Andrew Burke

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More on Far Coast
Posted on: 2006-11-07

If you Google for 'Far Coast', my previous blog post shows up as the # 3 entry. A multi-million dollar project from one of the largest corporations in the world, and my midafternoon spontaneous comments show up ahead of most newspaper articles and just below the official site. I love the web. Google requests for 'Far Coast' are 30% of my incoming site traffic - not that I get a lot of traffic, but still.

This'll be search result #4, I guess.

Hi, Coca Cola executives and market research people! [wave!] I'm the guy who's there about four times a week, gets a large Passage West Americano ($2.91), sits in front of the giant picture window in front of Bloor Street and does programming on a 17" PowerBook. I see you going up and down those stairs to the third-floor offices all day long. Say hello some time. Have a coffee.

Things I like about Far Coast:

  • As I said before, the windows and the upper-level location make it among the best people-watching places in Toronto.

  • The people inside are often fascinating too. I enjoy it almost as much for the overheard conversations as for the view. The location and the vibe of the place seems to attract a good mix of people - I get the impression that the 'vibe' is actually as important a product at this point for Far Coast as the coffee itself. The place now has a good mix of tourists, Francophones (from the new French School down the street, I guess), advertising executives, sales people, consultants, students, fashion models / trophy wives, and chatty eccentric retirees. The cultural mix of the crowd seems to fit the 'world of beverages' theme you've been working on.

  • The music is good - interesting but not too obtrusive - you can ignore it if you want, or listen closely and usually find something interesting.

  • The staff are friendly and helpful, and seem to go out of their way to help people out. If things are slow, they'll even take orders from upstairs and bring it up. Some of them recognize me now, which is nice.

  • Best. Hand. Dryer. EVER. I can't really describe it - It's like the end of a drive-thru car wash or something. If you're on Bloor street between Bay and University, you owe it to yourself to go to Far Coast, order a small coffee or a cookie, and then go wash your hands and try the hand dryer. It's like when I first tried an iPod - I feel like I'm in the future.

  • Oh yeah the drinks. I had a brief gig doing the 'shopping cart' app for some friends who tried to start an online fair trade coffee store, so I prefer fair trade coffee - so I tend to have the Passage West, which is fair trade and tries to give a 'Route 66' vibe. I've driven across the continent a few times - this coffee is better than most of what you'll get on the road, although that's not necessarily saying much. I'm guessing that the same brands will be used worldwide, so it's interesting to think that in Singapore the 'driving on a highway through the desert' brand will be more 'exotic' than, say, the chai.

I find as straight-up coffee (not turned into a Latte or whatever), it's certainly better than the over-bitter Starbuck's coffee and has a bit more presence than Tim Horton's. The Mocha/Latte/etc. blends seem okay, but I'm not so much into those. I would still have to say that for me the best coffee in the area is at the Montreal Bakery, just one block due north of Far Coast. The best coffee I've had in town would be at Mitzi's on Sorauren - not sure what there is about it, but it's great. I haven't tried the Framboose or Panchai, but they smell good and the younger schoolkids who hang out there seem to enjoy them.

  • It's nice to be able to work in a place without the racket of an Espresso machine being charged up ten feet away from me every few minutes.

  • Being just across from the Windsor Arms, some high-end luxury condos, and the Mink Mile, means some great people and car watching. Yesterday I saw a Ferrari trying to squeeze between a Bentley and a Mercedes roadster. Nice. Personally, I get tired of 'the beautiful people' pretty quickly, but they are at least amusing to watch.

  • The decor and furnishings are nice. Someone has been reading their Christopher Alexander and has created good Window Spaces and has provided a variety of seating styles. I'm a little biased because one of my clients, World Impact, made some of the signage (I did their internal job tracking system - not the website!).

Things I don't like about Far Coast

  • The milk/sugar/condiments bar is pretty and it's great that you have recycling, but the slots say 'Paper' and 'Plastic' when what they should say is 'Stir Sticks', 'Used Cups', 'Wrappers' etc. I'm at the condiments bar - I don't have 'paper' and 'plastic' - I just poured sugar and have an empty packet, and I just stirred my coffee with a wooden stir-stick and wiped up a spill with a paper napkin - are these recyclable? This is a great opportunity to be very specific about what can be disposed where, because the bins are right there underneath the place where garbage is created - tell us where they go!

  • The use of space, especially downstairs, seems a little inefficient. There's a seating area at the front and then a lot of empty in the middle before getting to the bar at the back. I guess it's an awkward space to work with, but it could use more bustle.

  • The temperature varies quite a bit. Having two different levels and huge windows on two of them means that the top floor can be baking while the ground level is chilly.

  • The last few times I've been there, I've detected a vague natural gas sort of odour near the front windows on the second floor. Maybe it's the construction next door or something external, but it's not exactly appetizing.

  • While the music is good, the speakers sometimes seem to pump a bit too much bass and the sound is occasionally muddy - it might be the recordings, too.

  • I was going to complain about the paid wireless, but my opinions have been wavering about public free wireless internet access. I rarely use it - I leave home to get away from the internet. Also, doing things like SMTP/POP email over an open wireless connection is a big security risk. I sometimes wish I could check a reference quickly and easily - and the fact that it is free elsewhere makes me balk at paying Rogers or whoever for the privilege.

  • I can tell that everything has been planned out and test-marketed and finessed to a fine sheen. Of course, this is Bloor street, in between a Tiffany's and a Mont Blanc boutique. I guess if I wanted 'authentic' I'd go to the Annex or Kensington or whatever. At least it's not a hermetically-sealed full-360 retail experience like a Starbuck's ('drink our coffee! see our movies! listen to our CDs!') or an Apple Store ('other people make computers? Really? Well, they can't be as sexy as ours') - but I sometimes feel a little awkward being a targeted demographic. Welcome to downtown Toronto, I guess.

  • The 'exotic world of beverages' theme seems slightly patronizing. It may go over well in Columbus Ohio or Oslo, but this is Toronto - fifteen minutes in any direction will get you Korean BBQ, six kinds of sushi, ten kinds of noodles, Pad Thai, Pho, jerk chicken, falafel, fine French cuisine, curry, poutine, pierogis, real Ethiopian coffee roasted to order with incense, bagels flown in from Montreal, all day breakfast, halal pizza, Persian-Italian fusion, and a worldwide parade of languages and clothing styles in the street. I overheard someone focus-grouping a new Far Coast print ad and one of the responses was 'it's like a North American version of multicultural'. Have to say I agree.

Interesting though: The brand itself is global, with stores and sales around the world - so it is in fact a world of beverages, while building a store experience of another kind of world of beverages. The face of 21st century retail, I guess.

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