Not that you didn’t know, but the answer is: an awful lot.
For this week’s cover story in The Grid, David Sax looked at why Toronto suddenly has so many indie cafés, and he argues that some of the credit for the boom should go to some unlikely heroes: Starbucks, Second Cup and Timothy’s. After European immigrants arrived here and brought a fondness for coffee with them mid-century, and “independent specialty roasters and coffee shops brought cappuccino outside this ethnic audience” in the 1980s, Sax describes what happened next:
Starbucks entered the Toronto market in 1996, opening five stores in one day and setting off an expansion of locations that was countered, move for move, by local chains Second Cup and Timothy’s, which quickly shifted their focus from drip brews to the foamy espresso bandwagon; collectively, they blanketed the city in macchiatos and flavoured syrups. While many now curse the chains as scourges to local businesses, almost everyone in the coffee business cites the franchise war as the catalyst for the current indie boom.
“Second Cup and Starbucks stepped up our game,” says [café owner Susan] Bate, who credits the chains with creating a market for espresso drinks, turning an imported, premium coffee into a daily staple for millions. “They upped the average sale to my customers in a way that I never could have alone.”
[The current] wave of coffee shops came about in the past decade, when a West Coast, barista-driven culture of espresso artistry arrived in town, just as the recession began taking its toll on the large chains. In 2008 and 2009, Starbucks shut down close to 1,000 locations worldwide (mostly in the U.S.) and switched to fully automatic espresso machines; Second Cup withered to a shell of its former self (its number of stores shrank 13 per cent in the past decade); and Timothy’s is barely on the radar, having split off and sold its lucrative roasting business from the retail franchises, which have shown little growth in recent years. The result was a boom in independents, while chains regrouped and licked wounds.
So, today, just how many locations do Starbucks, Second Cup, Timothy’s, Tim Hortons—they serve lattes now, so why not?—and other coffee chains have in Toronto?
Image by Nicola Hamilton/The Grid; data from the City of Toronto. The counts reflect the number of active business licences in Toronto for each coffee chain as of February 17, 2012. Note that a store that’s gone out of business recently could still hold an active business licence, since it’s when operators don’t renew their business licences (which they must do annually) that they are cancelled.
Starbucks, to no-one’s surprise, continues to proliferate, as anyone with a passing interest in gentrification could tell you. Tim Hortons has more locations here than any other fast-food or coffee chain does, ahead of McDonald’s (85 locations), Pizza Pizza (95) and sandwich juggernaut Subway (a whopping 219 locations). And while some coffee chains that used to rule the city, like Galaxy Donuts and Baker’s Dozen, have waned to nearly nothing (the former has only two locations left, and the latter has three), stalwarts Country Style and Coffee Time haven’t gone away yet, and Timothy’s still has six times as many locations as up-and-coming chain Aroma Espresso Bar does and more than 10 times as many as Crema Coffee Co. (Aroma has eight locations since their Annex flagship opened in 2007, and Crema has four since first opening in the Junction in 2008.) In other words, some of the winners of the indie café boom aren’t indie cafés at all.