Photos by Matty Flader / Photo Reporter
King William Street is known throughout Hamilton for housing some of the finest restaurants the city has to offer. While the two blocks are great for a night out on the town, there is a lack of grab and go items. Husband and wife duo, Jason and Rachel Hofing, found what it would take to fill this gap. This led to the development of their own coffee/cafe brand.
Before creating one of Hamilton’s premiere coffee roasters, Jason and Rachel lived in Oshawa. While Jason was working full-time at FedEx, Rachel stayed at home to raise their two small children.
“What bothered me was how far away we were from our family and friends. We were on the wrong side of Toronto . . . it came down to quality of life. I wanted our kids to grow up with their cousins and grandparents, for us to feel connected because we are really close with our friends. How do I get my family into the Hamilton area? I saw that a transfer wasn’t happening [but] one of my pickups and deliveries was a coffee roaster in Kingston. So that’s where I started to understand the coffee,” said Jason.
Eventually, Rachel and Jason’s trains of thought intersected.
“The timing was really interesting . . . Around the same time, I’m in Oshawa with the babies and Oshawa Centre would turn their parking lot into a farmers’ market a few days a week. We started caring a lot as a family about “If I’m going to buy vegetables, why wouldn’t I just get it from the farmers at the farmer’s market.” If we’re going to get coffee, why don’t we get it from somewhere where they haven’t sprayed it and people got paid. What can we do that is wholesome, ethical and matters for quality of life for everyone — not just people we can see but right down to my kids — feeding them the right things,” said Rachel.
Jason and Rachel’s roasting brand began in 2008 as Red Hill Coffee Trade, bringing locally roasted, fair-trade, organic beans to cafés and restaurants across Hamilton. Through participation in monthly art crawls and festivals, they were able to develop relationships throughout the community. As a result, the Hofings were able open up a coffee bar in the Hamilton Farmers Market (35 York Blvd.) under a new name, Relay Coffee Roasters.
While the coffee bar was servicing the downtown area, the duo launched a larger coffee shop a couple years later on Concession Street that serviced the Hamilton mountain. Jason kept asking Rachel what was next for Relay, which ultimately led to the conception of their third location.
In comparison to the other establishments on King William Street, Jason and Rachel felt that they could use their third location to create a more casual setting, one that would be welcoming at all times of the day.
Nearly double the size of their previous location, the newest cafe has a large kitchen for salads and sandwiches, made on-site, as well as a coffee roaster tucked away in a small room towards the back of the space. To the Hofings, this space is more than just a coffee shop: it is an experience.
“A compliment I just received from someone was that the environment that has been created here has reduced some of their stress and anxiety because they know that they are cared about and they are encouraged to do their best and it’s not just in their job,” said Jason.
While all of their coffee has come from their roastery on the mountain, Jason’s hope is that he can start roasting small batches of coffee within the King William space as an exclusive.
Relay Coffee Roasters works with fair-trade and organic certified coffee, using coffee beans from approximately six different origins. Each different region gives the coffee a different flavour.
“We look for trusted companies and importers that share the same values that we do,” said Jason.
The process starts off with roasting green coffee beans at 400 degrees fahrenheit. Colours will change from green, yellow, crimson and finally, to brown. At the end of the cycle, the beans are put into an agitator to cool them as quickly as possible and prevent further roasting.
The Hofings have created a warm, inviting space for late night study sessions or small get togethers with friends.
“I think with McMaster, Relay can be a little bit of an escape or that it’s a sense of home,” said Jason. “We want to meet them, we want them to feel great about choosing McMaster and Hamilton and we’d love to get to know them.”