In July 2015, Glen De Mel of Toronto launched Infuse Cafe, a tea and coffee brewing company unlike any other in that city. Before Infuse opened its doors at one of Toronto’s busiest intersections, Glen and Co-Founders Ken Do and Will Lam spent seven months testing flavours, water temperatures and steeping times.
Using some of Canada’s cleanest water to make these handcrafted teas and coffees, all of which are 90 per cent organic, Infuse premiered Reverse Atmospheric Infusion technology (read more about this below) to brew their organic beverages, ensuring nutrients end up in the body’s of consumers, and not in the garbage can!
For the Sri Lankan Canadian man, launching a business in the country’s busiest, most diverse city has not been easy, but he’s pushed through and plans to expand Infuse to fill the bellies and hearts of all Canadians with (biodegradable) cups of warm love and inspiration to never let setbacks overpower.
On the day we met Glen at Infuse, winter was just starting to break through the Toronto skyline. It was windy. We were in need of something warm. Glen greeted us with a cozy turmeric, ginger tea, a cup of Infuse’s premium roasted signature coffee (that took weeks of testing to perfect!) and his personal favourite, hibiscus iced tea. Glen is not only keen on the wellbeing of the guests in his shop, keeping us hydrated and toasty warm, however. His primary goal is to ensure the people who help bring Infuse success, those who work long hours serving the cafe’s soon to be infamous drinks in between classes, are too content. And for this reason, we love the Infuse story.
Glen is focused on employee wellness, development and prosperity, just as he is on brand advancements. The 29-year-old, who has been in Toronto since he was 10, is working on many projects and programs, but still, his business models are clear. With a background in finance and over 10 years of experience in sales and marketing, Glen’s future with Infuse looks bright.
We are so honoured to share his story with the A Quarter Young community and hope you enjoy reading it as much as we loved writing it!
1. Where did the idea for Infuse Cafe come from?
It actually happened accidentally. We became frustrated with a larger chain when applying for a franchise licence. They kept giving us the run around and after almost five months we said forget and decided to do our own brand.
2. The tagline that comes with Infuse Cafe is, “A Brewing Revolution.” A bold statement to make! Tell us why…
At Infuse we believe in sourcing the highest quality ingredients and marrying it with the latest technology, we just happen to make a great cup of tea. We are challenging everyone to raise their standards and demand a better tasting cup of this very traditional beverage.
3. Describe the RAIN tea technology you use for your loose leaf teas?
RAIN uses powerful vacuums to remove all the gases from the soluble compounds and fill it’s empty pockets with water where natural gases used to be. This causes the pores to expand and unlock flavour [on] a much deeper level. [Click here for] a quick clip detailing the process.
4. Do you have a favourite tea? Why?
My favourite tea is Topical Crimson Iced Tea. It tastes like a fruit punch and contains organic hibiscus flowers, organic rosehips, organic lemongrass, organic liquorice root, essential tangerine oil and natural pineapple flavour. It’s also the drink that convinced me to start this business because I couldn’t believe how powerful the flavour was.
5. Who introduced you to tea? Tell us the impression this left on you…
If you can believe it, I never drank tea, coffee or even had the slightest interest in it. We are not in the business of tea, but instead we’re in business of identifying gaps in the market and creating opportunities as a result. Don’t get me wrong, I have a massive appreciation for the beverage and consume it daily now. The benefits are endless and it’s even helped me to stay more focused and remain in great shape.
Ironically, my late grandfather use to work in the Tea Estates back in Sri Lanka, where I’m originally from, so in a peculiar way it’s in my blood. I am now a strong believer in this ancient beverage because it has literally changed my life and I’m extremely passionate about it. There are so many benefits and varieties. Now, if someone tells me they don’t like tea, it’s like someone is saying they don’t like juice. [Maybe] you just haven’t found the right flavour you like!
6. Did you always want to start your own business?
I’ve always wanted to start my own business, ever since I was a kid. I knew that one day I would go off on my own and explore the entrepreneurial life. It’s been a road filled with constant challenges but I can confidently say that the last two years have been some of the most fulfilling and rewarding years of my life. It’s endless learning, constant problem solving and [the journey] really tests your limits.
7. What was the hardest part about selecting brand designs, logos, fonts, styles, etc?
The hardest part was conveying our message and who we are. The logo has a really cool story behind it. The fox represents the rain spirit in Japanese culture. It also represents vigor, youth and adaptability. Our brewers also use RAIN, so it comes full circle.
8. The notion of drinking tea has become quite the phenomenon – do you think it is here to stay?
North America is actually the last to catch up on drinking tea. Tea is the number two most consumed beverage in the world, only second to water. In 2011, Canadians consumed $1.4 billion worth of tea and that number is set to increase to $2.2 billion by 2020. Americans consume almost $10 billion worth of tea every year. That number is up $8 billion from the mid 1990s. This is not a trend, this is the result of multiple varieties of tea’s being available and the North American consumer learning to appreciate the value of tea.
9. Your cafe is located near Ryerson University, just north of Dundas Square – why did you choose this spot as the Infuse Cafe home?
We wanted a central location on the busiest street in the country. The logistics added up and this was the fastest way we could imagine would help allow the brand to gain maximum traction.
10. Describe what it’s like to own a business in Toronto (a city with many unique coffee and tea shops…this must be a challenge, no?)
Owning a business in Toronto is literally being a small fish in a very large pond, except that pond is the ocean and the large fish are sharks. Competition is extremely fierce and it’s not for the faint of heart. You have to constantly keep adapting in order to keep your brand relevant. If you’re not adapting you are dying.
11. You collaborate with Fix the 6ix – how do you partner with them?
We are huge fans of Deanna Lentini (founder) and the work she has done. What she is doing for the city (Toronto) is absolutely remarkable. When I learned of her initiative, I knew I had to get involved and try and help anyway we can. Whenever she runs gift card campaigns, Infuse is happy to use our stores as a drop off centre. We offer a free cup of coffee with every gift card donation. It’s a great cause and we get to help this awesome city of ours.
12. Why is supporting local artists so significant to you – both personally and professionally?
We know how difficult it is to go off on your own. We also understand that the creative field is often overlooked and it’s tough for people to pursue their passions because it doesn’t always pay the bills. We want to encourage creativity and self expression. That’s why we encourage anyone who is an artist to reach out to us. We hang your art in our stores and 100 per cent of the proceeds go back to the creator. This is our way of promoting more creativity. [And], we get to have cool art in our cafe, so it’s a win-win.
13. Where can our readers go to learn more about the local artists you support and any events you may have at the cafe to support these creators?
14. Being a business owner, you must put countless hours into making Infuse Cafe a success. How many hours a day to you spend working both at and on the cafe?
I’m literally on 24/7. Infuse is my life right now and I wouldn’t have it any other way. During the beginning stages, you have to be present at all times. Something as simple as forgetting to respond to an important email to a supplier, vendor or staff member can have immediate consequences and [leave] a ripple effect on your entire organization. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say [I work] at least 70-80 hours a week. However I love every minute of what I do and it honestly doesn’t feel like work to me.
15. What’s the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging part?
The biggest rewards [include] seeing clients enjoy the product we create and showing us love on social media and in person. I get very happy when I see someone walking down the street holding an Infuse cup. From an internal standpoint, I love my entire team. More than half our staff is comprised of students attending the University of Toronto and Ryerson. They [have] all worked extremely hard to bring us to where we are and we would not be here today without their help. People depend on Infuse [to make a] living and we’re responsible for all of these individuals, a team of 14 and growing. We pay our employees more than minimum wage and encourage a lot of growth. Whether this is a short or long term stay for our team, we want [each member] to have the best experience.
There are a so many challenging parts, too. The biggest thing about being an entrepreneur is that you are tested on so many levels – financially, emotionally and even physically. You have to really love what you’re doing, or else there’s no point.
16. Managing and operating any project can be quite exhausting…how do you recharge?
I hit the gym, meditate a lot and make time to socialize because it’s important to stay connected. Since I’m able to make my own schedule, I can squeeze these activities in however I choose. Sometimes it’s a little more difficult, but I place a very high emphasis on health. Eating right is extremely important not just for my body but also for my mental state. In 2016, I made a huge effort to cut down alcohol consumption and even red meat. I can honestly say it’s made the biggest difference in my life. I can work longer hours, have more energy and stay more focused. It’s also made me feel more centred.
17. Where is your favourite place in Toronto to go to feel inspired/to get the creative juices flowing again during a low?
I love the festival scene in Toronto. Huge fan of indie and EDM music. I consider these festivals my vacation. I try and reach a few of these each year. They allow me to recharge completely. Being around music helps me shut off and take things moment by moment.
18. What do you hope the future of Infuse Cafe looks like?
We want to build a lifestyle brand. Our plan is to continue to release new product lines that are healthy and tasty, without [an overflow of] calories. Since launching, we’ve introduced three new product lines. We started off with Made to Order Teas and Coffees. We now have a Loose Leaf Tea segment, Organic Infuse Tea Sodas and we are about to launch a 0 Calorie, Tea Based Energy Drink made with organic Stevia. Imagine an energy drink without the guilt or sugar. We want to expand our brick and mortar stores and are hoping to be at three to four stores by the end of 2017. Our long term goal is to have somewhere between 50 and 60 stores within the next seven to nine years.
19. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or the cafe?
Take massive action, instead of just talking about it all the time. If there is something you are passionate about, go for it. Don’t be afraid to fail; failing is actually a huge part of becoming successful. Learn to push your boundaries and expect more from yourself. Spend your time wisely, because it’s the world’s most valuable commodity. You can never have enough and [you will] never get back [the time] you have spent. I promise that if you do this, you will have an extremely fulfilling life.
Within the year, Infuse hopes to expand their cafe at Yonge and Dundas, making it two floors. Upstairs, Glen and his crew hope to serve tea cocktails, keeping the traditional stuff on level G. Right now, we’re imagining an iced hibiscus tea mixed with some Prosecco. Mmm.
For more information about Infuse Cafe, follow them on Twitter and Instagram. You should like them on Facebook, too. If you’re interested in ordering Infuse’s tea from the comfort of your living room, check out their e-commerce and retail shop, here.
Thank you, Glen and team Infuse! Congratulations on all of your successes.