SUDBURY -- After years as a "Tim Hortons town," Sudbury has seen an increasing number of locally-owned speciality coffee shops, but now the biggest player in the industry is expanding in the city as well.

It’s big news for coffee lovers in Sudbury that Starbucks is opening new locations in a city where, for so long, there was just one. The Seattle-based coffee giant has identified Sudbury as a place to expand, and, in the last year, has opened two new outlets. There are plans to open three more locations in the coming months, including in suburban places like the Val Caron-Hanmer area and Chelmsford.

Sudbury’s south end is home to one of Starbucks’ new locations and is doing booming business. The area is filled with high-end homes, lakefront properties, wealthy neighbourhoods, and plenty of people with the disposable income to afford the $5 caramel macchiato.

Local operators not fearful 

Lately, several locally-owned coffee places have been doing well in the market, offering quaint and cozy storefront spaces, with a variety of upscale coffees, and often a hip and well-informed staff that works to enhance the customer experience.

"I don’t love the fact that more Starbucks are coming," says Tania Renelli, the owner of two Salute Coffee Company locations in Sudbury. "They are not locally-operated franchises, but rather they are run by corporate offices out of Seattle, and they’ll be taking profits out of our city and bringing them back to the States." 

However, she says she does have a lot of respect for Starbucks and its marketing strategies, and believes there is "more than enough business for all of us." 

Tania Renelli, of Sudbury's Salute Coffee Company

Renelli feels the quality of the coffee experience that she and the other local operators can offer will keep loyal and discerning customers coming back.

"I liken it to a steak. If you’re going to get yours well-done, there’s really not much point in ordering a top-of-the-line cut of meat.  If you’re going to over-roast your coffee beans, like the big chains do, you lose nuances of flavour, and all you get instead is a dark roast coffee with a smoky flavour," she says.  

Renelli also says the fact she can offer very high-calibre, single-origin coffees, prepared by staff who have acquired the skills and craft to be proper baristas are all part of the appeal of a place like Salute. She also takes pride in the fact that her food offerings are made with locally-sourced ingredients, which support Sudbury’s economy.

"My kale and my free-range eggs come from a local farm in Azilda, and I’m proud of that," she says.  

Customer loyalty will be key

So, is there enough room in the Sudbury coffee market for Tim’s and Starbucks, as well as the smaller local shops such as: Salute, Old Rock, Twiggs, and Pinchman’s?

Cambrian College business professor Brian Vendramin thinks that there is.

"What I’ve seen happen in this market is the independents are making their mark by demonstrating a developed competency, by letting people know they are supporting the local economy with their sourcing, and by cultivating and keeping a loyal following," he says.

"I can’t emphasize enough how important the customer experience is. From the cleanliness of the place when you walk in, to the aromas you smell, to the congeniality of the staff, to how long you have to wait. Those are the things that will make people decide whether they are coming back," says Vendramin.

Local coffee shops co-operate

It may be a sign of the times, or it may be banding together to battle the big chains, but the various local coffee cafes in Sudbury have recently formed a loose alliance, and have produced a map and brochure.

Local Coffee Tour Map created by Sudbury shops

It outlines the locations of 12 independent operators in the café business and also provides a short blurb about what each is offering to customers.

"We came together with Dave at Twiggs, Carol at Old Rock, and Marc at Pinchman’s, as well as the others, and decided to do this to let Sudbury know we’re here, and we want their business, and why it matters that people support us," says Renelli.

No threat to Tim’s

There are close to 30 Tim Hortons outlets in the Greater Sudbury area, and for years, a loyal and long-dedicated legion of coffee drinkers have supported the chain. Tim Hortons will never be threatened.

Changing people’s long-developed habits in choosing their coffee and where they get it may be a challenge, and diverting people from the famous "double double" may seem like a daunting task, but Renelli says she and the others are up for it, one cup at a time.

"We’re part of third-wave style coffee operators, where skill and craft are important, as is attention to detail. We see coffee as far more than a commodity, considering it to be an artisanal food, like wine, where the product is the ultimate taste experience," said Renelli.