In today’s world, where ‘Ma ‘n Pa’ shops are being absorbed by the big box chains like the Borg, it’s nice to see a person willing to chase a dream. Domestique-Café Cyclo Sportif’s founder Krys Hines did just that. Since opening its doors in the Spring of 2010, Cafe Domestique has received overwhelming support and well-deserved praise.
As a photographer, the thing I love the most are interesting people and places. When Peter Appleton told me about this unique cycling-themed café, I could hardly pack my camera fast enough. I am also a slave to the mighty bean and would drive anywhere for great coffee. All signs were pointing to a must shoot assignment on this one. Within only a few days, I was off to Dundas, Ontario to visit this unique coffeehouse. The café is located on Millar’s Lane and operates from a quaint brick house with a porch and sitting area out front.
Inside the café is where Krys’ passion for cycling and coffee are obvious. The walls are dressed with distinctive bikes, framed cycling art and impressive memorabilia like Steve Bauer’s yellow Tour De France Jersey. Regulars love the theme of the café and are always showing up with memorabilia they would like to share with others in the space. Even during my short time there, a woman came in with a signed Eddy Merckx jersey. Cyclists and non-cyclists alike find the café remarkable.
Riders from the surrounding area and beyond have designated the café as the starting, midway or finishing point for their ride. No matter how or when, what’s clear is that people want to be part of this place. Everyone from National and provincial champs to Tour rider Michael Barry frequent the café. Domestique regulars are as interesting as the space itself.
Krys will have some noteworthy competition soon with a Starbucks opening its doors within steps of his own. From what I saw during my visit, I think it’s going to be free advertising for Domestique. Anyone who has stepped foot in Krys’ café has had a taste of the real deal. It’s Starbuck’s customer to lose, in my opinion.
Riding Feels Good caught up with Krys to ask him a few questions about this very interesting Café.
RFG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m just some guy pushing 40…
RFG: When did you become involved in cycling? Where has the sport taken you and what are some of your most memorable moments?
I got involved in cycling in grade 8…Bauer was at his height…Clipless pedals were rare. Cycling has been a great way to see parts of the world…Whether a mountainside bike factory in Taiwan or a small town crit in Quebec. I feel quite lucky to have been so involved in the sport…I’ve met great people and made lifelong friends. I don’t have a particularly memorable moment but I’ve enjoyed some of my best rides alone and with friends around Beaver Valley near Collingwood.
RFG: At what point did coffee become a part of your life. How did you learn the trade?
Coffee has always been a part of my life. My mom spent time in Brazil and acquired a taste for espresso that wasn’t common amongst the cake-eating crowd…When the work dried up at the end of the bike season one year I managed to get a job at a small cafe/roastery in Toronto. Because of the inexplicable link between cycling and coffee, when I stopped frame-building, I ended up working for Saeco. I’ve been back and forth between the bike and coffee industry most of my adult life. The cafe was the best way to combine the two.
RFG: For those who don’t know, can you tell us about the origin of the name Domestique and how it relates to the café?
A domestique is a name given to a job in road racing that implies a measure of selflessness and hard work. It’s not a really well-understood part of cycling, but the more mature the (North American) understanding of the sport is the more people can relate to it. Of all the names that were bandied ‘aboot’ over the years, it’s the one that best set the tone. It’s also a nice play on words as we are in an old house…A rather “domestic” setting…And we are always at your service!
RFG: Tell us about what drew you to Dundas? What was it about the building and its location that made you decide on it?
I’ve been aware of Dundas as cycling “hub” since the late ’80’s. Maple Cyclery on King St. was the first Cannondale dealer in Canada and it’s always been a focal point for local pros both on and off road. Freewheel (the local bike shop) had been an account when I sold Kronans so I’d had a few connections here already. Cycling or no cycling, it’s a great little “town” that is really a hidden gem of the GTA. When we moved to town there was a café for sale and we jumped at the opportunity.
RFG: What are the Domestique patrons like? What do cyclists and non-cyclists think of the place?
One of the great things to see in the café is how so many of our non-cycling patrons react to the space. I think to many folks it’s just a lot of colourful window-dressing that’s unique decoration. If that’s how they view it, then great! If they want to know more ‘aboot’ anything specifically, then we are happy to explain further. Our regulars are probably far better versed now in the sport than when we first opened. What’s also fun is to see how the whole café can be hushed and focused on the end of a race up on our screen with cyclists and non-cyclists holding their breath. In the end, non-cyclists make up the majority of our business and we just want to keep serving good things in an inviting space…
RFG: What made you decide to open a café instead of a bike shop? Do you plan to integrate the two at some point in the future?
Dundas already has a good bike shop but it needed a good cup of coffee and as I mentioned, the cafe location was there waiting to be used. As for integration in the future, the nice thing ‘aboot’ our location is we have another two floors above the cafe to expand into. We are already bursting at the seams in terms of our softgoods and other non-coffee items so there’s no place to go but up. It’s no secret that I’d like to have a Domestique road frame at the bike show this year as people have already been asking for them so we’ll have to get Hugh (Black) on that…
RFG: In a cookie cutter retail world, what sets Domestique apart?
I think it’s safe to say that we’re a relatively unique retail space. The cafe is bright and welcoming whether you are into cycling or not. As a parent, I made sure that the cafe is as family-friendly as possible and that the staff are polite and engaging. This isn’t something that can be said of most “indy” coffee shops; they all seem so similar from the self-important, “inked” staff to the exposed brick and recycled wood accents. We have no “baristas”, just people who make coffee…Our own Jamie Riggs (2nd, U23 road nationals) put it best by saying we “aren’t trying to be a cafe on 4th Ave. in Vancouver”. We are just trying to be a bike-themed cafe in Dundas…We try to use good ingredients from friends and local sources, and that quality comes through.
As someone who roasted coffee for a living, I chose coffee that I feel is prepared better than I could ever do myself. Classic Gourmet Coffee is an interesting juxtaposition of traditional, small Italian family business and a best-in-class, very forward-thinking modern company. Although there are less than a dozen people at the company, they produce and package 1,000 pounds an hour of coffee in the only food-grade stainless steel roastery using technology allowing for the lowest emissions. It looks like it could be a set for Dr. Evil’s Coffee Roastery. Combine that with almost 40 years of experience and you have a lot better product than compared to so many start-up brands with slick marketing copy and “master coffee roasters” who took two-week courses…There are unfortunately a lot similarities to high end bikes in that regard, but that’s for another article…
RFG: What was the first year after opening your doors like? What sort of interesting people and events has the café seen in its inaugural year?
Our business is no different than so many others; there are no guarantees that it will be successful no matter how much people like you or how good your product is. I’ve been involved in a few different ventures that were great products that still, for one reason or another went south. It was with this in mind that we opened and as we close in on our second anniversary, we are tired, but optimistic.
What has been the most rewarding are the people I get to interact with. It seems the café has a pretty good vibe that has made it a douche-free zone. Sure, there are exceptions, but pretty much all the folks we have as customers are really decent people. I’m proud of the fact that we are a community space that attracts a broad range of people; from local politicians, to city workers to police and firefighters to moms, runners, cyclists, climbers, surfers (yes, really), artists, writers, computer geeks etc. You need a local good or service? I can probably refer you to a regular customer no matter how arcane the request…
As for events, we have had some very successful fundraisers and seasonal parties that have all been meaningful to the participants. Riding Feels Good readers would probably have loved the Michael Barry ride and book-signing and the Cervelo demo-day and S5 launch. We have already been approached to do more industry product demo days for 2012 so keep checking our FB page for details…
RFG: You have succeeded in making the café so much more than just a coffeehouse. Where do you hope to see the café in 5 years?
I’d like to have 19,000 stores in 55 countries…Seriously though, I’d like to be riding more and working a bit less. I hope by then we’ll have a nice steady cafe/bar business and a good bike business too. The whole point of opening Domestique was to have a better lifestyle for myself and my family while adding something to the Dundas and cycling communities.
RFG: How do you think the opening of a Starbucks across the street will affect your business?
It will affect us greatly…By that I mean it will be great for business. Statistically, Starbucks brings business to other local cafes. Because the Starbucks is next door, it’s also improved my property value and will allow for free parking for MY patrons. Dundas will be the best place to get coffee in the area; two very different styles of independents and the best of the chain stores. It’s all good as they say.
RFG: Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
Remember that it’s not ‘aboot’ the coffee or the bike; it’s ‘aboot’ the good times that surround them. Thanks for your interest eh? K
Big thanks to Krys for taking the time to speak with us. If you like coffee and bikes or just coffee or just bikes, you need to visit this place. Lots of friendly staff, interesting people, amazing coffee, great food and cool Domestique brand cycling accessories. Definitely, no question, this is worth the trip to Dundas!