Spring Pop Up @ Senisi’s

We’ll be popping up at Senisi Fine Foods this Friday to help you jump into spring looking your best! We promise the snow will fade away just in time…

Come by for NEW spring fashion fresh from Haiti and Joe’s deliciously inspired treats of sandwiches and coffee! 

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Your Haitian Checklist

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We have landed once more in Port-au-Prince. As this is our 8th time visiting Haiti, we have developed a sort of routine. It mostly involves a few runs up the EPIC  drive way passing the UN apartments, a few lunges back at the bottom to make the fruit and coffee that follows extra tasty, and us in high spirits as we are driven to the factory to work on our garments!

We were going to take a moment to write about the importance of building relationships with those you work with in order to create an efficient and pleasant work space. However, we have decided to create a sort of Haitian checklist. A list of things you can check off while you’re spending SO MUCH TIME in Port-au-Prince traffic. It’s CLEARLY a game you can’t miss out on, so come visit us on this beautiful, magnificent and crazy island.

1) Seen the most beautifully decorated Tap Taps (public transport) rolling through the streets: The artwork painted on the sides are beautiful vignettes of daily life, they look the kind of party bus you want to take despite the fact that they are often overcrowded.

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2) The most colourful artwork lining the streets

3) Full pharmacies wrapped around a basket and resting atop someone’s head

4) An entire family on a motorcycle expertly making their way through crazy traffic

5) Spent 2 hours in traffic to get somewhere that should only take 10 minutes

6) Everything you could imagine (and even what you cannot imagine) piled in the back of pick up truck.

7) Goats and pigs roaming freely between people and traffic

8) Scoured the pepe markets for hidden gems

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9) Sampled delicious lambi (conch) with breadfruit and twice fried plantains (it’s worth taking a rest break from traffic!)

10) Gun-laden security guards standing guard in front of every grocery store (even the corner stores)

11) A marching street band winding their way through the streets on sunny afternoons

12) Tasted the sweetest coffee from a street vendor. It tastes more like coffee flavoured sugar

13) A procession of school children in their perfectly pressed uniforms making their way down the street to school

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14) Potholes so large you fear the car might tumble down and never get out

15) Entire home furnishings crafted from wood made on the side of the streets

16) Mountainous hills which ascend right to the picture perfect beaches

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Dirty Beats, Classy Sights

The port-side road that leads out ofPort-au-Princewas tightly packed with eager people on route to carnival weekend. Motos, tap taps “taxis”, cars, and trucks, filled with people were a sight to marvel at. Everything was busy and beeping, literally, with excitement. Somehow it didn’t matter that it was going to take us 5 hours to arrive in Jakmel-a trip that would normally take just 2 hours. Geoffrey, our delightful friend at the wheel, filled the car with phatt hip hop that had us singing our way through the striking chaos into the country side mountains.

As we pulled up to our ‘weekend villa’ the door was kicked open by an army pant leg and an armed man emerged to pull the gate completely open. Where were we?! It was breathtaking. The villa stood spectacularly at the tip of a cliff over looking theCaribbean Sea. It was lit to showcase its golden structure complimented with an enormous furnished veranda that hugged its walls and a terrace that wrapped around its pool. The place was so magical the stars actually twinkled at night. It was so majestic we found ourselves pulled from our slumbers at 4:30am just to marvel at the beauty of nature.

Jakmel is an artisan town, filled with rich history-it was heavily influenced by the French prior to the 1804 independence and many of the buildings echo French architecture with aCaribbeanflare. The sidewalks are paved with local artisan works while the buildings resemble brightly coloured ginger bread houses. We were fortunate enough to be given an in depth Jakmel tour by the mother of Geoffrey who was born and raised in Jakmel. Our first stop was an old school house that was damaged during the 2010 earthquake, now being reinvented for future economic enterprises. The red bricks that lined the rebuilt archways seemed to pulse with history. We were rendered nearly speechless.

The rooftop of the building showcased a panoramic view of Jakmel-a contrast of brightly coloured buildings, artwork and rubble. Our minds reeled with the possibilities for a Local Buttons-Jakmel soiree. We envisioned runways, artwork and music filling the space. Girls can dream right?

Our desire for music and people was fulfilled at night as we hit up the Jakmel carnival festivities and danced along the streets (small in comparison to the giant party happening in Les Cayes where over 300,000 Haitians celebrated). Carnival weekend is 4 days of festivities leading up to the final party on ‘Fat Tuesday’ before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent. Carnival is a major part of Haitian culture. No matter what political upheaval is in place- from dictatorship, to foreign intervention or incompetent governments all is put to the side for the four days of celebration. This year Carnival was of special importance as the 2010 earthquake forced the festivities to be put on hold for the past two years.

Jakmel is a town of contrasting wonders. The beaches are majestic yet dangerous with strong undercurrents and the shores lined with discarded remnants as there are no garbage of recycling containers anywhere in sight. The streets are lined with art, yet when you look closely you see the majority of art represents the artists struggle with the earthquake and both the ongoing emotional and physical rebuilding that continues to take place. The city is rich in culture and history-many of the most prominent Haitian artists are from Jakmel and its economic history was based on the export of deliciously rich coffee and fine oils. There were no coffee plantations, but rather an abundance of independent growers that grew as much as they needed to sustain their livelihood and the wealth of the local coffee industry. The coffee is noted to be some of the best in the world, and our “experienced” taste buds agreed! It is rich black and is the most alkaline.

It was the most wonderful weekend where in marvelous company we enjoyed sun, sea, fresh fruits, and fresh seafood.

The birthing of coffee

It is cold out. Seriously COLD lately. February seems to drag on, blowing snow in your face as you come to the harsh realization that you’re going to be chilly for the next few weeks. To deal, we have spent a bit of our free time in coffee shops (surprise right). With the help of our trusty Coffee Passport we have discovered many new cafes. Like the little gem of a coffee shop Cafe Novo on Bloor West, right across from High Park. From these mid-winter jaunts a question arose in my mind…

How well do we really know our coffee?

While I understand that that sounds like an odd question, it is one that should be posed. Seriously, how well do you know your cup of coffee? How attached to this black goodness are you? Really this can be thought of  for most things in life, our clothing, our food, our cars, appliances, bedding and the list goes on and on . What do we know about what we consume, use and ingest?

If you follow our blogs you may have noticed many of our queries are centered around coffee  and ethics, and of course clothing production ethics and the integral connection between Haiti and Canada, and well consumption in general. But back to the point of this blog. How did coffee come about? Have you ever thought to yourself: how did someone think ‘hmm I am going to pick this flower, reveal a bean that is inside, shell it, sort it, roast it, grind it and then pour water over these grinds so I may drink it to enhance my alertness‘. Seriously, whoever came to this realization is kind of like a god to me. Though one could argue possibly the alternative, as coffee has been a crop that has annihilated many a country’s agricultural sector, and therefore rather than god-like they could be viewed as foe. But for simplistic reasons, let us assume this person had this idea because he/she knew that coffee and the culture that surrounds it is a perfect way to unite people when done ethically.

So, where or rather how did the idea originate? Most research points to Ethiopia as the birthing place of coffee. As an interesting side note, a little research will lead you to find that Startbucks went through a dispute over intellectual property rights with Ethiopian coffee farmers, particularly over the Harar, Yigarcheffe and Sidamo coffee beans fbetween 2002-2007. The chairman of Starbucks and the prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles, came to an agreemement in 2006 and settled the dispute. Though many argue that Starbucks does not do enough to uphold labour and environmental standards to make up for the vast amount of environmental and human degradation it causes across the globe. This in itself could be the focus of an entirely different post..or book, we’ll work on that:)

Back to the point. One ‘COFFEE LEGEND‘ states claim that an Arabian shepherd, on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, named Kaldi found his goats joyous and exuberant near a green leafed shrub with bright red cherries. After trying the berries himself and experiencing their powerful effect, Kaldi determined that this euphoric state was caused by the flower themselves. The stimulating effects were then used by monks at a local monastary in order to stay awake during long prayer hours. The cherries were distributed to other monastaries around the world.  Coffee was birthed.

However, despite the mystical appeal of this legend, recent evidence would suggest that coffee does indeed originate from Ethiopia. Coffee is said to have originated on the plateaus of central Ethiopia and somehow made its way to Yemen where it has been cutltivated since the 6th century.  With the first introduction of coffee houses in Cairo and Mecca coffee became a passion rather than just a stimulant. And thus coffee culture was born.

So there you have it. The birthing of coffee revealed. We can all rest easy now that this life altering question has been answered. But the real point of this post, aside from my curiosity, is to highlight the long life most things we consume have prior to coming into our physical possession. Coffee has played an integral role in cultures across the globe since the 6th Century. It is here to stay, as time has undoubtly shown. What is needed now most of all is to ensure it is grown, harvested, roasted and consumed in the most ethically sound way possible.

Looking for organic, fair trade, rain forest alliance, shade grown and bird friendly certifications are important and valid places to start. We definitely recommend talking to your barista. Beyond providing you with greater insight to the specific coffee origins of your cup and information on the cafe, you will build a lovely rapport and perhaps become regulars at cafes like Sway and I seem to have a knack for doing.

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The stars aligned for our travels home

Our host Lionel (left) and Business Partner, Hans

Tuesday we had the most incredible traveling experience either one of us has ever experienced. It was if all the travel GODS came together and sprinkled their sparkly travel dust down upon us.

For starters we had a lovely last lunch with Hans and his daughter, Aida right before we left. A buffet of perfectly spiced Creole-Canadian inspired food filled our stomachs as we basked in the heat and breathed in our last few gulps of humid salty air.

At the airport last hugs were given and final farewells said. We boarded the plane dragging our feet with reluctance only to be greeted by two of the fabulous Air Canada flight attendants who brought us to Port-au-Prince the week prior. Air Canada only flies to Port-au-Prince on Tuesdays and on our way down we chatted up a few of the flight attendants who to our delightful surprise remembered us, and our business project.

To help us celebrate our excellent and prosperous week our lovely crew, Claudette and Bill, generously supplied us with complimentary wine, snacks and conversation for our flight. Right across the aisle from us sat Danny, a Haitian born, Montreal based musician returning to Montreal after a two month stay in Haiti. Danny has expressed interest in collaborating with us in regards to an event where we launch the Pep clothing line. We want a Haitian/Canadian blend of music and he seems like the perfect fit!! He even gave us some fresh, unroasted coffee beans to take home with us as we did not have the time to get our own coffee before we left.

After arriving in Montreal, we were wandering aimlessly killing time before our next flight.  A lovely man, Carlos, approached us and took us up to the VIP room. I am not sure if you have ever visited one of these great rooms but they are pretty fantastic. A food buffet is laid out and you are free to pour yourself a drink (or two). Newspapers, magazines and wi-fi are at your disposal.

After Carlos let us in, a man sitting near us struck up conversation. We thought he looked familiar, and as I explored the room freely, Sway stayed and chatted. The man in question was Bob Rae. We sat down and had a chat with him where he told us of his new book he wrote and is promoting and we informed him of the going-ons of  Local Buttons and dropped him a business card.

As we left to board the plane, Mr Rae informed us he was proud of what we were doing and looked forwarded to talking to us again. We came home to an email waiting from him!!

To top off our magical travel experience, Sway’s roommate picked us up from the airport! We could not have asked for a better greeter than she!

We are still marveling at this magical travel experience, and I am pretty confident I will be traveling with Sway from now on!

Graffiti in Port-au-Prince 'Haiti Will Not Perish'

Interview with Ezra Braves

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