• Rob Hornberger

UPDATED: Coffee roasting an art, science at Kingsville's Red Lantern cafe

Updated: Feb 1

Chemical engineer and Red Seal chef team up to offer

specialty brews, eclectic pastries

Craig Marentette gave up his job as an environmental consultant to open Red Lantern in downtown Kingsville.

KINGSVILLE — Craig Marentette feels the best use of his chemical engineering degree is not testing for toxins in water and soil samples, but roasting coffee beans that produce the perfect espresso, latte or cappuccino.

Marentette left his job as an environmental consultant with Pinchin Ltd. in 2017 after a heart-to-heart talk with his mother, Sue, who was recovering from cancer.

“I had this idea in my head; I knew I wanted to roast coffee and I needed an inertia jump to get over the hump to get going,” he said.

“I was at work one day, and she said ‘life is short, just do it.’”

So he did. He purchased a roaster and started roasting beans at home for family and friends. Marentette then rented space behind Beachcomber Hot Tubs, now the site of Kingsville Cycle Works, and start selling roasted beans wholesale to retailers and local coffee aficionados. He would also hold coffee-tasting sessions at craft shows, fairs — anyplace “where you could set up a table and sell coffee.”

In March last year he opened Red Lantern, his first coffee shop, on Chestnut Street.

Marentette and partner Aaron Hillier will move the Red Lantern to a new location -- one with expanded kitchen space -- on Main Street West this Friday.

Marentette, 32, can give a complicated scientific explanation for the chemical process of turning raw coffee beans into something that gives coffee lovers a simultaneous jolt of energy and pleasure every morning.

He prefers the simple approach.

“As you roast there are three kind of lines that arc and fall at different stages — one is acidity, one is sweetness and the other one is bitterness. It’s finding the sweet spot of peak acidity, peak sweetness and the lowest bitterness on that curve,” he said.

Craig Marentette says the key to roasting coffee is finding the 'sweet spot' on three arcing lines of acidity, sweetness and bitterness.

In the HBO hit comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David attempts to drive a coffee shop out of business that served him a cold coffee. He plans to open a spite coffee shop. But he needs the right beans. “It’s all about the beans,” he says.

Is it?

“Yes and no,” Marentette said. “For some people it’s all about the beans but I think coffee for a lot of people, especially if they are going out, it’s about the experience. I try to do both. We try to give you the best coffee … but also have a nice relaxing experience.”

Red Lantern beans come from Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil and Ethiopia.

Hillier does the baking for Red Lantern; at the new Main Street location he will offer customers an eclectic mix of sweet and savoury pastries.

The offerings will include sticky buns, butter tarts, cinnamon rolls, pies (including meat pies), sausage rolls and British-style pasties. A pasty is a large turnover filled with meat, potato and a veg, usually peas. It’s the perfect lunch for someone on the go.

Hillier said the pastries sold at the shop will be eclectic, varied and ever-changing.

“It’s important to me that things be handmade and not mass-produced. Everything will be small batch, not really adhering to any, you know, ‘Oh, you gotta have this, you gotta have that.’”

Red Lantern will also make heavy use of social media. If someone has a passion for Eccles cakes, for instance, they will be notified by email or text that the currant-based pastry is available for pickup.

“I was for all intents and purposes disabled for the better part of three years. I didn’t know as a young man whether I was going to make it back."

Hillier, 52, who was struck with exacerbated multiple sclerosis in 1999, is grateful he can do the thing he does best — making pastries.

An autoimmune disease that strikes the coating of the spinal cord, it can leave sufferers wheelchair-bound for the rest of their lives.

“I was for all intents and purposes disabled for the better part of three years,” he said. “I didn’t know as a young man whether I was going to make it back. There was a pride aspect to it that kept me from sitting down in a wheelchair.”

Through sheer force of will he regained his ability to walk. Once up on his feet, he moved on.

“I was fortunate to be able to do that. I got a great appreciation for living life every day.”

Hillier went back to work at Woodbridge Foam, lost his job in the 2008 recession, went to cooking school and is now a certified Red Seal chef.

Hillier and Marentette, who met while working in the kitchen at the Kingsville Golf & Country Club, say the new location at the former Merlis' Eatery will give Red Lantern better visibility and street presence.

“I think the new place very much will have a personality of its own,” Hillier said. “All businesses have personalities but it seems cafes are prone to it.

“You walk in and you immediately form some sort of opinion on it. We will have very little problem making that a Red Lantern space.”

Marentette said the coffee shop will be unique.

“My hope is you could pick up this shop, move it to Toronto and we’d be just fine there. My goal is to be a small town, big city coffee shop.”

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