Hart House has played a leading role in one entrepreneurial couple’s life for over a decade. Their story, the latest chapter of which sees them supplying their own coffee at the Arbor Room, illustrates that a life-changing university experience is about more than the lab or lecture hall.
Hart House helps students find their calling. It can set the stage for the next chapter of their lives, giving them the confidence to rise to any challenge. One couple, former students now the owners of a very successful coffee shop in the Annex, has entered into a new business venture supplying coffee to the Arbor Room.
Meet Michelle Conte and Julian Zadorozny. She is an alumna from Victoria College with an honours Bachelor of Science in Human Biology and Psychology. He was at Innis College.
They met at Hart House, both working in the food and beverage department. Michelle, arriving first, was wait staff. Later, she was promoted to supervisor. Julian was a bartender who joined having heard about the position from his old friend Nigel Faulkner (Facilities and Caretaking Supervisor), whom he’d known since Grade 9. Both Michelle and Julian got to know Marco Tucci (Executive Chef and Culinary Operations Manager) very well.
After leaving the job when she finished her degree and seeking to do other things career-wise, Michelle started dating Julian. They were married in September 2013 at Hart House in the Great Hall. They’re now approaching their ten-year anniversary.
Entrepreneurial Leap: The Coffee Shop in the Annex
After Julian left Hart House, he was employed in, and became passionate about, the industry of tobacco and Cuban cigars for about eleven years, working his way up to manager at one establishment. When the store closed, however, he wanted to branch out and do something entrepreneurial.
“I love coffee,” he explains. So, he and Michelle chose to launch an independent, organic fair trade coffee shop serving espresso-based drinks, in the Annex or Seaton Village, where they live. They called their shop Chaveta, which is the name of a knife used to cut cigars. “We inserted the word ‘coffee’ after it, so people would know what we’re selling!” Julian adds.
They opened Chaveta Coffee on September 9, 2019, six months before the pandemic. When COVID hit, “It was shocking, new and frightening,” Julian recounts. “We didn't know, to be honest, if we’d have to close the business.”
But take-away, allowed by government regulations after indoor seating was no longer an option, was a perfect solution. “That kind of saved us.” The business quickly pivoted and survived. It is now thriving.
New Venture with Hart House as Coffee Supplier to the Arbor Room
The couple reconnected with their old friend Chef Marco, when the Arbor Room at Hart House underwent its recent operations revamp and Marco took over food and beverage.
“I really enjoyed Michelle and Julian’s coffee, and I know the students and faculty will too. It’s affordable and great tasting. I thought I’d like to bring it to the Arbor Room. It feels good to support a local business, and support alumni as well,” Marco says.
“We sat down with Marco and came up with a dark roast that he and the staff enjoyed … and that's how we ended up providing coffee for the Arbor Room,” Julian says, adding, “We're really grateful to Marco for thinking of us. It's a meaningful step for us, for our business, and an opportunity that we're really proud of. It’s like coming full circle to be back at Hart House.”
Hart House Holds Special Spot for the Couple
To Michelle and Julian, Hart House is all about the connections and friendships. Reflecting on her earlier years at the House, Michelle says, “Hart House is a great community. It's a great place for students to go, to meet people. I met friends there. I met my social group, people I became roommates with. I found my future husband there!
“It’s also very beautiful. I think people really appreciate its beauty and that you can just go there and enjoy an afternoon or do your studying. There's a gym and a swimming pool too. When I found that out, I was ecstatic!” she says.
Julian adds, “I think people don't realize what Hart House offers. The Arbor Room is a tremendous asset.”
Both encourage students, community members, staff and faculty to check out the Arbor Room, have a coffee, have a meal, meet friends. “It's a wonderful experience.”