ZANE VISITS: STEELTOWN GARAGE CO
Steeltown Garage Co
We kicked off our day hours in Hamilton by stopping by the Steeltown Garage Co. for an espresso and a tour of the brand spankin’ new space from owner Jeff. This unique combination of coffee, retail and a focus on making the motorcycling community approachable and available in Hamilton was a perfect taste of all the unique and engaging things happening in the city.
Have you always been in Hamilton?
My wife and I for the past 8 or 9 years have been living abroad.
In Central America. Panama primarily. It’s a pretty cool spot. It has a very interesting history and you can kind of see that history in the people and the places. But we’ve spent a lot of time traveling. We lived in Buenos Aires for a while, Indonesia, Africa. We’ve traveled all of Europe. You know, we’ve been around. Everywhere we went we saw concepts like this, stores like this, even in the States. Places where you can bike up, hang out, buy neat things, meet new people, and connect with old friends. Not just a store, but also a place. A real sense of place.
When we decided to move back home, Hamilton seemed like the place. It had nothing like this and nothing that we had frequented abroad. So, we got a concept together that aligned with our interests. My wife is an interior designer; hence, you know, the place doesn’t look like a gnarly garage. We are big proponents of the female riding community so it was important to us that they felt comfortable here as well. It spawned out of our love for bikes and coffee and you know, cool shit.
It starts with that. You realized your community is not being serviced.
Ya and you’re really sensitive to that when you, yourself, are part of the community and you feel underserviced. It’s not like we built the store for other people, we really built it for ourselves, in a way. And knowing there are a lot of people out there like us.
How have you seen Hamilton change? As you are part of that change what is the draw to Hamilton? The younger demographic people moving from Toronto?
I think what's cool about Hamilton and what draws people to it is the sense of duality. It's not just a city and it's not just a small town. It's sort of this love child of the two. It's not a suburb and it's not a metropolis, it’s a weird little hybrid. There are people that don’t respond well to major cities. When I go to Toronto, my head spins. I grew up in Mississauga and when I go back I feel like my soul wilts away. Hamilton is like this sweet spot in the middle. It's got the small town feeling when you’re walking down the street and you know everyone, yet it's got all the bars, restaurants, art galleries and the big city amenities. Hamilton has that little bit of everything that is drawing people in. I personally hate to say it’s because of the low cost. I don’t think Hamilton is just cheaper so people are coming here. I think Hamilton is awesome so people are coming here.
How would you relate Barton St to a street in Toronto?
Parkdale, maybe 4 or 5 years ago. A lot of commissions, social services, drugs. There’s a real drug problem in the city. This intersection in particular is very interesting because James N is where the renaissance is taking place, if you will. It's where art crawl is. Barton is that kind of grimy street that runs through it. Now that stuff is starting to take place at the intersection, people are saying we are turning a corner from James down Barton. The idea of this impending Barton renaissance is being talked about.
How Crazy does James street get for the art crawl?
Crazy. We opened a week ago on the crawl and we got absolutely slammed.
It’s funny how certain social events can help launch things. I opened my business 7 years ago on nuit blanche.
It’s like instant critical mass.
Do you make all the leather goods?
It is made by an old friend of my wife and I’s in Etobicoke. I do all the graphic design work.
So you designed the bandana?
Yes. They’re actually dyed in our own espresso beans. They come in all stark white. So we dye them in-house.
How did you pick the coffee?
It is small batch roasted in Ontario. Fair trade organic coffee. We wanted to find a bean that could do really good espresso but also drip coffee, pour over lattes, everything. We wanted a really versatile bean. Then we package it. It’s all our own custom blend and brand.
How long have you been planning this concept. You were travelling.
We were planning the business before we even came back. We were living in Panama and coming up with the concept, and the brand, and business planning while we were away. It’s been over a year in the making, conceptually.
Any recommendations for us?
Shit there’s so much good stuff in the city. The farmers market is awesome. If you walk south down James you’ll see a bunch of cool restaurants, art galleries. Lunch? I would go to Salt Lick, good BBQ.
When you hear about Queen West or Toronto, are there any places you are drawn to?
No. I stay away from Toronto. I lived there for a few years and worked as a chef at Jump and Canoe. I did it for a while and it’s just not for me. Even Panama City is a lot. It’s this crazy huge metropolis but we lived out at the beach, chilling out, surfing and riding bikes on the beach.
Is this going to consume you or take over the bike customization?
It’s more about all of the things playing off each other.
How have you seen Hamilton change since you’ve been back?
We had lots of friends and family here and whenever we would come back from living abroad, we would always end up here for at least a night. Crashing on someone’s couch and going to the bars and restaurants. It always felt like one of the cool cities we were visiting abroad, so it seemed like a natural fit. Hamilton is a city where it changes before your eyes. You walk down the street from day to day and there are always new signs. There are condo developments and construction. The change in Hamilton is so discernable that it is impossible not to see it happening, on all fronts. People like Hamilton because it’s not all shiny and glossy.