in plenty of millennial-approved establishments: third-wave cafes like Backroads and 10Eighteen, independent art studios like East Village Arts Collective and The Baker’s Dozen, restaurants using 100% organic ingredients like The Root Cellar, and weekend farmer’s markets overflowing with local produce. The former Kellogg’s plant was even refurbished for start ups, craft breweries, and artisan workshop. It’s become a blossoming hipster’s paradise; London’s very own Williamsburg.
Quality of Service:
With a 10-year cafe veteran, Sarah Levine, at the wheel, Backroads has opted for a We Heart the Environment mentality, and why not? Caring about one’s impact on our lovely planet is a natural and sometimes profitable attitude in this day and age. Separate paper and plastic recycling bins are placed ceremoniously by the exit to encourage customers to recycle; instead of plastic stir sticks, metal spoons are provided to encourage the reuse of materials; as well, take-out cups and napkins are made with 100% decomposable paper to encourage a reduction of waste. If Backroads was a car, it would be a solar-powered coffee mobile.
Quality of Product:
Sarah and her team of baristas are no amateurs when it comes to preparing good coffee. The cappuccino I ordered was made with the aptly-named Punch Buggy Espresso from Hamilton-born roaster Detour Coffee and was worth every 375 pennies. Giving these beans the TLC that they deserve, they were ground with the sleek ‘n shiny Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima Pro and brewed with none other than top-of-the-line La Marzocco GB5. The barista who looked after my order was sweet and darling, but don’t let her pretty face and kind demeanor fool you. She served up an expertly pulled shot of espresso topped with creamy, foamed milk and a delicate rosetta. But the star of the show was Sarah’s handmade dark chocolate cupcake with raspberry frosting. To. Die. For. Did I mention that she’s a cake goddess!?! Check out her Insta here!
Trusting her empathetic nature, Sarah chose to buy coffee beans from Detour Coffee not just for their amazing product but also for their incredible service. They really care about their clients and do everything in their power to make sure their customers have all the know-how needed to serve a cuppa Detour-style joe. Also, each purchase comes with complimentary in-house barista training to new clients by Detour’s team of coffee gurus. Bought a new batch of Detour beans and don’t know how to brew them? Ryan (@detourbrews) or another member of the Detour Team will come to the rescue! Most importantly, Detour cares deeply about equitable, incentive-driven labour practices, choosing to source their beans through direct trade, which is one step beyond fair-trade. This means Detour spends the time to develop a relationship with each individual coffee farmers and each farmer is given full credit for their product, usually found slapped on the coffee bag’s label. It goes without saying that Backroads and Detour go hand-in-hand like twins on a tandem bicycle.
Quality of Atmosphere:
Like a classic ‘66 Ford Mustang with a 412 horsepower 5.0 litre engine, Backroads is where the warmth of antiquity meets the incandescence of modernity. Under the floorboards lies a century of laminate on top of vinyl on top of hardwood; the museum of antiques, like a wrought iron Singer sewing table, and vintage brass scales are points of attraction throughout the café; and a stack of turn-of-the-20th-century books invite you to curl up in the upholstered winged-back chair and snuggle beside the cozy fireplace.
Dust off the proverbial cobwebs because innovation is brought into the cafe by a smorgasbord of craftsmanship made by local artisans. A luminous painting placed above the mantelpiece adds a touch of colour to the room while the handcrafted ceramics add a touch of originality (@Amy Leigh Art). Locally grown plants grace the tables (gifts from a landscaping friend) and several wood crafts (i.e., a wondrous raw wood window-front bar, adorable tree-trunk-cross-section coasters, and a refurbished sewing table turned self-serve station) are marvelous additions to the salon.
Backroads didn’t have the easiest of beginnings and, like its name, had to take plenty of backroads before opening day. With delayed construction, discouraging customers, long commutes, and dishonest contractors, the setbacks seemed endless. Nevertheless, this wasn’t Sarah’s first experience with Life’s many unexpected twists and turns, and she has since mastered its terrain. One step into this cafe is proof.
Life doesn’t always go as planned… and that’s ok! The important thing is to keep on driving and enjoy taking the backroads as they come… and why not with a coffee in hand and a fresh-out-of-the-oven cupcake on the seat next to you!?!
As always, thank you for reading and joining me on this #internationalcoffeejourney
Go ahead! Take the road less traveled.