A woman’s touch to a man’s café

A FRESH CUP: Danforth East Community Association members Sarah Kiriliuk, Catherine Porter and Angela Matich gave Seb Dinatale a fresh look for his coffee shop.

Group helps Seb’s Cappuccino to broaden its appeal beyond its cadre of regular customers

All Seb’s Cappuccino needed was a woman’s touch.

At least that’s what Angela Matich, a volunteer with the Danforth East Community Association, says.

With a predominately sexagenarian male clientele hailing from Portugal, Italy and Greece, the 18-year-old Danforth Ave. café is getting a makeover that will hopefully open its doors to more women and young families in the neighbourhood.

Led by Matich, the two-year-old association has offered to freshen up Seb’s as part of a commitment to help local businesses stay alive during the recession, while attracting more stores to empty lots without having to go corporate.

Seb’s owner Sebastiano Dinatale is grateful for the extra help, as he works steady 12-hour days at the java stop.

“People always like to see a change in a place where they have been there for a long time because they also feel like part of the furniture,” he said. “When we change, it becomes more inviting.”

For the community group, Seb’s is the second business that has been re-organized, freshly painted and decluttered. The first project was the Plank Market, formerly Michael’s Meats.

“The challenge for Seb’s is they have this fantastic group of established clientele, but the younger generation that’s moving in may be a bit more apprehensive when you see 20 guys outside smoking that are in their 60s,” Matich said.

Free to all businesses that request the group’s help, it’s a great way to get ahead for shopkeepers who are often too busy to make small changes, said revitalization volunteer Catherine Porter.

“In the past the only way things changed is when something like a Starbucks comes in. Then you get gentrified,” she said. “As residents usually you wait and hope, wait and hope and when a store is boarded up you look at it longingly thinking what’s going to move in.

“Then a thrift store moves in and you’re like, ‘crap’.

“This is really cool because you are empowered,” Porter added. “We can make change rather than just sit around hoping change will come.

“If you buff up a few gems on the strip and more businesses come into the empty places you create a buzz.”

When it comes to the sea of grey and smoke outside Seb’s, people shouldn’t be wary of them, Porter said, as all the men are pussycats.

She points to her own experience. Every morning she would take her infant daughter out for a walk to cure her colicky woes. Needing a caffeine boost at 5 a.m., Porter sought out a cup of Joe at the café, but was intimidated by the crowd outside.

“It’s really macho,” she said. “So for a woman it’s ‘whoa’, I’m not going to go in there.”

By going to the takeout window, Porter got to meet Dinatale, and after getting to know the regulars, suggested the renovation.

And now she’s one of the boys too.

“Now I’m a regular there, I go in all the time and I literally haven’t had to buy a coffee in half a year,” she said. “One of the Italian guys will buy me a coffee almost always, and my daughter a hot chocolate.”

Dinatale is happy Porter came inside, but admits the guys will still hail Seb’s their second home.

“My regulars are still going to be here, they’re just going to see probably more women coming in and out,” he said with a laugh.

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