By Carol Salinas
Novelty cafes of all kinds have popped up in recent years and have provided fun spaces for socializing in Toronto. There are board game cafes, cat cafes and even poop themed cafes that are popular for people to hang out. However, have you heard about a Cafe where you can talk with your friends about your creative projects and make them into something with a 3D printer and laser cutter? Toronto’s Maker Bean Cafe let’s you do just that.
In this interview with VIBE Correspondent Carol Salinas, we discuss with Lorrraine Sit and Chris Caira both CEOs of The Maker Bean Cafe. The Toronto´s First Makerspace Cafe.
Carol: Could you tell us how the Maker Bean Cafe started?
Chris: The Maker Bean Cafe started because Lorraine and I were very interested in making things, with our hands, with technology and we started to learn about ourselves, we went to places to learn about like maker spaces or workshops and we thought that a lot of people would like to learn about this thing in a more comfortable environment like a Cafe, so we thought why don´t we teach people about 3D printing, laser cutting, but also serve really good coffee, good tea, good food, so we created Maker Bean to give people a comfortable place to learn about new technology.
Carol: Could you tell me something more about your business, I mean the concept that makes a big difference with regard to the rest of the cafes in this neighbourhood or even throughout Toronto.
Chris: We have two parts to our name MAKER and BEAN. I think that the Bean part is obviously a coffee Bean. Toronto has so many amazing cafes and our coffee is I think among the best in the City, it is from Propeller Coffee, which is the roaster here in the neighbourhood at Lansdowne and Bloor, so we wanted to make sure we have the absolute best coffee. But I think that today, the environment maybe is that it is not enough; people want to do something or have a reason to go to a cafe that is a complement to the coffee and the food, so we thought how could we be that difference. For us we looked at other cafes and maybe doing like a painting thing or other kinds of arts, but both of us love creativity; we love technology, so this was a natural fix together and I think coffee makes people more creative, they get caffeine, they get excited, they start thinking about new ideas. The idea of the MAKER BEAN is the people get excited about drinking coffee and tea, and eating food to make projects.
Lorraine: And also it is a place where people like to come to meet, whether you are working on a project together, it's a comfortable place that people want to get together to talk about their project or work on a project together.
Carol: Who designed this concept of enterprise?
Chris: I think that the look and feel... a lot of that was Lorraine. She is an Art Director, Creative, Genius. I think that the whole format... how we engage people and workshops -- we do that together. I am more like the operations guide; she is more the creative guide.
Lorraine: We are the right print and left print, you know like the one side business, one side creative.
Carol: Chris, who can access your 3D printers and laser cutters? Can people just come in and use the tools or do they have to sign up to a workshop first?
Chris: They are available any time! You can come in and use the laser cutter or 3D printer if they are available (and generally they are) and if you have a big project and you need lot of time to do your work we can reserve it for you (just call or email us). We also have set times when you can come in to learn about it, for example Mondays at 6:30 to 8:30 you can come and learn about 3D printers or laser cutting. We have a screen and a projector and we show people how to do 3D printing and laser cutting. Then, you get to use the machine for the whole two hours because you are part of the workshop.
Lorraine: And then that way once you have learned how to design for the laser cutter or the 3D printer then the next time you come in, you already know how to use that machine.
Carol: Let’s say someone wants to make their own stuff without a provided template, what are the fees that come with using those tools?
Chris: For 3D Printing is $5 set up and 10 cents /min and something that is maybe 2 inches tall maybe 1 inch wide is about 1 hour or 2 hours so $6 - $12 for the printing time. For the laser cutting we priced it more depending on the size of your project; if something is about 3 inches (like a coaster) that would be about $6 - $8. Something that is a bit larger, like a plate could be maybe $12 and then we do larger sizes maybe like two feet would be about $30 - $40.
Lorraine: And then the workshops are $30 for 2 hours where we supply all the materials like the computers and the lesson; you get a tea or a coffee with it and then you get to make something into get home.
Carol: Could you tell us more about the workshops that are run at the Toronto Reference Library and at The Maker Bean Café?
Chris: We partner with Steam Labs, they come here and they lead the workshops for primarily kids 6 to 13 years old and the kids learn about 3D printing, laser cutting, coding and computers, we do that for the summer that is (Monday and Friday) and then we also do it in the Fall. Kids can come on Saturday and Sunday or after school on Wednesday and they will learn a lot of the technology. They call it STEM, which is Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and they will learn about those topics here and STEAM LABS leads those classes.
Carol: Aside from the maker space that you provide, it’s also a Cafe. What menu items are ‘must tries’?
Chris: For sure I think coffee is our most popular item, we have very good coffee from Propeller. The tea is popular; it’s from PLUCK which is a famous tea company in Ontario. Our most sold item is the Americano coffee or maybe a latte, they are quite popular, but now that it is so hot outside it’s more Ice Americano or Ice latte, people want cool a version of that.
Lorraine: We also source local ingredients. And I think our croissants are very popular, which are from Butter Bakery which is like a French bakery, so raspberries, chocolate croissants, regular croissants.
Carol: Do you have any advice for the new entrepreneurs in Toronto?
Chris: Have a plan, like think far in advance, try to think what is coming and plan for it. For example, think about things like funding. Whether it’s banks or investors... it takes a lot of time to get. It does not come quickly so you have to plan each item to your timeline and meeting partners that you will work with. You know, everyone from the suppliers of your food to the people who will run your workshops... accountants and lawyers, there are so many people who help you. You need to find a big team and meet them, and to learn how to work with them takes a long time.
A big advantage for us is that we started just with pop ups, so small events two days, three days; we learnt how to do that. Then we started at the Science Centre, you know, it got little bit bigger, now every day we are there and we do coffee and tea and laser cutting and we became very good at that. Now, we are here on Bloor Street; we have 3D printing , classes, workshops, even more, so that is a good advice for a entrepreneurs.
“Start small, start with something very small like one-day events and then try for a weekend and then maybe a week and then eventually you get full time space, so get bigger every day”.
Lorraine: And also be patient too, because I think that when you first open it’s not going to be busy right away. It’s slow, you have to do advertising or marketing to get people to come, you know people slowly get to learn about you and it won't be right away.
Carol: What is the thing that you are most proud of your Business?
Chris: I think our website has the most important things like... I think the things that we are most proud of -- we do everyday -- is the workshops. We are for adults on Mondays and for kids all through the week and we also have a shop online, so many of the designs that our staff make or that Lorraine makes, there is a shop where you can buy things online and there is a little difference that it makes. Usually you make it yourself where we found many people just love the designs that we make, so we decided to create more of a retail store where you can just shop and buy gifts for people.
Lorraine: Also for beginners, maybe you want to make something but you are not sure, so some design gives you an idea or maybe the first time you use one of our designs and then maybe inspires you to create your own design for the next time.
Carol: Where can people find you in addition to the Bloor Street West location? Are you connected to any social network?
Chris: There will be another location at Ontario Science Center, that is another place you can meet us. We often go the events. Also we bring the laser cutter and you can see that it is on the wheels, so we can bring it into our car and we bring it to events. For example we will do a wedding on Saturday, we will bring the machine to the wedding and the guests will choose the design and we will cut it as a gift to the guests from the bride and the groom. We will go to a Film Festival in October where we will help people make things at the Festival.
Lorraine: We try to go to different pop ups to meet different people and different communities.
Chris: We have a website and we have Instagram and Facebook, both are @TheMakerBean. Also we will be in One of a Kind show for 6 days, is all artists, people who make their own things and I think is about 500 people who are vendors there and about over 100,000 people go each day at Christmas time, so we will be there with the laser cutter and working there and sharing the news about the business. That is the most important thing as Lorraine said, any new business has to get out there and introduce themselves to meet new people and be visible. Have people learn about you. You can´t just come and sit inside a store and wait for people to come to you.
The Maker Bean Cafe is undoubtedly an excellent way to spend any day. Whether you’re travelling from another city or looking for something fun to do in Toronto, Maker Bean Cafe is the best of both worlds. Here’s one less excuse for not making your projects come true! Happy creating!