Photo of sign above i deal coffee’s Kensington Market location by Michael D’Amico.
Local latte mainstay i deal coffee is about to be sold. At least that’s the plan, according to founder and resident bean-master James Fortier. But while you would be forgiven for assuming that the decision to unload the company is because of the topsy-turvy economy, Fortier says that that’s not the case. As it turns out, it’s all about making time for his family-to-be.
“We’re going to move to Costa Rica and be farmers,” Fortier told Torontoist yesterday, referring to himself and his future wife, Heather Olsen-Seabourne, who runs i deal’s east-end location and creates the company’s baked goods. “We’re going to get married next year and start to have kids, and we certainly don’t want to be working fifty hours a week when we’re trying to raise kids. We love what we do, but we also acknowledge that we don’t want to have kids and have nannies raise them or anything like that.”
Fortier and Olsen-Seabourne have yet to list i deal with a broker—they plan to do so next week—but several potential buyers have already approached them to discuss taking the company off their hands. So far, though, none have passed muster. “We’ve had lots of people who’ve kind of wanted to buy it, but we haven’t necessarily wanted to sell it to them, because they’re not really a good fit.”
Inside i deal coffee’s Kensington Market location. Photo by Rebecca Pinkus.
Under Fortier, i deal has made a name for itself as a purveyor of sustainable, high-quality, in-house-roasted beans. Even though he plans to leave the company behind, the continuation of i deal’s reputation for impeccably selected and prepared coffee is at the front of his mind.
“It’s our baby, you know?” said Fortier, who opened the first i deal in Kensington Market in early 1999. Olsen-Seabourne came on board five years later when the company began to expand to new locations (in addition to cafés on Nassau Street and Queen Street East, there are also shops on Ossington Avenue and in Ottawa’s Byward Market).
“You can’t spend eleven years running a business and then just [sell it to whomever]. Well, I guess you could, but we don’t want to,” Fortier said with a laugh. “We have twenty-two employees. I don’t want to sell it to somebody who’s just going to fire everybody, and I don’t want to sell it to somebody who’s going to start roasting inferior coffee and just coast on the name.”
Once Fortier and Olsen-Seabourne locate a suitable buyer, they hope to find a way to maintain ties with i deal, but as suppliers rather than operators. “We will grow some coffee” in Costa Rica, said Fortier. “We could probably grow specific, fairly esoteric varietals of coffee and have an excellent market for it here.” He’s also excited to raise cattle on their plot of land, continuing a family tradition of dairy farming. “I’m interested in grass-fed beef and organic milk. We’ve been organic foodies for a long time, so we would like to get into that whole realm.”
Despite the impending end of their time at i deal, the pair may yet find a way to mix their new, more leisurely lifestyle with café proprietorship. Fortier and Olsen-Seabourne are both avid surfers, so a little coffee shop and bakery on the beach is in the realm of possibility. Food, drink, family, and fun: maybe sometimes you can have it all.