One of Toronto’s quirkiest cafes has just become a bit more “kooky” in the words of its founder Liz Haines. Formerly called the Intergalactic Travel Authority, the espresso bar was designed to support Story Planet, a charity modelled after Dave Egger’s 826 Valencia, which provides writing and communication workshops for kids from age six to 18.
Operated as a social enterprise, the Intergalactic Space Authority was never about making tons of money, but the cafe was the economic engine that made running Story Planet out of a storefront space possible. Now, just over three years since it opened, the concept has proven insufficient to fund the operation.
Rather than close up shop, Haines has decided to try something unconventional. “While our social enterprise (formerly known as the ITA) has been an amazing community hub, it has not been financially viable. We have let the espresso machine go and are operating it, for the next little while, as a pay-what-you-can, serve-yourself community lounge,” she notes.
Aside from the loss of the espresso machine, the space remains the same as before, and there’s still drip coffee on offer. The space has always been available to rent ($30 an hour), so the new model isn’t radically different than before, but the notion of a PWYC cafe and lounge is intriguing.
“We’ve been surprised by the incredibly warm reception to this slightly kooky idea,” Haines writes in a blog post.
It will, however, need plenty of support to remain viable. Story Planet is trying out the concept for the month of April, after which time it will decide whether to keep the storefront space at 1165 Bloor St. West or close up shop and continue its programming in schools and community centres.