Kingston Coffee House started out in 2017 as the dreams of Vid and Mitali Banerjee – a young couple who wanted to create a friendly, down to earth and socially impactful and responsible café. However, like any other fresh immigrant starting out in a new country, this did not happen overnight, nor was the path easy in any which way.
Prior to Canada, Vid had a 10-year long career, spanning technology and I.T. sales to gaming and food retail. Mitali was a postgraduate in science working on a cancer drug. The couple were serial entrepreneurs, having started an IT services firm in 2009, a console gaming lounge in 2010 and Central India’s largest rooftop restaurant in 2011. They were also the founders of CuddleStreet, a Non-profit volunteer run organization for street dogs in India.
Vid moved to Canada in 2015 to pursue the prestigious MBA program from Queens University. Returning to education after 10 years and the -27 C weather were a challenge. Mitali joined him in the summer of 2015. As academic scholarships ran out, Mitali joined a local café as a barista right away to support the growing needs of the family. Vid completed his studies but was not looking to go back into a corporate career in sales or to moving to GTA. Vid joined Multatuli/Coffeeco, the local coffee roasters where Mitali had been working for the past year. When the opportunity for acquiring the cafes from Multatuli arose, Vid and Mitali, fresh from a large looming student debt, had no idea how to finance the deal but knew they had to pull out all stops. Kingston is where they wanted to be, and this is what they wanted to build and improve on.
The acquisition of the cafés was exceptionally difficult. With no credit or banking history in a new country, no form of loans or traditional financing was available. Pitching in all their savings and borrowing from friends and family, the couple acquired the midtown café in April of 2017 and the downtown café in October of the same year.
The name change to Kingston Coffee House was a conscious decision. Vid and Mitali wanted to change the image of café from that of a high end espresso bar to a more inclusive and approachable community space that had a broader range of food and services to offer. The change was remarkable and palpable. KCH soon became the place for meetings – business reviews held next to post yoga get togethers, real estate deals happening next to knitting clubs – all with the warmth of smiles and coffees and the joy of seeing a community bustling with life.
Kingston Coffee House came with a tagline of Organic, Local, Fresh. One of the first and only completely organic coffee bar, KCH uses fair trade organic locally roasted coffee, organic milk and cream and organic sugar for its coffee-based beverages. KCH is proud of its hyperlocal model. 95% of the vendors for KCH are within the city limits. The rest are in Ontario and Quebec. Not only does this circular model have a tremendous economic impact on local businesses, it also ensures freshest products as well as a low carbon footprint in moving the products locally as opposed to buying them from large stores. But that wasn’t all of it. At Kingston Coffee House sustainability, accessibility, social responsibility, racial equality and inclusivity were not just buzz words. They were issues that deeply affected/concerned the owners and were a priority from day one. Inclusivity for Kingston Coffee House not only meant hiring staff without any discrimination or prejudice but also access to a wider selection of foods and beverages for people with dietary restrictions or convictions. Mitali introduced a full line of offerings for vegan, vegetarian and gluten free diets. Indian sandwich varieties turned out as instant hits. Halal samosas meant people could partake of the menu while conforming to religious restrictions. The café was one of the first to introduce paper straws, compostable coffee bags, compostable tea bags and other eco friendly offerings. The café was Stop Gap Kingston’s pilot project for installing accessibility ramps. Both the café locations are fully accessible including the washrooms. Kingston Coffee House was nominated for the Mayor’s Accessibility Awards for two years in a row, which it won in 2019.
KCH has always been a close supporter of a number of local causes – Memorial Farmer’s Market, Turtles Kingston, Spay and Neuter Kingston, Neeje Association, Breast Cancer Awareness, Alzheimers Society, Tchukudu Womens Association- Congo, HARS are just some of the causes that KCH sponsors or supports. The artist of the month program runs at each store location where a percentage of sales go towards a charitable cause. A big part of what makes the entire KCH experience is the staff. Kingston Coffee House employs over 6 full time and 8 part time staff members. An equal opportunity employer, KCH has hired people from all nationalities, faiths, age ranges and sexual orientation with the only focus being on the staff members cheery persona and passion for coffee. The staff has represented Japan, Korea, Australia, China, Russia, Syria, England, South America and of course India and Canada. KCH has been the proud sponsor for several new immigrants, who are now new Canadians. KCH also employs several students from local schools and well as from SLC and Queens, some of whom have moved to permanent positions. When Covid struck in Mar 2020, KCH applied a $2 bonus to every staff members’ salary. At present, every staff of KCH starts above minimum wage. At KCH the owners realise that the happiness and well being of the staff reflects in their brand stewardship
and customer service and Vid and Mitali fully stand behind their pillars of business.
Like any small business, Vid and Mitali have devoted every waking hour of their past 3 years into expanding, improving and constantly innovating the business. Now as the business stabilises and reaches a certain level of maturity, Vid and Mitali have shifted focus towards some of their individual passions and projects. A long-time proponent for social equality, Vid started a non-profit called Reroot Foundation 2019 aiming to solve some of the issues that new immigrants face ranging from settling down, finding a job to starting a business and financing. Vid hopes that they would be able to help new immigrants avoid some of the pitfalls of settling down in a new country.
As a business, KCH plans to expand and bring a number of exciting products in the coming year. The hopes of the owners are on making KCH embedded into the history and local lore of Kingston as the BIPOC immigrant led success story that inspires others to follow their dreams.