If you’ve visited Montreal sometime in your lifetime, you may have had the chance to visit a Java U cafe. Since its first location opened at the Concordia University in 1996, Java U has expanded to nearly 18 locations across the province of Quebec and more recently expanded their franchise to the Middle East with another 10 locations. But with all this growth, they had yet to expand any further into Canada. The company decided to set its eyes on somewhere a bit closer to home for the next move—Toronto, Ontario.
While the Toronto cafe had been years in the making, this time around the Java U team decided to present it as a concept cafe, a partnership with milk brand Natrel, for what Brian Cytrynbaum, President of Java U, describes corporately as “a permanent addition but commercially viable option” of the chain. The Natrel Milk Bar is the second of the duo's joint concept cafes to launch in Canada, this time popping up in the trendy West Queen West neighborhood (in a former Starbucks space), which Cytrynbaum believes fits the personality and aesthetic of the new concept cafe and clientele.
The space itself is unlike any other in Toronto, with a playful and wholly milk-inspired theme. Designed by Montreal branding and design firm, lg2 Boutique, the space offers tons of seating with booths shaped like giant milk cartons with individual in-booth lighting and plugs (for computers). Throughout the cafe, large artistic milk dollops hang from the ceiling, doubling as light fixtures.
Aesthetics aside, the concept is novel: bring in the coffee drinkers and have them drink more milk in the process. Jean-Francois Couture, Vice-President of Marketing with Natrel, explains that the collaborative approach has been a popular trend for brands, and something they are hoping will be a new concept in coffee. Behind the bar, baristas operate the three-group Magister Stilo Lusso ES100 L and have multiple Compak E6 grinders set up for Java U’s Java Blend and Breakfast Blend. Java U has been working alongside Montreal's Brûleries FARO for more than 10 years to roast, create, and customize the blends they serve in-house.
From there, customers have the ability to choose from eight different Natrel milk products (fine-filtered 2% and 0%; lactose-free 3.25, 2%, and 0%; maple milk; organic 2%; and lactose-free cream 10%) to use in their coffees, via a self-serve station or via a personalized drink using the dairy products. Couture says, “We are convinced that people will be more and more interested [in] the type of milk used to prepare their coffees, just like they already want to know more about coffee beans.” One of the specialty drinks on the menu is the Toronto Latte, using blueberry syrup and Natrel’s maple milk. Throughout the year, they will continue to offer a more seasonal menu featuring the dairy products.
While the Milk Bar concept is still new for them, both Cytrynbaum and Couture explain that it is something they are hoping will catch on and grow over time as they take the concept further—in Canada and beyond—in the years to come.
Photos courtesy of Max Kopanygin.