Keep your head up, take on the day with a cup of coffee in your hands. That’s the meaning behind the name of downtown Kitchener’s newest coffee shop, and what co-owner Joel Gingrich had in mind when naming his latest KW eatery. Along with partners Steve Sittler and Tony Rubino, Gingrich opened Smile Tiger in May to a warm welcome from the community.
A little off the beaten path, Smile Tiger is next to the Victoria Street train station in a 1920s building that was easy to miss before Gingrich gave it a modern cafe makeover. It’s his second cafe — he opened DVLB in uptown with his wife nearly five years ago. This one is a little different. Smile Tiger began in 2015 as a wholesale coffee roaster. Realizing the brand could be more than that, Gingrich and his team opened the cafe.
Located at 100 Ahrens Street West, Smile Tiger isn’t exactly in central downtown, but that’s how Gingrich wanted it.
“I didn’t want to be on a main street again, I wanted it to be a destination,” he said adding that there is psychology behind getting customers to come to you rather than have your business simply be convenient to them.
“It’s definitely riskier, by not being on main street. So you have to be doing something pretty special in order to find success and not be right in people’s face,” he said.
For early risers and commuters taking the train, the cafe opens at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, staying open to 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. The business is licenced with five rotating craft beer taps.
“It’s not just the coffee. You’re coming into a coffee shop or a bar or a restaurant for an experience first. I think the product has to be great, but it’s not the only reason people are sitting here.” Gingrich said. He’s not worried about other coffee shops because he says Smile Tiger is offering something a little different.
A KW native, Gingrich had a suit job in Toronto for over a decade. On visits back to the Region he saw potential.
“It has a healthy vibrancy. There’s still a lot of work to do, especially in Kitchener, Waterloo is a little more polished. Kitchener is a little rough around the edges, but that’s not a deterrent, that’s an opportunity.”
Patrons can sit and sip their coffee with a view into the glass room behind the bar that hosts the coffee roasting business. They supply coffee for a few local and non-local businesses, and you can buy their beans – with roast names like Nightmare Hippy Girl and Black Tambourine – at the shop.