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Coffee shop in Toronto’s Bloordale Village aims to leave customers smiling

Changing gears late in life, pursuing the dream of owning Toronto coffee shop
WATCH ABOVE: Zoran Milenkovic is a roastmaster and owner of Charlie’s Friend Art Cafe on Bloor Street West. Born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia, Milenkovic enjoyed a 32-year career in the technology industry but his real passion was to own a coffee shop. Susan Hay has the story.

Roastmaster and owner of Charlie’s Friend Art Café in Toronto Zoran Milenkovic changed gears late in life to follow his dream.

“I guess I’ve always had it in me to own a business, but for a lack of a better term, I got stuck in the information technology industry for 32 years,” said Milenkovic. “When everything was said and done, with great support from my family, I decided to open up a coffee shop and I have been happy ever since.”

Charlie’s Friend Art Café, located in Bloordale Village opened in 2018 with the help of Milenkovic’s friend Charlie and others.

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“Charlie is my next door neighbor and he, with his family, have been extremely supportive and instrumental in the opening of my coffee shop,” explained Milenkovic. “When my wife would ask, ‘Where are you going to get the machines from?’ I would reply, ‘Charlie’s friend,’ ‘Where are you going to get the coffee from?’ I would reply, ‘Charlie’s friend.’ ‘What are you going to name the coffee shop?’

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“I said, ‘Charlie’s Friend’ and it clicked.”

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Born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia coffee was part of Milenkovic’s culture.

“I have a grinder in my shop from 1909 that comes from my great grandmother,” recalled Milenkovic. “As a child I used to grind the beans for my mom to make her Turkish coffee, so that smell, that aroma, kind of got stuck with me and I have always liked coffee.”

Milenkovic said he took a barista course in Toronto, but didn’t get all the answers he was seeking. That’s when he said he decided to travel to Italy because in his words, “The Italians have perfected this [for] over 150 years.”

“Italian coffee is medium roast versus the North American taste leaning more towards dark roast,” said Milenkovic. “Why do people like dark roast when you have to add sugar to it to make it taste better?”

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His goal was to make Italian coffee in the heart of Toronto that would keep his customers coming back for more.

And what keeps them coming back are two things, Milenkovic said. One is a medium roast that doesn’t require any added sugar and the other thing is a quick stop into the shop which will set your mood for the day.

“That’s the objective,” said Milenkovic. “Customers come here for their awake-me-water and a cup of conversation. We really aim to bring your spirits up early in the morning so when you leave our shop you’re smiling.”

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