My interview with Neil Huber, co-owner at Ignite Restaurant Group, the team behind Graffiti Market, the new restaurant/brewery/café/market at Catalyst 137, might have been my most observant yet. We met on an atypical rainy summer morning in the large industrial lobby of Catalyst 137, and for the next hour as we toured the culinary collision, I said “wow” far more than I asked intelligent questions.
Let me start by explaining everything going on inside the relatively understated Catalyst 137 building, a hardware IoT hub hosting companies like Miovision, SnapPea Design and SigmaPoint. Apart from a few company logos and the faint, quiet glow of a string of Edison bulbs on the Graffiti patio, it would be easy to miss when driving by on Glasgow street.
But inside is bustling with action.
First, there is Red Circle Coffee Roasters, run by Monica and Graham Braun of Monigram Coffee Roasters in Galt. It takes over the front entrance of Catalyst with its warm aroma, giving off that perfect kind of coffee smell that lingers on you after you leave. They make all their pastries and confections in house and soon will roast the beans on location too.
Next, there is the market of Graffiti’s namesake. The market holds boxes of vinyl, juices, lunches, ice cream, local vegetables and general groceries. This market is meant both to serve the people in the Catalyst community but also the Belmont residents at large.
Beyond the market is the restaurant. The menu is inspired by ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop with items like “Soup There It Is”, “No Sleep Til Burrata” and “Insane in the Romaine”, and includes the classics – pizza, pasta, burgers. It also showcases four feature beers from the inhouse brewery Red Circle Brewing: a lager, IPA, farmhouse ale and a stout. The restaurant seats close to 200 inside, and about 98 on the patio.
The industrial walls are covered by a mural of the Kitchener skyline by local graffiti artists, there are beer hall style community tables and benches, and the open concept kitchen gives view to the pizza oven that can crank out 300 pizzas a day.
The crowning jewel of the restaurant are the 26 smart touch screen tables. At each seat is an app that opens up to an interactive scrollable menu, where each item on the menu has a corresponding video and description. You order straight from your table — servers are there to focus on customer service. There is a news app, an air hockey app and a puzzle app. You can even connect your phone to table via a corresponding app and QR code, allowing you to drag your photos right onto the screen on the table.
The final element is a small Four All Ice Cream stand that you can order either off the menu for dessert or grab in boxes on your way out.
And if all of that is not enough, Huber and his team have sky high dreams for the space. The Ignite Group is committed to maturing the local arts, music and maker community in their space through live entertainment events, acoustic music sessions, hackathons and even a podcast featuring the chefs, brew and coffee masters of the space.
“From jump off, we really wanted to make the space about content creation and supporting the arts. We are doing what we call Red Circle sessions where we will have independent local bands that want to just get their music out there, doing small acoustic sets,” Huber said.
“We want to open up contests with local artists that we know and love and have them design limited edition t-shirts and artwork where a large portion of the proceeds will go to arts councils and into the community.”
The maker mindset is extending to the Catalyst residents too, who have been pro-actively offering support and suggestions to Graffiti on how to continue advancing their tech. Think beer glasses with chips on the base to offer more info on your pint, new apps on the smart table to connect PDFs or presentations for business meetings, and live art competitions to continue covering the walls. The innovation happening around Graffiti Market is certainly not lost on them.
On that summer day, I let Huber do most of the talking. The collaboration happening in the space on paper seems like it might be too much, but really, it’s incredible. Each portion of the group has their speciality, and their focus on their craft combined with an open-minded, earnest desire to create collectivity has created a restaurant that is like nothing I’ve seen.
“If you want the best coffee you will ever have you can just walk over to Red Circle and enjoy an Americano and a pastry, if you want to sit down and experience something new that doesn’t really exist anywhere else, you come into the restaurant and sit down at the table and enjoy one of our beers, or pizza,” Huber said.
“And with the brewery, it’s about connecting with everything that occurred around the Region both now and in the past.”
There is something special happening right now to the culture of Waterloo Region. There is an energy of innovation and creativity that started with tech, and is bleeding into the culinary, coffee and beer worlds.
Graffiti Market in Catalyst 137 is a romantic marriage of these impulses. Their support to the local community, offer of excellent products and willingness to try something new and big makes them a valued addition to our community.