Photo by Ted Simpson
Making the jump from pop-up to permanent fixture on the Westboro main street, the Cloud Forest Coffee X Pokoloko shop is hoping to bring not only great quality products but also a reminder of the individuals abroad who make these luxuries possible.
Francis Bueckert, owner of Cloud Forest Coffee, saw potential last fall in a vacant Richmond Road shop, formerly David’s Tea, that had already been set up for a café and retail space. Teaming up with his old friends at Pokoloko textiles, they dove into creating the storefront of their dreams. Now they’ve stepped up from a two-month holiday trial run, to signing a two-year lease at the Westboro location (339 Richmond Rd.).
Both companies were born from very similar stories, with the owners taking inspiration from the people they met while travelling in South and Central America. They returned home with entrepreneurial spirits and a desire to give back to the makers whom they learned from along the way.
Bueckert found his calling while studying abroad in Ecuador.
“My teacher had already been serving us this coffee; she would make a pot before class in the morning,” he said. “And I loved it so much, I decided to go volunteer at the coffee cooperative.”
In a remote mountain valley, Bueckert saw how local farmers grew organic coffee beans at high elevations under the shade of native trees in the cloud forest. He said he learned about their struggles to protect the natural environment against Canadian mining operations that come there looking for copper and gold.
“Initially, I brought a suitcase full of coffee back, and I was able to roast it myself,” said Bueckert. “I started really small, with just friends and family, selling it as a side project.”
At Pokoloko, they carry textiles and apparel from a global network of artisans. Owners Jessie Lyon and Case Bakker bonded over their experiences travelling in South America. The pair had an idea that would marry business with their personal ethics. They bought 100 blankets made by an Ecuadorian couple that Bakker had befriended on his travels, and drove around the Ottawa Valley selling them to merchants and gift shops.
Before long, they were back for another order of 100 more blankets.
“At that point, the couple making them were so excited they said, ‘you guys are so crazy,’” said Lyon. “And in Spanish that’s ‘Poco loco,’ so that’s how the name came about.”
At the time of writing, the Westboro shop is closed due to provincial COVID-19 restrictions. While Cloud Forest could still technically operate for takeout, Pokoloko are a non-essential retailer, and therefore not allowed to open for in-person shopping. Because of the disruption to the shop’s original intent, they’ve decided to shut down completely for a one-month period, hoping to open their doors again on Feb. 16.
Lyon says they are all eager to get back to business.
“The Westboro community is incredible; everyone’s been super welcoming; everyone comes in with their dogs and their kids and is really supportive and curious about what we’re doing,” said Lyon. “They’ve really inspired us, so it’s a really nice sort of synergy and that has worked out really well.”