hen it comes to must-try coffee shops, there is no shortage in Metro Vancouver—so what does it take to set yourself apart in a region full of unique lattes, high-quality roasts, and Instagrammable spaces? At Coho Collective, a strong emphasis on supporting local businesses puts it ahead of the pack. The company’s communal spaces were formed with the mission of highlighting independent and up-and-coming food brands, chefs, and restaurateurs—and consumers are taking notice.
Located in East Vancouver, Coho Coffee is the cafe and public-facing element of one of Coho’s commissaries; the collaboration-driven kitchen has a variety of food companies featured on its menu (think breakfast sandwiches on Tall Shadow Breads buns and soup from Kula Kitchen). The retail space sells takeaway items from members of the commissary, too, such as Elbo Patties and The Dumpling King, while the caffeine offerings come from local roasters including Agro and House of Funk.
The space itself is as welcoming as its Strathcona neighbourhood. Decorated with an abundance of plants and twinkling lights, with the hustle and bustle of a full commercial kitchen as the backdrop behind the coffee bar, Coho feels like a local hidden gem in a city that is rife with tourist destinations.
And while the cafe serves as the customer-facing branch of Coho, the company’s most community-minded aspect is its selection of commercial commissary kitchens, which boast over 100 members.
“We opened up our first location in 2018 when we realized there was a real need for clean, well maintained shared kitchen space,” recalls cofounder Jennifer Chan. She credit’s Coho’s members not only for their talents, but also for their contribution to making the company what it is today. She loves being a jumping-off point for new businesses, but emphasizes that their ultimate goal is for members to graduate and move on to open up their own facilities or restaurants. A recent success story? The founders of Hawaiian food concept Hanai, who used to be Coho members and recently opened their own restaurant on Commercial Drive.
Not one to shy away from breaking food “rules,” Coho creates a space for food lovers and entrepreneurs to cultivate unique culinary offerings. Whether it’s a garlic miso butter croissant or a kimchi doughnut, when it comes to eating, as long as it tastes good there are no limits. And though it has been said that competition breeds innovation, the Coho team believes that joining forces is a stronger motivator.
"We love having a space where creatives and foodies can come together, especially for those who run their company solo or with a small team, to encourage that sense of community and camaraderie,” shares Chan. “There’s an anti-competitive attitude at Coho. There’s this opportunity to get together with other makers and share ideas and potentially diversify and innovate your own recipes, which ends up being fruitful and productive for everyone involved.”
Coho is so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s the company’s deep commitment to human connection and a holistic approach to commissary kitchens that attracts its diverse array of members. Whether they’re being used by bakers, farmers’ market vendors, or direct-to-consumer companies and caterers, the commissaries are open 24/7, with various members inhabiting the spaces around the clock; bakers often work extremely early mornings, for example, while ghost kitchens work during peak dinner hours.
“While quitting your job and following your dream seems nice, it’s not realistic, nor is it always the goal of every member,” explains Chan. The flexibility of a shared kitchen allows for their members to set their own hours without the high cost and commitment of renting a private space.
Another motivating factor for the team is lowering the barrier of entry for food and beverage entrepreneurs. Coho Commissary gives newcomers the opportunity to test out their products on the market before committing to private kitchens, which helps them grow their businesses more sustainably.
As for what’s next for Coho, they’re opening a fourth commissary kitchen in Gibsons, providing a commercial kitchen for food and beverage entrepreneurs on the fast-growing Sunshine Coast. “My vision for the space,” says Chan, “is that it’s a destination for the, ‘If you know, you know’ crowd that are seeking a unique and innovative food experience.”