J&M: How did you come across JM&Sons?
A: My introduction to JM&Sons was a bit serendipitous: in the summer of 2013, I heard murmuring about a shipping container that had popped-up at the end of the street I live on in the west-end of Toronto. One of my projects being a high-end coffee catering company, I was initially drawn to the fact that out of this shipping container, JM&Sons had collaborated with industry colleagues and friends R2 to serve pour-overs in the container. My penchant for woodworking, coffee, and design gave the business a natural gravitational pull.
J&M: Tell us a bit around your coffee background and the new shop you opened?
A: I spent years working behind bar as a barista - learning, managing, and teaching. Somewhat disillusioned with the lack of ability to explore at work, I built a testing-lab at home and spent countless hours testing and experimenting with coffee extraction. In recent years, I've consumed myself with four major projects: teaching classes in coffee for the Canadian Barista Academy; consulting for cafes and restaurants; roasting and QC for Pig Iron Coffee Roasters; and launching my own high-end coffee catering and consulting company, Wayfarer Coffee Co.
Boxcar Social started as the brainchild of two of my business partners, Joe Papik and John Baker. Opened February 17th, 2014, Boxcar is a cafe and and wine bar with an intensely curated selection of the best coffees, wines, craft beers and whiskies we could find.
Our coffee program is immensely ambitious and plans to expose Toronto to some of the best roasters - and thus coffees, made with painstaking care and attention to detail. Further, our coffee menu is conceptually sinuous with the rest of our offerings in being both curated and constantly rotating. In addition to a more traditional coffee menu, there is a selection of coffees you can choose from by the cup, or grab a board.
J&M:Why is design so important in your life?
A: Design is both the conduit through which we express ideas as well as the the most raw way we communicate, appealing to others on a basic sensory level. When done well, it can be both visceral and cerebral.
Great design doesn't just equate to a pleasing aesthetic, it means a thing works well, appropriately, and with a degree of longevity. Sometimes the best designed things are the ones you think of the least, at least consciously.
We are constantly relying on so many precise tools, materials, and instruments in the coffee industry. Great design is integral to me being able to confidently put out great product, present it well, and do it in an environment rendering an otherwise esoteric product accessible.
Design can also be used at the vanguard of another challenge for our sect of the coffee industry, and that is moving customer perceptions away from conceptualizing coffee as a dark, bitter, and cheap commodity product, and towards that of an esteemed variegated beverage - one of the most rich, complex and nuanced beverages on the planet.
J&M: What item / items do you use on a daily basis?
A: Coffee can be messy business. I had been looking for a well-made and well designed apron to use behind bar over the course of a few months when I first swung by the JM&Sons pop-up. The orange/brown canvas and leather aprons were the first things that caught my eye. They were exactly what I was looking for and their design (especially the colour) couldn't suit its use in coffee more.
Appropriately, the time around which I purchased the JM&Sons apron coincided with the conceptual inception of Boxcar Social - where the apron would find its quotidian use. It's now as much as a fixture as the bar-top in the cafe.
J&M: What is the best trip you’ve been on?
A: Most poignant for me presently is a trip I took last year where I spent close to a month in Colombia. We traveled from Cartagena on the Caribbean, to the hiking trails of Tayrona National Park, and the incredible cityscapes of Medellin and Bogota.
The highlight for me, of course, was staying on and visiting coffee farms around Huila and Quindio, two major high quality coffee producing regions of the country. These were absolutely incredible and humbling learning experiences - the kind that change the way you look at your industry and career.
Come visit Alex and enjoy a coffee or a craft beer at 1208 Yonge Street, Toronto