A perfect pairing

Posted by Startup Waterloo on


As you enter the Uptown Waterloo espresso-whisky bar Death Valley’s Little Brother, or “DVLB” as it’s locally dubbed, the familiar whistle of the barista steaming milk signals another busy morning of serving the region’s best coffee. Lionel Richie plays, filling the dark and discreet interior. It’s Easy Like Sunday Morning and discovering DVLB is almost like wandering into a south-western American saloon where professors, students and startup founders are more than happy to take a little respite from their busy schedules.

The married couple and co-business owners Katherine and Joel Gingrich are purveyors of everything cool and DVLB is their gallery.

“I’m the doer and he’s the thinker. We’re a balance. We’re both very creative people and we have fun bouncing things off of each other. We’re not afraid to take risks,” Katherine explains.

Risk, or avoiding it, is how DVLB was created. As Joel shares, if it weren’t for him avoiding a risk of torrential rain storms while riding his BMW R1200S motorcycle “it would have been Napa Valley’s Little Brother. [DVLB] would have been a wine bar,” they laugh.

The story goes that Joel was being overworked as a marketing executive in Toronto and desperately needed a vacation. “I was originally supposed to go to San Francisco on this motorcycle excursion and tour through Napa Valley. Three days before my trip was to start I got a call from the motorcycle touring company and they said it was going to be raining in Napa the entire time.”

They asked Joel, “would you be interested in flying into LAX and driving through the desert?”

“Wow, that’s not the trip I wanted. I wanted to drink wine. So, I reluctantly switched to LA.”

Waterloo can thank the rains of Napa Valley for Death Valley’s Little Brother.

“It was a surreal otherworld experience like you were on Mars. There was nobody there but me. No gas stations. No convenience stores. Just you and the desert.”Death Valley is like a lonely Georgia O’Keeffe New Mexico painting, desolate and beautiful. Boiling hot during the day and freezing cold at night, it straddles the eastern California and Nevada border. It also has the distinction of being North America’s lowest geographical region in elevation, filled with endless salt flats, deadly rattlesnakes and home to the mythical jackalope. This antelope-horned deadly jackrabbit carries a unique and terrifying folklore, with the ability to imitate the human voice, luring people towards it – a rather unsettling thought when camping alone in the middle of nowhere.

“That whole experience of seeing the desert and being alone, for that period, was really meditative. It allows you to clear your mind of all that clutter. Of your career and everything else in your life. I came back to my life of the cubicles and the board meetings. Over and over. In a cycle. I just stood up one day and said I need to quit.”

Jackalope iconography is scattered throughout DVLB as a metaphor and a reminder. Katherine describes, “it’s a fusion of two creatures. The antelope and the jackrabbit and that’s really what our business was. A fusion of two things. Coffee and whisky.”

After quitting their jobs in Toronto and before launching DVLB, the couple cut their teeth in the service industry opening a restaurant franchise in Waterloo. Though they learned a lot, they exited quickly as Joel shares, “you realize you’re just an employee again. Franchisees still report to the franchisor and they dictate all the terms. What the menu is, what the pricing is, what the hours are and the colour of the wall. You aren’t really an independent business owner as much as you think you are.”

The meaning behind Death Valley’s Little Brother is another fusion, but of two experiences – “the little brother of the first [franchise] business and the catalyst of the whole thing was this trip through death valley.”

The espresso renaissance in Waterloo Region was pioneered by Katherine and Joel who now roast their own beans at their sister boutique Smile Tiger Coffee in Kitchener. Cambridge is also getting caffeine love from the creative cultural powerhouse once they launch their third child in Galt. Blackwing will be the sibling of DVLB - launching in 2018 - and promises more excellent coffee but with a new pairing. Craft beer.

Their advice to young entrepreneurs – “let go of attachment.”

As Joel says, “attachment is one of the paths to suffering. If you are attached to your current career, or your current anything, then you’re not able to let yourself explore other things. You’re too attached to it. You need to let go of attachment because it all combines with fear. You’re afraid to try new things because it’s the unknown and that all stems back to attachment.”

So the next time you need to detach a little, visit Death Valley’s Little Brother and explore losing yourself while enjoying a fresh espresso and highland single-malt scotch whisky.

Start your DVLB journey by asking, "can I get a wild jackalope?"


Death Valley's Little Brother
84 King Street North
Waterloo, Ontario
N2J 2X4

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