HotBlack Coffee opened its beautiful fourth location this spring at The Anndore House. Known as one of Toronto’s trendiest coffee shops, this new location was a signal that pandemic struggles were finally falling to the wayside. Expanding, upgrading, and growing, in business, it’s a process. Owner Momiji (Momi) Kishi was positively buzzing in our interview, one that her partner Jimson Bienenstock was to be part of.

Her interview weaved stories of Jimson, their business union, mutual admiration and future plans. But life is unpredictable, death even more so. Only a few days after this interview word had spread that Jimson had passed away, leaving behind a young family and a devoted business partner and friend in Momi.

FROM BEANS TO BREAD AND BACK AGAIN

Describing in detail the pivoting and planning that got them to this fourth venture, Momi outlined the rollout of their previous locations, including the decision to not offer wifi at their original Queen West location.

“Coffee comes from so far away, it takes so much effort and work and energy for you to just scroll and sip. I wanted them to feel something different. I wanted to remove wifi as a distraction so they can enjoy the moment, the cup, the company, the atmosphere. Be there. Jimson and I had a discussion about this, and back then, no wifi in a cafe – he was super worried. I was resolute in this philopshopy and said it was wifi or me, those were my terms,” said Momi.

hotblack coffee momiji kishi

And so they opened, wifi-less. Jimson was as determined to keep Momi attached to HotBlack Coffee as she was to her rituals in making the best cup of coffee in town. And then the New York Times picked up the story on this indie coffee shop and the rest is history. “Sometimes I forget to say the important things and Jimson is always reminding me…” adds Momi. With a steady stream of customers seeking out comfort in a cup, Momi’s familiar and welcoming presence offer some respite from this tragic loss. Jimson was a widely respected and celebrated figure in Toronto’s culinary scene.

BEAUTIFUL DEDICATION IN HER CRAFT

Their newest location is a mere two months old and already bustling. Adjacent to Constantine restaurant in a busy hotel nets a security blanket of sorts. There’s no room service offered at The Anndore so adding in wines, snacks and other grab and go goodies is a natural fit for HotBlack Coffee. Jimson knew this, and was determined for HBC to jump on the space. “Without him I know I wouldn’t be able to jump on that opportunity. So many businesses closed during covid. I’m very grateful,” adds Momi.

But of course, the coffee. Momi was a competitor in the Canadian Barista Competition after all. When asked what the most crucial ingredient is in a perfectly brewed coffee, Momi instantly reveals a warm smile.

“It’s love. I think that is so important. Jimson and I both believe that. Water for sure, we have a sophisticated water filtration system and reverse osmosis, including adding minerals back in for certain beverages. A coffee grinder is also very important. I have many machines, all the top of the line machines work about the same. Water and grinder are the top, next to you, what’s in you. I wanted to pass on my passion so they can catch it, and bring their passion themselves so the customer can feel that passion in every sip.”

hotblack coffee momiji kishi

Honouring the memory of Jimson through each cup, interaction and egg toast, Momi will be grieving this immense loss, as will no doubt many others who knew him.

Hopefully the visual reminders of Jimson’s presence and influence will be a comfort to all. We’ll be taking solace in each sip, every mug and all our shared moments together. ☕ ðŸ•Šï¸

All images by Libby Roach. Interview may be edited for length/clarity.