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Japanese Coffee Brand ‘% Arabica’ Kicks Off Canadian Expansion with 1st Location Opening in Toronto [Photos/Interview]

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World-renowned Japanese coffee brand % Arabica is opening its first location in Canada at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. 

The brand, which is based in Kyoto, Japan, has 134 stores globally.

“We are extremely excited to enter the Canadian market. We have a deep love for Canada and anticipate Canadians will feel the same way about our coffee,” said Kenneth Shoji, founder of % Arabica, in a statement. “The opening of our first Canadian brick and mortar inside Yorkdale Shopping Centre marks the first of many openings across Canada. In 2023 we will be opening another Toronto location inside Union station. We’re also thrilled to announce we’ll expand to the West Coast with a location in Whistler, British Columbia.

“You’ll notice that we provide a one-of-a-kind experience from start to finish; the moment you enter % Arabica, you are transported into our world.”

% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: % Arabica)

% Arabica was founded in 2013, and opened its global flagship store in Kyoto, Japan in 2014. It is now in 18 countries in North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Kobe Lee, Global Head Barista for the brand, said the equipment the coffee brand uses is the best in the world. 

“All the beans, we roast in our stores,” he said. “The roasting machine comes from Japan.”

Lee said the Yorkdale site was chosen as the brand’s first location because it’s in Toronto and one of the top malls in the country. 

“We chose a very special corner,” he said. “It’s important because the store’s shape is very different. It’s why we chose Yorkdale first.”

Michael Betel of Cushman & Wakefield represents % Arabica for its real estate selection in Canada.

% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: % Arabica)

Lee said the Union Station location will open early next year perhaps by March and Whistler after that in May or June. He said the brand could grow to about 10 to 20 locations in Canada eventually.

% Arabica sources largely from small farms, serving their unique blend, as well as single-origin beans from around the world. % Arabica is more than coffee, it is a lifestyle experience with a focus on design and simple pleasures. The brand’s love for coffee and design shines through its unique architecture and the one-of-a-kind coffee experience offered at each location, according to the company.

“Presenting a chic and minimalist interior and Japanese-inspired ambiance that’s reminiscent of Kyoto, % Arabica offers a carefully curated menu that spans espresso-based coffees, specialty lattes, drip coffees, matcha, and much more specialty offerings,” it said.

“% Arabica is about my love for coffee, design, and seeing the world.

% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: % Arabica)

My story begins in Tokyo, Japan. Being raised by parents who were enthusiasts of a universal language called ‘’Esperanto”, we would travel abroad every summer to attend a “World Esperanto Congress” held in different countries.  My father was the owner of a manufacturing and trading company, and together with his frequent business trips, they would take me overseas whenever possible – ultimately helping to inspire my love of multiculturalism, design, and architecture,” writes Shoji on the company’s website.

“Through experiencing different cultures, seeing rich and poor people, happy and unhappy people, I started to wonder who I was, and asked myself what kind of life I wanted to live? After my high school graduation, I moved to California for college. I settled into a snug apartment in Venice Beach and indulged myself in the unique fusion of beach hippie culture.  It was during my college years that my love for coffee started. In 1990’s, Starbucks began to expand throughout the country, capturing me with their new coffee culture and serene atmosphere. I spent lots of my days at the Starbucks in Venice Beach, either talking with friends or studying.

“Upon graduating from college, I started work for a trading company, which allowed me to travel overseas for business. A lot was learned from working closely with business owners around the world; I gained valuable insights as per their mindset towards work and life.  And although most of them were very wealthy, I found that some were happy and others were not.”

He said this caused him to keep asking the same two questions:

Who am I? What kind of life do I want to live?

On reflection his answers were: I want to live a simple and down-to-earth life. I only need the basics to be satisfied: food, clothing and a house. As my parents did for me, I also want to travel with my children and provide a higher standard of life for them.

“And my last answer was coffee. I truly need an amazing cup of coffee every day. This is why I founded % Arabica,” he writes.

“So to create the best coffee possible, I borrowed money and bought a coffee farm in Hawaii. I also started trading green beans from around the world and became the sole-exporter of a Japanese roasting machine along with the distributor of one of the best espresso machines in the world. Then in September 2014, I opened the flagship store in the beautiful historic city of Kyoto, Japan.

“Our dream is to grow % Arabica across unique lands and cultures of the world, so that we can “See the World Through Coffee.” We only live once, so let’s explore the world we live in, set goals, and enjoy our time together over an amazing cup of coffee.”

Additional Photos from Media Day at % Arabica Yorkdale

% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
% Arabica at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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