James King likes the hum of conversation. It happens when people gather to talk and visit at his Barrhaven shop, Equator Coffee, nestled inside Indigo Books.
When you look at all these people enjoying their coffee and chatting with each other, he says, “you think about what they’re discussing. Some are planning a wedding, or a trip, or retirement. Some are students talking about their studies. There’s everything going on in a coffee shop. It's a hub where ideas come together.”
When you combine that kind of connection with the Indigo books nearby, there’s even more conversation.
“Books open people up too,” says James. “I wonder how many inventions and concepts have started with people meeting in a place like this and having a good cup of coffee.”
Equator Coffee in Barrhaven has been open for less than three months. But already it’s a popular local meeting place. James and his wife, Sandy, were already deep into the coffee business and the love of coffee, so when the opportunity came up, it was natural that they would embrace the idea.
Their great interest in excellent coffee began about 10 years ago when they met their now good friends Craig and Amber Hall, who are the founders of fair-trade organic Equator Coffee, based in Almonte, Ont. James and Craig are partners in Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, and Craig owns five Equator Coffee locations.
Before the pandemic, James and Sandy ran a coffee truck for Craig and Amber. They attended festivals, fairs and other events, bringing the beautiful Equator Coffee to the public. Sandy has worked at No Go Coffee which also roasts organic, fair trade coffee; and the King kids have worked at Starbucks. You might say it’s practically in their DNA.
Now James, Sandy, and their children, Ryan and Olivia, both in their 20s, work together in the shop. Ryan manages the store and Olivia is the kitchen lead in charge of all the recipes and mixing the ingredients for baking.
James loves the fact that the whole family can work together. “Normally when your kids are in their 20s you don’t get to see them much because they’re out with their friends; they’re busy. But we know we’ll see them because they’re working with us.”
Equator Coffee serves freshly baked goods. Some are baked in-house; some (including gluten free products) come from Sweet Cheeks Kitchen in Almonte, well known locally. The coffee is roasted in Almonte, too, about 45 minutes away, so it is always served fresh ‒ sometimes so fresh it’s less than a week old. James explains that a lot of the national brands can be at least a year old by the time we get them.
“And freshness,” he says, “is the number one indicator of a good cup of coffee.”
It was important to James and Sandy to serve only the finest coffee. “We wanted to use Equator because they’re known for their quality and the owners have a true passion for coffee,” James says. “That’s what I wanted to bring to Barrhaven. In a sea of local fast-food coffee, we needed a place that coffee enthusiasts understand.”
It was also a way to show people, “to educate their palette”, what good coffee is, and why. “There’s a system to pouring a good cup of coffee and a shot of espresso,” James says.
The family also deeply cares about its customers.
“The art of customer service has dwindled in general,” says James. “We want to make people smile ‒ and at the same time experience good coffee.”
He adds: “We’ve all had bummer days. We’ve all had stresses and worries about family, relationships, finances.
“But you know, sometimes you can get through it by sitting down with a good cup of coffee ‒ especially if the people behind the counter care about you.”