Kingston Coffee House: Sustaining our coffee cravings

By Emily Coppella

Kingston Coffee House | 322 King Street East and 1046 Princess Street | Facebook

This is just one photo that speaks to the very best of the Kingston coffee scene. While peering into a latte at Kingston Coffee House you might find a bear, monkey, pig, tiger, flower – or even baby Yoda. Deemed the “home for latte art,” the team behind Kingston Coffee House is driven by the love of what’s local, what’s sustainable, and what makes a really great coffee. The business has two (soon to be three) locations. One of their storefronts is right across from historic Springer Market Square (322 King Street East), boasting one of the best views in the city. Their second café is at the Kingston Centre (1046 Princess Street).

The cafés serve all organic, fair-trade, and locally roasted espresso. Customers can expect a 100% organic hot (or iced) beverage with a variety of milk alternatives and sugars. Ingredients are always fresh and local as much as possible. We spoke with Vid Banerjee, co-owner of the café. He assured us that if their baked goods can’t be baked in-house from scratch, they simply source them from local bakers.

Kingston Coffee House is a family-owned business with five members, “three humans, two dogs,” clarifies Vid. He and his partner and co-owner, Mitali, emphasize that they’re a family business to highlight how deeply invested they are in the community. Their son, Aahaan, helps transform business trips into vacations and encourages the team to unwind after work. The dogs, Joey and Shadow, also help with the unwinding part. Twice a day, every day, Kingston Coffee House customers see Vid at each of the locations.

“We are so very approachable and so very open to feedback…It becomes a two-way process because when we say we are family-owned and managed, it’s almost like we are treating our staff like a family and so is our community and customers.”

Everyone is made to feel welcomed, including those with different dietary preferences. There’s always a variety of unique vegan and gluten-free treats and sandwiches available. Vid, who immigrated from India to Canada in 2014, explains that having diverse menu options just made sense. He knew a lot of people who were vegans who had trouble simply finding suitable food and beverage options on the go. When the family acquired the business in 2017, Vid and Mitali made it a priority to cater to diverse religions and dietary requirements – and their chickpea masala sandwiches have been a hit ever since. The cafés always have at least two to three vegan sandwiches. And during the winter holiday season, those avoiding dairy can grab a “coco-nog” (a coconut milk version of eggnog).

Kingston Coffee House looks out for its customers, but also for the environment. Vid admits that “sustainability” is a popular buzzword, but he also knows that it can truly transform a business. He decided to focus on business sustainability (how long would they be in the business and how would it grow during that time?); community sustainability (how would they practice community stewardship and how did they want the community to respond to their business?); and environmental sustainability.

“What [environmental sustainability] meant to us personally was that we’d have to be sustainable from our usage of cups to our usage of resources to our waste management to our electricity consumption to our greenhouse gasses emissions. Those things were equally important to us as how we were seen or perceived by the community as a whole. The first step: we are going to be all organic without thinking about the bottom line.”

Then, Vid wondered what they could do to ensure their ingredients didn’t have to travel far. Although there’s a significant cost advantage to having something shipped in from Toronto, there’s also a major environmental cost. The cafes became dedicated to being “hyperlocal”:

“When we say we are hyperlocal, I am very proud of saying that anything you are buying or consuming at Kingston Coffee House, nothing has come from more than 240 kilometres away. That’s just about as far as Montreal and Ottawa. Our cups are the only thing that come in from Markham. What that does in terms of economic sustainability is, when I look at my yearly balance sheet, of all of those expenses, 97 per cent of that is going back to Kingston.”

While chatting with Vid over Zoom he shows me a space that looks more like a plant nursery than a living room. If you’ve wandered into one of the cafés lately, you’ve probably seen some featured products from local artists and small businesses – and an array of houseplants in beautiful pots. Reroot Plants began as a nonprofit, Vid says.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Reroot Plants (@rerootplants)

“Reroot Foundation, my nonprofit, supports immigrants, providing them with guidance of how to go about their lives in a new country. Reroot is the human ‘rerooting’ from one place to another. As a new immigrant to Canada in 2014 I faced a lot of challenges with regards to banking history and credit. It’s like starting your life all over again. You might be a mighty tree back in your own country but you have literally been repotted. I would be ideally poised to advise people on how to go about their processes because I have been through them. People can learn from my mistakes.”

When brainstorming how to generate money to support the foundation, Mitali’s passion for plants and Vid’s obsession with collecting vintage pots from all over Canada came up. The COVID-19 pandemic also gave the duo the time and inspiration to get into the houseplant business. Vid says the idea grew on them.

Reroot plants – Mitali’s carefully sourced plants growing in Vid’s specially curated pots – started small, with just a few plants in their two cafés. Reroot will soon have its very own storefront. Kingston’s very first plant café will be opening later this winter at 877 Division Street. All your favourite Kingston Coffee House food and beverages will be available, but situated within a greener space with an emphasis on a selection of plants for sale. So, you can grab a coffee – and perhaps a cactus – in one place. Some studies have shown that being around plants can lower anxiety and increase productivity. So that cactus you bring home may make you calmer and more creative!


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Reroot Plants (@rerootplants)

Vid is an avid coffee drinker himself and he points to this as one of the reasons he loves being a part of the Kingston coffee scene.

“I cannot function without my coffee. Coffee is the thing that makes people work…Coffee is one of those things that you just have to do every single day.”

But it is specifically coffee in Kingston that makes owning Kingston Coffee House such a delight for the Banerjees.

“I would go ahead and say that Kingston’s downtown, its historic value, its lakeside, Olympic Harbour, those places are second to none. I have never seen any other city that’s as pretty where you don’t have to drive that much. Choosing to do business in Kingston has been one of the easiest and best decisions. If you asked me, ‘Would you move to Toronto?’ I would say, ‘Not for a million dollars and five cafés and twenty dogs.’”

So, while Kingston Coffee House is branching out, it’s clear they’re staying true to their roots. Customers are family. Everyone is welcome, and coffee is just a moment away.