Balzac’s Coffee Roasters brings café culture to Ontario
By Naomi Szeben
Balzac’s Coffee Roasters had grown from a small café in Stratford, Ontario into a successful chain within a relatively short stretch of time. It can be a challenge for any company to scale up effectively, but Balzac’s managed to grow into a series of artful spaces that retain local characteristics without using cookie-cutter branding to establish itself as a chain.
Canadian Vending had a chance to speak with Kelly Duffy, the director for wholesale at Balzac’s, who discussed the Ontario chains expansion into the Office Coffee Service industry, as well as the philosophy behind their Parisian-style coffee culture. “The name came from Honoré de Balzac, the French writer who was known to have drunk tens of cups of coffee a day. It eventually did him in,” she laughs, “but then, he did most of his writing in cafés.”
Duffy quotes Balzac: “‘The café is the Peoples’ Parliament’. That’s our mission statement. We try to create an environment that’s for everybody.” While today’s coffee drinkers can’t all be revolutionaries, she does recognize some well-known faces in the performing arts who frequent their shops. Its growing popularity helped it expand into home brewing and more recently, the OCS spaces.
“We’re in the grocery world, we’re in the independent retail boutique sort of world, but we’re working more and more on the office coffee community,” states Duffy. “We’re hearing from people in offices that they want great coffee at work and employers want to provide great coffee in their workplace.”
Currently, the company has a number of formats of use to OCS; Other than their popular whole bean coffees, Balzac’s offers K-cup compatible single serve capsules, and as of last month, launched a line of ready-to-drink iced coffee. As of March, they now have fraction packs, pre-ground coffee portioned into 2.5 oz pack that is standard for industry equipment. “It allows for less mess, and certainty of the portion to be brewed in the brewer,” explains Duffy, “so you can have a great cup in the office.”
Working in wholesale, she has noticed a shift towards OCS taking coffee quality more seriously. Duffy has noticed how many corporations are ensuring their employees are not leaving valuable office time by getting coffee from their chain, but somewhere closer to their desk. “The time has come when people in offices want better coffee. More than ever, better office coffee is available; Employers are looking at coffee and their break room environment as a necessary way to do right by their employees and give them best that they can. We’re thrilled to be part of that movement and thrilled to be putting our product into formats that work in offices and we’ve seen nothing but tremendous growth. We work with really great office coffee providers in the GTA and I do recommend that’s way that offices get their coffee.”
The equipment is as important as the coffee, Duffy cautions. “The equipment for our drip coffee, is available through many local office coffee providers. We used Newco and Bunn. The equipment has to be able to stand up to the volume.”
The chain attributes a large part of its success to environmental awareness. Duffy noticed a shift in clients who were asking for re-usable containers or not to add straws or plastic stir-sticks to their order. The company continues to follow a sustainable model, which draws in more customers to both the OC service and their in-home coffee lines. The company follows recycling rules to the best of its ability, and does what it can to meet current challenges in plastic waste reduction.
“Every jurisdiction has different recycling or composting facilities, each city or jurisdiction accepts differently numbered plastics. Not every recycling facility in Ontario takes the same things,” explains Duffy. “Where a product might be compostable in Hamilton, for example, Toronto may not have the equivalent facilities. It’s hard to find that baseline that is going to work for everybody, while still offering the best packaging solution for the environment. Diana, our owner, has been involved with the City of Toronto, the task force, to look at what could happen in the future. We want to be involved and lead the way.”
Aside from moving from plastic to fully compostable straws and cutlery, the chain is meeting the public’s expectations for sustainable alternatives to plastic. “We were the first cafe company to be LEAF certified, which is the leaders in accountable food service. Our roaster in Ancaster is the most environmentally friendly roaster there is: It uses 80 per cent less energy than traditional roasters. We are always looking for ways we can do the best for the environment, and the best for the coffee.”
With the trend towards better quality and more environmentally sustainable options for both growing coffee and serving the final product, Balzac’s is looking towards the next leg of its growth towards office coffee services. Duffy adds that bringing a Parisian feel to the workplace is a natural extension of their corporate plan. An elevated coffee server promises much potential in keeping staff closer to their office, and happily so.
“I think it’s like that expression of people meeting at the water cooler. It really is. The mid morning break where you’ll meet up in the kitchen, or break room and you’ll bump into different people each day. It’s a chance to stand and chat and enjoy and sip. We’d like to be a part of that. We’d like to have that smile, that surprise-and-delight opportunity in an office environment. Office coffee isn’t always great, but it has the opportunity to be great.”