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There's something unique brewing at Mark IV Brothers (4 photos)

'I wanted to make it a better neighbourhood. This street is beautiful,' says James Kim of Nottawasaga Street home of his popular café

What started out as a small convenience store has become one of Orillia’s most popular meeting places and a must-stop destination for visitors.

The local attraction is Mark IV Brothers Café, which has also helped to transform a neighbourhood. Located on Nottawasaga Street in an area becoming known as the “West Village,” the specialty coffee shop is the result of the passion and hard work of James Kim and his wife, Tina.

Originally a convenience store owned by Kim’s parents, over the past five years, James and Tina have transformed the business into a unique café that supports the character of the neighbourhood while sharing their passion for friendship, adventure and a superb cup of coffee.

It could be seen as an auspicious venture for James, as he was the one who inadvertently provided the impetus for his parents’ getting into the convenience store business decades ago.

After immigrating to Canada from Korea and settling in Toronto, it was James who prompted his parents’ move to Orillia. While studying at Georgian College, James lived in Orillia and when his parents came for a visit, they discovered how much they liked the area and found an opportunity to manage the Neighbours Variety store on Barrie Road. They also bought a small variety store in Shanty Bay, envisioning it as a business plan for James, who did manage the store for a short time.

“I was young, in my early 20s,” said James. "I worked 18 hours a day, 365 days of the year – I wasn’t thinking. After a year, I thought, I cannot do this. I wanted a career, something for me.”

James returned to Toronto where he worked helping to manage a business with his sister, while also taking jobs as a disc jockey in the evening and enjoying adventures, mostly on his bicycle or motorcycle.

In 2015, as he was planning a trip to Argentina by bicycle, his father asked if he would like to take over the store. By this time, the Kims owned and operated the Mark IV Variety store on Nottawasaga Street.

“At the last minute, my trip was cancelled, so I decided to take over the store,” said James.

But James said he didn’t want to “just sell cigarettes and 649 tickets” – he wanted to do something good for the neighbours.

“When I first took over the store, the street had problems with fighting and violence, with police and drug dealers. I wanted to make it a better neighbourhood. This street is beautiful," he said.

“Whenever I took my dog for a walk, I thought about what I could do. Coffee just came to my mind. I wanted to discover how to make really good coffee.”

And he certainly did.

Mark IV Brothers Café was a welcome addition for many locals who enjoy a quality or specialty coffee. In addition to an extensive espresso menu, the café also offers a wide variety of tea flavours and even custom-made drinks to suit the tastes of customers, such as the “Black & Yellow,” for thirsty cyclists.

And according to the endless 5-star reviews online, visitors to Orillia say the café is worth making a special stop on a trip to cottage country.

Customer comments such as, “by far the best coffee we have ever had,” or “best coffee shop we’ve been to in Canada,” share how much they have enjoyed the products, as well as the ambience of the café.

“It’s more than coffee,” James explained. “Coffee is just the product that connects people to what they enjoy. Our customers like the chill. They don’t want to be too fancy, like me. I like comfortable and chill so I want to provide that.”

When you visit the Mark IV Brothers Café, you will also discover what inspires James and Tina – their love of adventure, the outdoors and music. Their motorcycle sits on display in front of a map of the world; there are fishing rods, snowboards, favourite albums and above it all, a couple of bicycles hung in the rafters.

“That one up there is my bike that I rode up here years ago to visit my parents. It was during a time when I didn’t have any money and was hungry so I rode from Union Station all the way up here on that bike – without any gears (known as a 'fixed”' bike), so I keep it as a memory.”

Even the name of the café contributes to the theme and ambience that James and Tina have tried to create.

“When I took over the shop, I decided to keep the original name, Mark IV, but added to its meaning. I Googled it and found that the Mark IV is the name of a tank used in World War I that was described as being strong and solid. I added 'Brothers,' to represent taking care of each other.”

Although the café was not likely what James’ parents had in mind when they first approached him with their idea of a business plan for him, it appears to have worked out, not only for James and Tina, but for coffee lovers, the neighbourhood and visitors to our city.

“We’re still working on it,” said James. “We’re not finished yet. We’d like to offer more food or get a liquor licence to offer a quiet bar experience, or maybe even have a bottle shop to sell specialty beer and wine.”

The Kims are looking forward to building the business in a way that will continue to support the character of the neighbourhood.

“We’re still debating. The local residents want a quiet neighbourhood, so we don’t want to be too bright.”

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a consistently superb cup of coffee, or just a place to chill or dream of your next adventure, visit the Mark IV Brothers Café. You can also see more of what the café has to offer at offer at markivbrothers.com.