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Richmond owned coffee shop continues to grind

By Matthew Cheung

Published 12:40 PDT, Fri May 26, 2023

A Richmond owned coffee shop in Vancouver recently celebrated their 30 anniversary. Grounds for Coffee, one of the oldest coffee shops in Vancouver offered a promotion of buy one get one free on their homemade cinnamon buns at their two locations. The café sells coffee, pizza dough, and cinnamon buns that have been developed from scratch by the owner. 

“It (cinnamon buns) is a product that we have become synonymous with, and people often seek us out for it. In fact, it is so popular that it became our logo. We have sold over 20,000,000 cinnamon buns in the last 30 years, and most of that came out of our original location. Every one of them was handmade,” said Dan Hilton, founder and president of Grounds for Coffee.

Dan Hilton grew up in Richmond in the 70s and attended Harry Eburne Elementary School, that closed in 1982 due to reduction in the number of residences. After elementary school, his family relocated to the Okanagan before returning to Richmond after his high school graduation. 

“Richmond was great, and I have many fond memories. It was full of farms, there were lots of empty fields, as lot of my childhood was spent outside, and playtime included many physical activities with friends. I could not have asked for a better place to live. There were no cell phones so parents would often be heard hollering from the front porch for their children to come home for dinner,” said Hilton. 

After returning to Richmond, Hilton joined the Royal Bank of Canada, spending a total of four years while continuing to take business related courses that were provided by the bank. During the years that followed, the young banker would come to realize that sitting at a desk was not what he was passionate about, but rather self-employment was the route he wanted for his future. In 1992, he decided to try to work on something that had to do with coffee, followed by baking.

“I really enjoyed my four-year employment at RBC, and I took advantage of the educational opportunities that the bank provided by taking business related courses. Gradually, I realized that my future was more suited to self-employment than banking. I was already passionate about coffee so it was a logical decision for me to choose this career path and in the end, it was the right choice. Baking came after and that opened up all sorts of untapped opportunities to grow and learn,” said Hilton. 

A year later, Grounds for Coffee opened their first location in Vancouver on Alma Street by the bus stop, a location in a suburban community rather than a business area. Business started off slow as café culture was not that trendy yet, but was slowly becoming popular. Drinks were limited, and cafés did not normally do in-store baking. As the café trend began to pick up, Dan developed his own cinnamon bun recipe, a staple of the cafe even till this day. This cinnamon bun product grew its sales to hundreds of locations in B.C. and Alberta. 

“In 1993, the café culture in Vancouver was in its early stages. Drink options were limited, and it was rare for a café to do in-store baking. Blended drinks were not even part of the Vancouver scene. The Alma Street location was selected because I saw it as an overlooked opportunity. It was at a major bus stop and the neighbourhood was missing what I wanted to provide,” said Hilton. 

Hilton attributes the success that the cafe has had to its ability to listen and adapt to what customers think and what they want. 

“I think there are a variety of reasons that we are still growing after 30 years in business. Listening and adapting is certainly an essential component. Our customers continue to lead our way and they always will. We still bake our products onsite throughout the day, and we are particular about the coffee we serve. I spend a lot of time with our roaster, there are easier ways to run a business, but our focus remains on what’s best for the customer,” said Hilton.

Technology has evolved and advanced how many industries operate. For the coffee business it is no different, coffee can be ordered from the comfort of one’s home and delivered without patrons needing to leave their homes. Complex orders can now be saved to the customer’s account without having to list every ingredient every time. 

“Today, technology and customer choices have expanded greatly. Patrons are also much more sophisticated in their ordering. Drink ingredients are often scaled in micrograms and today’s orders can be placed in person, via app, or online. It’s now as easy to specify exact pickup time, as it is to have the order delivered with just a few taps on (the) screen”, said Hilton. 

Needless to say, the decision to transition from banking to baking has paid off for Dan Hilton. Grounds for Coffee expanded to a second location in 2019 and is already making plans to open a third location. For young entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they do and are looking to get into business, Hilton advises to work within your passions. 

“One piece of advice that remains true is to try to work within your passions. Business requires a lot of work, long hours with few days off which is an essential part of the equation, particularly in the early days. If you are going to dedicate so much time on something, let it be on something that you enjoy doing. Also never underestimated the value of listening to people. People are an incredible resource,” said Hilton. 

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