A coffee business which has converted a lot of people into fans this past year is currently converting a new storefront in Guelph.
Lost Aviator Coffee Company is renovating a building at 404 York Rd. into a coffee bar and retail space, which will offer well-roasted coffee, tea-based drinks and baked goods. The sign went up last week, with an opening set for sometime in the next few weeks.
“That was pretty exciting, it kind of made it a little more real,” said Steve Zago, co-founder of Lost Aviator Coffee, about the sign hanging up outside of the building, located between Stevenson Street and Victoria Road.
As the renovations continue, Zago said they are hoping to open either by Christmas 2021 or by 2022.
“If I could have opened it yesterday, I would have.”
Zago and co-founder, Adam Wright, are pilots who were laid off at the beginning of the pandemic. During that time, they decided to go into the coffee roasting business, selling Lost Aviator Coffee.
“You have soft skills that you didn’t know you had as a pilot,” Zago said about going from being a pilot to a business owner. “We’ve used a lot of our problem solving, process management and resource management skills from our day jobs in this venture, and we’ve found the crossover has been really positive.”
Since then, Zago said the company has received lots of local and international support from residents, and within the aviation community.
“It was kind of bewilderment at first, but we didn’t have much time to think about it, people were taking orders from all over Canada and the United States, in Ireland, in the Middle East and everywhere else, and we had to fill orders, we had to roast coffee, problems came up, and we had to solved them, it was genesis over time, but it came more rapidly than we thought.”
After surpassing their first year sale projections in three months, the co-founders decided to establish a storefront.
“It came to a point around the spring where we were like, ‘Okay, We have to take the next step,’” said Zago. “It was growing to the point where we were going to run out of capacity with our small roasting machine and we reached that point, so we started looking for our new location in June."
With Zago and Wright having already returned to the aviation industry, Zago said the business has been built up enough where they can allow someone else to chart the course for Lost Aviator Coffee.
"We've got the business to a point now where we can pass the business off, and that's our plan, is once we got the coffee bar going, we'll take a step back... eventually."
For Zago, the location within The Ward is fitting, as he loves the area and once looked at buying a home there. As a business, Zago said they are excited to join the neighbourhood.
“We remarked very quickly last year that if we ever expanded, we wanted to be in the ward," he said.
“We remarked it was not only a great neighbourhood, but really, an underserved neighbourhood. There’s plenty of coffee places in Downtown Guelph, but none in The Ward, it needs it.”
He adds the landlord of their building is also a former pilot, having flown with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“It’s almost like providence.”
When it comes to the coffee bar, Zago explains the design is influenced by aviation history from the '30s to the '50s. As part of the design for the store, airplane aluminum was installed onto one wall to mimic the inside of an aircraft.
“We want it to be an experience,” Zago said about wanting to transport people from 2021 to another era, “our theme is '30s, '40s, '50s aviation, so we’re going to play music from those eras.”
Taking cues from European coffee bars, there will be limited tables available to act more as a takeout spot. Zago explains this was done intentionally with COVID in mind.
Once open, he adds customers can expect locally-sourced products, with tea coming from a supplier in Guelph and food coming from With The Grain. The menu will focus on serving well-roasted coffee.
“We want to keep the menu simple, it’s really important to us,” said Zago, “we want to present it in the best way possible, there’s a saying, ‘do one thing really well,’ and we want to roast coffee really well.”
Along with having a physical space, Zago said he is looking forward to getting to better know their customers instead of only interacting with through a screen.
“We’re going to do some outreach in the Ward community, handing out samples and introducing ourselves,” said Zago. “At the end of the day, we could have customers from coast to coast, and in the states and everywhere else, but what’s really going to make this entity succeed is having our neighbours come out and support us.”