On a beautiful sunny morning three people sat together and talked cafe culture, business, organics and about the value and the mis-representation of fair trade. Conversation ensued as decadent, rich, and fresh roasted and brewed coffee was sipped on a patio surrounded by trees and a gentle breeze. Two of these three people were of course us. Honestly at times like these we cannot believe this is the job we are trying to create for ourselves-albeit unpaid at the moment. We truly are lucky!
In a new weekly segment we are interviewing local business owners in an attempt to further understand sustainable businesses in Toronto and we started off with Ezra Braves of Ezra’s Pound-our stomping ground.
Leading a business the way you lead your life. Not exposing your workers to chemical cleaners that you would not have you children be exposed to. Not serving customers a product you would not feel comfortable and enjoy consuming yourself. These are the ideals of Ezra Braves. He believes in integrating the home with the business, as in not serving anything in his cafe he will not serve at home. To Ezra this is a ‘common sense way of business’, and the way he leads his business, believing that why open a business if you don’t aspire to be the best? With two busy locations, Dupont and Spadina and Dundas West, Ezra seems to be doing something right.
Our love of coffee fully blossomed at Ezra’s as did our true appreciation of cafe culture and lifestyle. It was at Ezra’s Pound where we really began indulging in coffee and really savouring the taste. This was easy as it is delicious but knowing that it is brewed as ethically and environmentally friendly as possible here in Toronto makes each cup that much more gratifying. Ezra uses 99.5% organic and buys local whenever he can and only uses natural cleaners. Baristas ask you if you are staying, rather than simply putting the coffee in a to go cup. And the cups are biodegradable! Ezra’s Pound was the first cafe to introduce biodegradable lids too! Each of his locations compost and recycle and as a result only one bag of garbage is produced weekly.
Speaking with Ezra was a wonderful experience for us. We were curious about how he got interested in merging both ethics and sustainability with business. Ezra confessed to not originally being interested in the ethical aspect, but really was in love with cafe culture. He started out in donut shops in the mid 90s. Through his love of coffee and the culture that surrounds it he began to think about what he ate which gave way to a consciousness of the ethical, environmental aspects of coffee and healthy living. He began to think about the way we consume and the implications of our consumption. Ezra seeks to find the balance between doing the right thing in his business while remaining practical.
Walking into Ezra’s Pound, you immediately feel the ambiance-it’s relaxing, inviting and you can tell that there is a real sense of pride in the product you are about to purchase and ingest. The interior of each cafe was built by Ezra himself from salvaged materials. Local art work hangs on the wall, and the smell of fresh coffee mixed with cookies baking in the oven wafts through the air and washes over you like gentle waves rolling in.
It’s evident simply by walking into the cafe that Ezra takes immense pride and pleasure in his work. You can feel his love for coffee and cafe culture as you cross the threshold. Ezra is so committed to promoting a greater understanding and appreciation for coffee that he offers classes through the Coffee Institute at his Dundas West location. Introduced earlier this year and featuring three different levels you can learn everything from the history of coffee to the finer points of tamping down espresso grounds and texturing steamed milk to create intricate designs atop lattes. Through the Institute one can learn about roasting, tasting and of course really delve deep into cafe culture itself.
Through our conversation with Ezra we began to garner a greater understanding of the Toronto cafe culture and the challenges of running an organic, sustainable coffee shop. As a bonus, the community of small, local coffee shops in Toronto is a supportive one. Ezra believes in business you can cut corners to save now, but you will end up paying later. It’s not simply a financial burden on the business owner this extends to the customer as well in the quality of the product they purchase. Ezra buys organic milks and sugars for his cafes because he believes the product tastes better and is better for you. As he purchases 100’s of liters of milk each week, this purchase has both a huge and positive impact as he supports both local and organic farmers.
All the coffee available at Ezra’s Pound is roasted in Toronto and dripped fresh for each order. Not only is the coffee organic and fair trade but is purchased from coffee co-ops, a step beyond simply being fair trade. As Ezra won’t expose his workers in Toronto to harmful chemicals he also does not wish to purchase coffee from which coffee producers and pickers are exposed to harmful chemicals and poor labour standards. The coffee is bird friendly and shade grown.
You can taste the difference in the coffee, as only high quality coffee is available. Ezra’s views on corporate greenwashing echoed our own. Ezra pointed out that often the product becomes irrelevant, and the way you feel when you purchase the product becomes what is relevant. Instead of selling ethical items, often it’s the ‘feel good’ mentality which adds value for consumers. At Ezra’s though, turns out most people come for the quality of coffee and the organic, ethical and eco-friendly products act as the added value.
We left the interview with empty coffee cups, fixed caffeine cravings, and a greater understanding and appreciation for local business owners who seek time to run ethical and sustainable businesses. Especially when those business owners take the time to meet with two young girls seeking to create a change in consumption patterns. Pleasantly high on caffeine we were set to tackle that daunting task.
For more information on Ezra’s Pound click here