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Introducing: The Primal Grind, a sugar- and dairy-free café in a crossfit gym (no, really)

The Primal Grind sits inside the Academy of Lions crossfit gym (Image: Gizelle Lau)

Toronto’s independent coffee scene has boomed in the past year. With that rapid growth has come new levels of coffee snobbery. First, the new breed waved goodbye to the humble drip. More recently, hardcore baristas have done away with decaf, with one even calling it “the devil’s blend.” Now, The Primal Grind, a new café on Dundas West, is taking coffee purism to a new level: no milk, no sugar.

Opened March 1, The Primal Grind is located just inside the Academy of Lions crossfit gym. Behind the counter are Freya Ravensbergen, a self-described coffee snob, and crossfit trainer and her partner Clinton Pontes, an actor. Both hail from Montreal and both have done their time pumping out lattes at big chain coffee shops. At The Primal Grind, says Ravensbergen, “it’s all about the art of coffee.”

Ravensbergen and Pontes pull espressos ($2.25) and americanos ($2.50) with Intelligentsia’s Black Cat espresso blend on a shiny Nuova Simonelli espresso machine. If you really need your latte fix, they’ll make you an almond ($4) or coconut milk latte ($5). Instead of refined sugar, local raw honey by Bees Universe is on hand if you need a sweetener. Also on the menu is tea ($2.50) from Tealish, as well as Earl Grey and spicy chai lattes ($4) made with almond milk.

Going dairy and sugar free is not just part of Freya and Clinton’s purist coffee ethic. It’s also got to do with their paleo food diet, better known as “the caveman” diet.  Basically, dairy and processed foods are out, which is supposed to help boost health and optimize physical performance when exercising.

For snacks, sister company Primal Indulgence is creating sugar-free, dairy-free, grain-free items like apricot nut balls ($1.75), cookies ($2.25), lemon squares ($2.50) and chocolate zucchini spice loaf ($3). Other selections include 100 per cent pure unsweetened chocolate bars from Soma, kale chips from Live Organic Food Bar and, Clinton’s favourite, beef jerky from Beretta Organic Farms.

Being located in a gym, The Primal Grind is best experienced at one of the two café tables during a high-intensity crossfit session, where, if you’re so inclined, you can watch people flip giant tractor tires and throw hammers.

The Primal Grind, 1245 Dundas St. W. (inside the Academy of Lions gym), 647-219-4672,

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  • VeeCee

    The self described type of coffee snob is the worst of the snobs.

  • mattagascar

    The “art” of coffee you say?

  • A-Gberg

    Very cool concept. Want to check out this crossfit gym as well…

  • lansdownekid

    You had me at coconut milk lattes…. and the treats sound so amazing. You paleopeople know how to eat!

  • Mikester

    Looks delish! Great concept.

  • Liz

    I love this! I spent way too much time in horrible globo-gyms doing chronic cardio, lifting 8 lb weights in “bodypump” class and being sold sugar-packed smoothies from the “health bar.” The thought of flipping tires sounds AWESOME. And unwinding with a coffee with a dash of coconut milk? Heaven. Way to be creative…

  • Michele

    A bit pretentious for my taste, which includes grains and dairy.

  • Arby

    Obviously, You have to sample the product before you assess it. I hope to do just that. And I hope to bring my bud who’s into fitness and training with me… just because.

    Hmm. The good people running this op seem to have good intentions. Another joint where the owners take a similar approach to eats is Mylk Uncookies on Gerrard just west of Parliament (a few doors west of the library). I can’t say raw, vegan (Mylk) makes my mouth water, but I do appreciate that their offerings are quality and good for you. As is the case with Primal Grind. Even without those concerns and standards, shop owners all over no doubt groan under the cost of milk, cream and sugar. Otherwise, I don’t care for extremism – of any sort. What’s wrong with organic milk? And sugar is not bad, although I believe that there are good reasons for using unconventional sources (beets). The brain needs sugar and, if it doesn’t get enough, it tells you to start eating until you get enough. Artificial sweetners can’t fool your brain. The consumer who may eschew sugar thinking it causes weight gain will probably end up gaining weight.

    Granted, Honey (a superfood) is not a ‘bad’ substitute for sugar. I’m just saying…

    Coffee and exercise eh. Great idea. Look for more of it. How’s your prices PG?

    Oh yes; Why Intelligentsia? If the owners were progressive ‘and’ into good health, I would think that they would look for good coffee closer to home. Local is the way to go. True, Coffee isn’t necessary. (Okay, It is. But you know what I mean.) You drink it for the taste. If the healthy stuff tastes like crap, for example, then a good shop owner will sell unhealthy coffee that tastes better. But here’s the thing: There are lots of local suppliers who are, in my view, equal to and better than Intelligentsia, which is another big supplier pushing the ‘double shot only’ through their retail partners, a practice I am sad to see take place.

    At least it isn’t 49th Parallel, whose time has passed even if some shop owners don’t care to notice.

  • Dhani

    Well….that was short lived