When you first step into the small coffee shop on Dundas Street West, you are immediately greeted by the aroma of finely roasted espresso. The beauty of the fragrance alone could explain why Fresh Start Coffee Co. has become such a neighbourhood favourite along the Bay Street Corridor, but its small, community feel and worldly influences are what really set it apart.
In a city brimming with independent coffee shops, Fresh Start embraces the very essence that makes it endearing: a simplicity that does not come at the expense of quality. A warm, welcoming place on the shaded side of the Hospital District, Fresh Start is comforting and unpretentious. A student works on her laptop at a small round table in the corner, while two men lounge on comfy green couches near the window, with newspapers from the reading shelf resting on their knees. A doctor from across the street considers adding one of the many flavoured syrups to his coffee before he leaves, passing two ladies sitting outside on a small patio. The owner himself prepares your cappuccino. It tastes smooth and toasty.
For the past two years, architect Imad Kayyali has run the shop. His passion for quality and love of painting is reflective in the shop’s decor, which seems pretty nondescript until you look around and notice the art that adorns the walls. One of the things that enhances Fresh Start’s community feel is its commitment to featuring a rotating cache of work by local artists, allowing the coffee shop to act as a pseudo-gallery. The bright acrylic paintings of Randy Laskin, one of four artists Fresh Start is currently partnered with, so often capture the imagination of customers that her work frequently sells out.
Kayyali’s paintings can also be found on display, giving customers a glimpse of his artistry from canvas to coffee cup. His mindset is that each latte, cappuccino, and specialty coffee is a work of art as well. Each beverage begins with a unique recipe of roasted beans that come from a variety of local roasters including Zavida, Reunion Island, and Patera. Warm milk is gently frothed, and the specialty beverage is then finished with an intricate design carefully carved into the steamed milk—ranging from traditional hearts and leaves, to more advanced latte art.
“It looks like it’s easy to do, but the [barista] needs to have passion and a love for coffee making,” Kayyali says. “You can tell this was made with love—not just to sell.”
Beyond the beans, Fresh Start Coffee Co. is also a popular lunch spot. Chalkboards list the menu options including a variety of Italian sandwiches that are made in-house. A few are sold out for the day. There are also salads, baked goods, and other items available, including the pièce de résistance—a selection of various gelato flavours. All items are made locally, if not in-house.
Before you leave, you notice the tea. Jars upon jars filled with more than 40 different teas from around the world, including a notable selection of both bagged and loose-leaf teas from China, are stacked on the counter. It’s like a candy shop for tea lovers. The star is the variety of unique combinations that are blended in the shop. The lemon ginger is a popular choice among regulars in the winter for the soothing effect it has on the throat.
Located not too far from the Art Gallery of Ontario or OCAD University, you must be careful not to accidentally walk past this quaint little coffee shop while taking in the culture of the area. It may look ordinary on the outside, but behind those glass doors, a world of flavour awaits.