Toronto café credits neighbourhood support, ‘shop local’ habits with staying open

By Caryn Lieberman  Global News | Posted October 1, 2021 5:03 pm | Updated October 1, 2021 7:00 pm

The morning coffee rush has long passed but there remains a lineup just to get inside Red Rocket Coffee on Danforth Avenue in Toronto.


“It’s one of the mainstays, Red Rocket is, and we need places like this and they’ve done a wonderful job of appreciating the community so we want to support them,” said Randy Johnson, a ‘regular’ at the café.

Owner Billy Dertilis, who said he has had to review and revise his business model more than once during the COVID-19 pandemic, reopened his coffee shop on Friday after a weeklong closure to renovate.

“We had to pivot quickly and perhaps it’s an overused word but we had to figure out what we could do online to help support our business,” he recalled.

During the first wave of the pandemic, Dertilis moved operations online and resorted to delivery, something he had never done before.

What saved his business, he said, was support from the community.

“We had such great support from the neighbourhood and residents in the community coming in and supporting us throughout … even as we were just a takeout operation and now we’re happy to be able to give back,” he said.

Dertilis, who is the chairperson of the Danforth Mosaic Business Improvement Area, also credits government support with helping his business weather the storm of the last year and a half.

“No one can deny that the government subsidies have been an enormous help. I don’t know how many of us would be here today if it weren’t for the wage subsidy and rent subsidy,” he pointed out.

“Lately we’re about 80 per cent of our baseline compared to 2019 so that’s a very positive result,” he added.

Just down the street, the team behind The Wren recently expanded and opened a neighbouring wine bar, called The Wood Owl.

“There are just so many lovely people in the neighbourhood … we’ve had The Wren for eight years now and we wanted to give a place for not only the staff but the neighbourhood to grow,” said Chef Tabitha Cranney.

Toronto-Danforth city councillor Paula Fletcher said residents of the east end have heeded the call to support local.

“We’ve said to everybody ‘please support your local stores here on the Danforth,’ so many fantastic stores,” she said, adding “people were lined up ten or twenty deep sometimes because there’s such an allegiance to local shops.”

After a major renovation and revamped interior, Red Rocket Coffee is open for business.

“People took the time to come into our shop even though they had to wait outside – even during the winter sometimes for five or ten minutes – to come buy either a cup of coffee or their bag of coffee for home … that’s something that we can’t forget and something that we really appreciate,” said Dertilis.


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