On a street with no shortage of cafés, does this one have what it takes to thrive?
by Lauren Jerome
Within the short time that I sat in the Red Rocket Café on the Danforth, a customer praised the manager on how great the coffee was; a couple raved to the barista about the new location; and a man came through the door delivering fresh tulips for the counter. This scene couldn’t have been staged better for a first time customer like me.
Though it was my first time at a Red Rocket location, I am no stranger to coffee culture. I, along with a massive amount of Torontonians, choose these urban caffeine sanctuaries as my second home. These cafés are our office, our meeting spot, a place to socialize and where we take in our lazy Sunday afternoons.
The Red Rocket is everything I look for in a café: friendly and trendy baristas; calming, jazzy music in the background; and my main food groups, muffins and coffee, in a variety of options. As I eat my too-delicious-to-be-low-fat zucchini and carrot muffin and sip on my Miami Vice (an Americano with raw sugar put into the base of the filter, so that while the espresso shot is being pulled, the sugar caramelizes and takes the bitterness off the espresso without making it very sweet at all), I can’t help thinking that this place has done a pretty great job of meeting all my expectations, and then some.
Competing in an industry threatening oversaturation—there seems to be an indie café on every street corner in Toronto—this coffee-cultured market can’t be an easy one to please; we want unique ambiance, we want high quality coffee and we even want designs in our lattes.
However, Liako Dertilis, co-owner of the now three locations, is quick to differentiate Red Rocket from an espresso bar which “focuses on the art of the espresso and the latte. It’s very barista-centric,” writes Dertilis in an email. “We are much more about the environment of the establishment both within our walls and the streetscape that it’s in. We look at what ‘coffeehouse’ means in both its historical and social context and plunk that down in a modern urban setting,” he says. This emphasis on community is without a doubt reflected within the café’s Danforth location, open since mid-January. “We’re finding that every store we open, or have opened, quickly develops its own personality.” Though the owners strive to have some consistency in the Red Rocket brand, the cafés are essentially reflections of the neighborhoods they serve.
Aside from the cozy decor, the helpful staff, and the great baked goods and tea selection, the root of a successful indie café should be the coffee. And take it from an addict: this is good coffee.
The Red Rocket sources all their beans from Reunion Island, a roaster in the GTA completely run on 100% Bullfrog energy and who is dutifully involved in charity initiatives all over the city. Also, “R.I. regularly travels to different parts of the world to meet individual farmers and bean growers effectively cutting out the middleman,” says Dertilis. It’s coffee you can feel good about.
R.I. also helps in the development of Red Rocket’s signature blends. Try “Deep Space” and “Red Pheonix” for the two of the most popular. Either way though, I doubt you could go wrong. If espresso is more your thing, try the Cubano style Miami Vice mentioned previously, or the “Red Rocket,” which Dertilis describes as “a volatile blend of chocolate (preferably Mayan), mixed with a copious amount of espresso, and daringly fused with our darkest brewed coffee on hand.” Careful though, “this one sneaks up on you,” he says. “The
sweetness of the chocolate cuts the strength of the coffee and the strength of the coffee cuts the sweetness of the chocolate.” I’ll have to go back.
When it all comes down to it we—the caffeine addicted, coffee cultured, muffin eating, laptop toting—are just looking for a good place with good people, good coffee, and a touch of good ol’ fashioned neighborhood feel. Try the Red Rocket Café. I bet you’ll like it.
The Red Rocket Café
1364 Danforth Avenue