Move over Seattle. Toronto is carving out its own niche in fair-trade coffee.
Or at least that’s the thinking at Hubert Saint Jean, an upstart “start up” of sorts that was founded — well, in 1923. A few iterations later now-CEO Marc-Antoine Crépeau bought in, and with him came a growing army of mobile baristas. The company marketed its way into Toronto’s Collision — which brought in over 25,000 visitors to the conference.
Apparently, now “everyone” has heard the Hubert St. Jean name. At Grit Daily we can attest: This team makes some good coffee. We caught up with the team in person for a better look at this nearly 100-year-old “born again” start up is grinding behind the bar.
Grit Daily: You had your own interesting ventures before Hubert Saint Jean. Share those.
Marc-Antoine Crépeau: I entered the coffee world as a barista in two different coffee shops in Sherbrooke, Quebec. While working as a barista, I was studying at Sherbrooke’s Business School to develop my managing skills. The first coffee related project for me was my catering service called Barista Mobile. Then, I did an internship with the biggest private Fairtrade Canadian coffee roaster. This led me to the opportunity of becoming the owner of Hubert Saint-Jean.
GD: Coffee is a crowded market. What led you to wade in, nonetheless?
MAC: Everything is about the passion. Our mindset is to go all out and push the competition to their limits. We are a coffee roaster that runs coffee shops, as well as offering catering services. It is quite rare in Canada for a café to offer all these services.
In our eyes, it’s ideal to go out into the world and to put our final product into the hands of potential customers to give them a reason to come back. This also gives us a presence in the community and keeps our brand alive. This is a big reason why our catering services are such a big focus for us.
GD: And you bought your way into Hubert Saint Jean?
MAC: Yes, Hubert Saint-Jean was on a down slope and the ex-owners were looking to sell the company. I saw the opportunity and I was able to buy it, with the help of other partners. Then, the transformation began. Rebranding, renovation, and team building for a full summer, to reach Hubert Saint-Jean’s full potential. We decided to keep the name because of the history behind it.
GD: What’s behind that name? Who is this St. Jean character, anyway?
MAC: In 1923, Hubert Saint-Jean founded the “Hubert Saint-Jean café, thé, épices” with $11.20 in his bank account. He was roasting in his own living room. If that’s not passion, we don’t know what is. It became one of the oldest coffee roasters in Canada. One of our coffee shops is actually still located at his former home, and original opening location. Right now, we are trying to give back to Hubert by using his history and passion to form the future of the brand.
GD: Your brand held it down in the speaker’s room, aka “Forum,” at Collision in Toronto. How did you you score that?
MAC: Two weeks before Collision, we did a coffee catering service for a food show. That’s where we met the organisation. I think they liked our presence and the idea of working with us. I think they saw that it was not just about coffee for us, but also giving the customer an experience. Everything was confirmed three days prior to the event, so it was pretty short notice. But we were ready, and it went very well.
GD: We see your team posing on bridges and in other spots where you usually wouldn’t find a barista. What’s that about?
MAC: The purpose of those pictures is to show our customer the ease and versatility of working with our service. In 20min we are able to serve a good coffee wherever you want. Our goal is to be able to do it in the most famous landscapes, worldwide. The pictures are also part of a concept that we’re currently working on that will be launched at the end of the Summer. Stay tuned!
GD: When you do get feedback from customers, how do they describe your coffee most often? Is there a word or phrase associated with your brand?
MAC: As we mentioned, our goal is not just to serve good coffee at our coffee shops, but to reach out and have a presence that is not limited to a building. One of the phrases that we hear the most is: “You guys are everywhere!” For us, this is a sign that we are accomplishing what we set out to do as a brand.