In many ways, the neighbourhood coffee shop represents the Millennial hustle from both sides. Many students and young professionals seek positions in coffee shops as an ideal first job with a flexible schedule, fun community, and ease of transition while working on other life goals. However, owning the perfect coffee shop is also quickly becoming one of the most desired young entrepreneurial dreams. Versus Coffee is a great example of this.
Anthony Ayachi was an accomplished student (and has the letters after his name to prove it) who found himself doubting his life direction one day while standing stiffly suited in a Bay Street financial institution, feeling completely disconnected from the work he had before him. So, together with his brother Zied Ayachi and his friend Alina Lapteva, he started dreaming about the perfect financial district coffee shop–without the financial district stress.
Today, Anthony’s uniform consists of a plain grey or black t-shirt and jeans and a pair of comfortable sneakers. More often than not, I see him standing in front of the shop, transitioning between furrowed brow and big smile, as he decides on the next addition to the outdoor patio or cocktail menu. He tells me he’s never been happier.
Artisanal is the goal, and Versus Coffee checks off all the boxes. They’ve partnered with de Mello Palheta Roasters where they source the majority of their beans, and Toronto artisan tea shop Sloane, where they source their teas. Versus also serves a fun combination of beverages such as s’mores lattes and smooth hot chocolates. They bring in bread and pastries from local Toronto bakeries and offer up tasteful (and tasty) light meals such as avocado and smoked salmon toasts, and Monte Cristo sandwiches. Plus, they’ve also designed (with much gratitude to Alina) a clean and modern space that’s perfectly Instagram-able.
The extra mile here is that they also have a liquor license. Much like Boxcar Social (another successful Toronto-based business and frequent hangout of mine), Anthony recognized that a one-stop space for all of the wonderful beverages one would want to consume at once would be a great idea. He is also working with his team of mixologists to develop some unique cocktails inspired by, and infused with, coffee and tea. And in case you’re wondering, the license does extend to the patio.
Zied was born in Tunisia, grew up in France, and has lived in Canada (Toronto and Montreal) for the last six years. While he may have started out as a silent partner (Zied is also in the programming world and developing several apps), he is now fully immersed in the day-to-day operations of the coffee shop. The French and Tunisian influences are not so obvious when you first step into the establishment, but if you sit awhile, you can start to notice a few nuanced, stylish details. Zied is taking great joy in experimenting with Tunisian spices and pastes (such as the beloved Harissa) in their menu items, and also testing out the Toronto market’s palates. Anthony states matter-of-factly that they have learned the importance of not throwing in everything in at once. Zied nods politely, but I can also tell from his expression and smile that these experiments are a huge part of the fun of running the place.
The potential for seeing the coffee shop as a multi-purpose space is also a huge part of the concept of Versus Coffee. I had the pleasure of attending an event last month hosted by Netila Demneri and Melissa Tan. Netila and Melissa both work on Bay Street, in professional services/consulting and finance, respectfully. Like so many great friendships, these two connected over their love of food, coffee and wine. Netila is a long-time friend of mine through Rotary International, and Melissa had met Anthony as he was just launching the coffee shop. During a fateful trip to New York, Melissa and Netila knew that they had to somehow do something to connect everyone.
Melissa and Netila represent another breed of Bay Street young professionals: they actually love their jobs. And for these two, unlike Anthony, the dream is not to leave the suited world, but to develop a stronger community outside of the office. As such, Netila and Melissa worked together to come up with a casually structured networking event for their professional friends to connect over conversation and cocktails (and of course, avocado toast). Versus Coffee, being so close and so chill, was the perfect venue for their inaugural event. Netila and Melissa hope that this will soon become an established series of private networking events for Toronto’s rising industry leaders. Their goal, as they’ve explained to me, is to “connect the next generation of professionals working across all industry groups in the city. The events, whether small and intimate or larger in scale, will be carefully designed to bring together innovative, curious and ambitious ‘thinkers and doers’.”
The Versus Coffee team hopes to implement many more events like Netila and Melissa’s as part of Phase 2 of their development. While he’s not “in” the industry any longer, Anthony hasn’t forgotten about his friends and professional connections in the nearby office towers. He hopes that he can provide a great space for un-stuffy corporate events, and is also starting to develop a framework for hosting industry nights as well.
Now that patio season is in full swing, there is no better time to pay them a visit. I have no doubt that Versus Coffee will continue to grow and evolve. Hopefully, the Bay Street-not-Bay Street young professional community will grow and evolve with it.
Location: 70 Adelaide St E, Toronto, ON
Patio photo courtesy of Versus Coffee.