by Jan Davies
Jordan and Stephanie Malka opened Beacon Bike & Brew in Picton on June 29, 2019. “We couldn’t miss Canada Day!” says Jordan. “We renovated for two months, brought our staff in 10 days before opening and ripped the paper off our windows 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning of the long weekend – and what an amazing day, with music and people everywhere and grass laid down in the street, just wow.” Business has been steady since.
A licensed café that welcomes everyone, but especially cyclists and little kids is a good addition to Picton Main Street, and the place looks fabulous – an airy and relaxing ambience created with materials both natural and inspired by nature, a mix of new and upcycled furniture and cheerful paint colours. “I found great secondhand tables and chairs even before we had a proper business plan,” Stephanie laughs. They did most of the painting themselves except the distinctive stripes on one of the walls. “We let a professional do that,” she says.“It would have taken us days but he did it in about 45 minutes.”
The dedicated children’s area is important to them. As parents of a 19-month old, they know the frustration of being out and about with kids but unable to browse or relax because there’s nowhere to put them down. “Most places just don’t have the space, but we do, so we thought why not offer it up? And of course it’s good for us personally, because we both work here and can have our son Levi with us if need be. ” Of course there are other places in town with kid friendly spaces including Books & Company and Picton Library, but you can’t sit down and have a coffee, beer or bite of food there!
Not surprisingly they get lots of parents and grandparents coming in to stretch out, have a coffee and relax with little ones. There’s room for strollers and of course bikes, because appealing to cyclists is part of the business. “That and the beer,” laughs Stephanie. “I’m beginning to appreciate how intertwined the coffee, beer and cycling worlds are. It’s nothing new, Toronto and Montreal have a lot of places like this, Belleville, too, and if you go to Europe they’re everywhere.” It was a great idea for Picton as The County is so attractive to cyclists and had no other cycle focused cafe or retail space.
As well as visiting cyclists there’s a cohort of older people here getting into – or back into – cycling for exercise, health and recreation, and their prominent position on Main Street works well being close to the trails and handy for long distance riders on their way to and from the Glenora Ferry. The bike rack out front is a big draw. “We’d like to be a community place where you can stop to pump up your tire and sit and have a coffee, drink or snack or grab that bike accessory you may be missing.”
They’d love to offer bike services, but had to give that idea up when they advertised for a mechanic and got no response. Good bike mechanics are valuable and rare, so for now they’re working on either becoming a bike service depot, “where you can drop off your bike and we’ll send it out to be serviced and repaired,” says Jordan, or having a DIY hop corner where cyclists could have access to fix their bikes themselves.
He knows that side of the business will be more seasonal and stresses they don’t want to get into a situation where they hire people and have to let them go for six months. “We want a business that can keep people employed year round.” Having lived in The County for four years, they’ve seen the highs and lows. “Our son Levi was born in winter and we walked around Picton noting which businesses had people in them and were doing okay.” Jordan worked for three years with the Drake Devonshire and knows the challenges of staffing. Therefore they made sure the concept for the store could be run with a small and dedicated staff..
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT BIKES …
As we spoke young Levi played around us, interacted with customers and tried on helmets. Jordan and Stephanie are adamant about safety and proud to offer helmets and accessories that are fun and colourful and seriously well-made. “We wanted to appeal to a variety of cyclists and offer some styles geared to lifestyle riders, as well as kids,” says Jordan. “Lots of people commute by bike, even if it’s just one end of Picton to another. If by offering fun styles we can persuade people to wear helmets, that’s good. Someone rode by the other day wearing a Nutcase helmet that looked like a watermelon, it was great!”
Bike talk is always an ice-breaker in the café, as are the high end bikes that hang on the walls like art. “We’ve got a great consignment program going with Blacksmith Cycle in Toronto,” he says. “But some people tell us we’ve inspired them to dig out their old bikes and start riding again.” However it’s not all about bikes. “We want everyone to feel welcome, that’s why we are licensed and have a kids area and offer wi-fi. We keep it casual, just a nice, friendly place to hang out.”
It’s a morning, light-lunch and snackable menu with some lovely pastries from Drip Coffee who they discovered at Wellington Market and butter tarts from Maple Key Tarts. Stephanie helpfully suggests if you miss either of them at the Saturday morning market you can come down to Beacon to find their wares. The coffee they serve is from Quietly Coffee in Stirling, who also supply Drip in the market. “We love Lee’s coffee and his packaging is all compostable, and Stirling’s pretty handy just 45 minutes away,” says Jordan. He built his menu around items he grew up with, and if some of them sound exotic, that’s because they are. “I’m half Moroccan and Saturdays used to be spent at my dad’s parents’ place. Twenty-five people in the apartment, sharing a meal of Moroccan food with Mediterranean spices, lots of braised dishes. All the kids standing, that was just normal. My mother’s side is Eastern European Jewish, so lots of deli foods,” he laughs. “Pickles and corned beef and cream soda are in my blood!”
(Food shots by Photographer Daniel Vaughan. Visit Gallery here)
Their bread is from Kaleidoscope here in The County including fantastic red fyfe rye, and Jordan says, “I’m cooking corned beef because if I’m going to be here working seven days a week I need my corned beef sandwiches!” Their meat is from Ralph’s in Picton, who he says do a great consistent job, while greens and veggies are from Blue Wheelbarrow and Hagerman’s, too. “It’s a small menu and there are so many great producers in The County I know I can keep it simple and local and really good.” Reception has been enthusiastic and the Moroccan Cigars quickly became a favourite, traditional beef and phyllo rolls up, made with Moroccan spice mix, baked and served with humus.
Everything they serve from their beer selection can be found not far from the Millenium Trail. “People come in and try things here and then go off to find the makers, Matron Brewery, Parson’s Brewery, Midtown Brewing, to name a few, for themselves.” They also offer a selection of County wines from Rosehall Run, The Grange, Lighthall and Traynor and cider from County Cider Company and a new cidery called Stock & Row. A cocktail menu is in the works, but for now they offer negronis from Dillons. Stay tuned!
THE MOVE TO THE COUNTY
In the food and beverage business for 18 years, Jordan came out to The County for licensee events. Stephanie would join him, and they fell in love with the place. “We visited and kicked tires for a couple of years,” he says. “We even had an interested investor, but where we saw potential in places he didn’t,” says Jordan with a shrug. He recalls the weekend that changed everything. “We were on our way to Rosehall Run for an event when Dan Sullivan called to say it was cancelled because of lousy weather. Dan invited us to come anyway and we helped him eat the food he’d prepared for about 20 people. Dan is a wonderful guy. Next day we went to The Drake Devonshire and I ran into an old friend who turned out to be the general manager at the time – and they were hiring.” That was July. By Labour Day he was living above Wellington’s Home Hardware and working for The Drake. “I’d say that fateful weekend was the catalyst for our moving here, but The Drake made it possible for us, and for other families, to make the move. Now with The Royal reopening that that could bring opportunities for other families who are ready to roll the dice, take a chance on moving here, or staying here, if they can secure steady employment while they get on their feet.”
Stephanie admits she found the transition harder than expected. “It’s definitely different from living in the city. But then I’m an all or nothing kind of person. I spent some time living in New York and this is the complete opposite. I do like it, access to the outdoor life, beaches on your doorstep, wineries and breweries and being surrounded by the creative community in The County. But winter was a shock. I’ve never liked winter, not even in the city, so the quietness of winter threw me.” It was different for Jordan who, he says, stepped out of the car and plunged right into working. That’s common, too, with couples who move here, if one is working 70 hours a week with no time to miss their old life, but the other might have tougher transition if they’re working as a freelancer, like Stephanie. “Our old Toronto neighbours ask what it’s like living here, and I say “We used to go to High Park one day, next day to the Beaches and another day maybe North York. Well here we go to the park today, Tuesday we’re off to Kingston to see a show and another day we’ll go to Wellington. The County is big place with lots of places to go. We lived in a community there, we live in a community here.” For the first two years they did keep their rented apartment and sublet it to a friend who shared the cost. It came in handy when Stephanie was working in the city on design projects or shows or when they missed the city life. “When Stephanie was seven months pregnant we were forced to let it go, the landlord supposedly needed it for his family, but we had made our decision to stay in The County and it was a good thing. It suddenly made life a lot simpler.”
Stephanie doesn’t look back. “The city was just getting to be too much,” she recalls. “And we could never afford to buy a place there. We tried, but we kept getting outbid. We feel so lucky here to have what we have.” Jordan’s mother convinced his stepfather to buy a cottage on Muscote Bay to ensure she’d see enough of them. “It was an easy sell as he was amazed to keep running into people he knows, or had known in the county,” says Jordan. “We joke that The County is like a witness protection project! So many people come here and start whole new lives.”
After renting in Bloomfield for a year they found a 144 year old brick house in Picton, a duplex where they could rent out half. “It needed a lot of work, but we felt it was a great buy and wanted to breathe new life into it. It’s good to be investing in our community. We can also get to the 401 easily, drive to Belleville to hop a train for Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto if we need a city fix. We’re looking forward to taking Levi as he hasn’t been on a train yet – on a plane, yes – but I think he’s going to love the train and of course his first bike.”
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