Run TO, Shop TO: Aleksandra Myszk of AM Coffee Studio

Our new “Run TO, Shop TO” blog series aims to shine a spotlight on Toronto-area runners who are also passionate small business owners. We have all heard about the challenges facing small businesses as they re-open and operate safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is our hope that by sharing these stories, we can rally and encourage the running community to shop locally. We are all in this together – let’s support our fellow runners!


Aleksandra Myszk is a runner, triathlete, and founder and creator of AM Coffee Studio. Aleks was raised in Poland but immigrated to Canada before she was 20. Ambitious and driven, she embarked on a career in the fashion industry, which led her to high-level corporate roles in luxury retail. Despite her success in the fashion world, she was left feeling uninspired. After hitting a major rough patch which left her searching for a deeper meaning, it was running that helped Aleks to eventually rediscover herself and her happiness through running.

Aleks’ journey to running began with a true inspiration – her cousin, Julianne Miszk. Julianne was an avid runner and an award-winning swimmer. She was also a loving daughter, sister, and caring friend to many. In 2016, Julianne, affectionately known as “Kiki” to her family, was diagnosed with cancer. She met the diagnosis with fierce strength and positivity, embodying what it meant to live life to the fullest. Tragically, Julianne lost her battle with cancer, but her legacy lives on in friends and family such as Aleks who are inspired by her to live life with zest and to never stop reaching higher.

A few months before her cancer diagnosis, Julianne invited Aleks to watch her compete at an international track and field competition. Aleks was touched by the invitation, and the trip turned out to be life changing. At the track meet, Aleks witnessed athletes with physical and mental disabilities giving it their all as they competed in the summer heat. The determination and pure joy of the athletes, each battling their own challenges, stirred something in Aleks. The following year, she ran her first marathon, with Kiki and those track athletes as her inspiration every step of the way.

Running sparked Aleks’ passion for wellness, taught her to be resilient, and led her on a journey to empower others to find their own paths to self-discovery. Along the way she ran many more races, competed in triathlons, and completed an IronMan70.3. Running and endurance sports became physical and emotional outlets for Aleks, and her transformation eventually inspired her to leave her career in fashion behind. She decided to make her vision of creating a space for coffee and community a reality, and soon founded AM Coffee Studio, a community space in Roncesvalles meant to inspire. In addition to coffee, the Studio offers food, books, yoga classes, a run club, and comfortable spaces for you to dream, create, and work. 

So Aleks, how can the Toronto running community support you and AM Coffee Studio, particularly during this challenging time?

Patrons of AM Coffee Studio will see the Butterfly Pea Latte (or the Kiki Latte) on the menu; this item is a tribute to Julianne, with 25% of the proceeds from all Butterfly Pea Lattes going to Camp Ooch, a nonprofit camp that helps kids affected by childhood cancer. It’s also a cause that is near and dear to many in the Toronto running community, as every year we #runforooch at the Sporting Life 10k. Aleks encourages everyone to support her, the Studio, and Camp Ooch, by purchasing one of these lattes. She also hopes that people will help in their own ways: “to raise awareness and funds for cancer research however they can—whether that’s by donating to organizations such as Camp Ooch or SickKids, or volunteering with organizations such as Special Olympics.”

The Kiki Latte

“In terms of supporting me and my business, here at AM Coffee Studio, community members and customers can purchase a Kiki Latte (Butterfly Pea Latte), which 25% of proceeds got to Camp Ooch.” At AM Coffee Studio, the Butterfly Pea Latte on the menu is a tribute to Julianne. 25% of proceeds from the Butterfly Pea Latte goes toward Camp Ooch, a nonprofit camp that brings laughter and joy to kids and families affected by childhood cancer. Aleks encourages everyone to raise awareness and funds for cancer research however they can—whether that’s by donating to organizations such as Camp Ooch or SickKids, or volunteering with organizations such as Special Olympics.”

Run TO, Shop TO: Phil Cha of Riddle Room

Our new “Run TO, Shop TO” blog series aims to shine a spotlight on Toronto-area runners who are also passionate small business owners. We have all heard about the challenges facing small businesses as they re-open and operate safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is our hope that by sharing these stories, we can rally and encourage the running community to shop locally. We are all in this together – let’s support our fellow runners!


“To be honest, I never thought I’d own a business. I had just returned from my marathon in Antarctica for my seven continents challenge, and I was deciding how I’d finally ‘grow up.’’’

Yes, you read that right; not only did Phil Cha run a marathon in Antarctica, but he has run a marathon on all seven continents! But his journey to that point started many years before. Growing up, Phil had a dream of going to the Olympics for Taekwondo. Devastatingly, those dreams seemed to disappear when he tore his ACL. “I was depressed. I felt useless, like the best years of my physical activity were behind me, even though I was only in my early 20s. While in my state of self pity, Nike launched their Nike RunTO 10k race on the Toronto islands. I decided that I would be stubborn and literally “Just Do It.” Ever since then, running long distances has been more about the mental battle than the physical one for me; a way to push myself to develop my mental calluses.”

Years later, Phil was in Seoul, Korea when Nike launched its Nike Human Race. Then and there, Phil decided that he was going to “run the world,” and made it his goal to run a marathon on every continent. And run them he did: in Punta Arenas, Chile; at the Great Wall of China; in the Dopey Challenge at Disney World, Florida; in Greece at the Athens Authentic Marathon; in Sydney, Australia; in Tanzania at the Kilimanjaro Marathon; and in Antarctica! When he returned home from this incredible challenge, he wasn’t sure what would be next. He was torn between going to medical school or trying out a 9-5 job. One day, while mulling over his options and vacillating between career trajectories, Phil attended a birthday party at an escape room. “I hated everything about it. I shared my thoughts with a friend and, long story short, he asked if I’d like to go into business with him. Six years later, here we are!”

Today, Phil is the owner of Riddle Room, a Yonge Street game café with escape rooms. Riddle Room has board games, video games at each table, it makes its own board games, and hosts multiple escape rooms. “There’s no cover to come to our place either. Just buy something and stay as long as you want.” The animal art on the matcha latte is a crowd favourite.

Phil may never have thought that he would own a business, but “today it feels like a home away from home. People have gotten engaged here. We’ve had celebrities come in. We’ve hosted charities like the WWF. We’ve had reality show dates filmed here. It’s been a wild ride!”

So Phil, how can the Toronto running community support you and Riddle Room, particularly during this challenging time?

“Please come by! Book an escape room at www.riddleroom.ca! They’re great for dates. Or come and get a latte and play some N64. We have some gift certificates too. Honestly, as an indoor entertainment facility that was forced to close for four and a half months, we need all the help we can get. Sharing this post, making a review on Google/Yelp, or Trip Advisor, and telling people about us all help. Thank you in advance!”

You can read more about Riddle Room’s experience through lockdown and with CECRA in a recent CBC article. You can also follow Phil and Riddle Room on Instagram.

Run TO, Shop TO: Laura McLean of Laulaubird

Our new “Run TO, Shop TO” blog series aims to shine a spotlight on Toronto-area runners who are also passionate small business owners. We have all heard about the challenges facing small businesses as they re-open and operate safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is our hope that by sharing these stories, we can rally and encourage the running community to shop locally. We are all in this together – let’s support our fellow runners!


It all started with her dog, Artie. Whenever Laura McLean would give her German Shepherd a brand new chew toy, it would be destroyed in seconds. Laura was tired of this constant cycle, and so decided to simply make her a stronger toy! As she made more and more, she eventually made a few out of denim to fund another project. “The toys were mostly dinosaurs and I called them my misfit monsters because they weren’t that great looking. But people bought them and that led to people asking for cat toys which led to people toys!” By February 2020, Laura had created an official business.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, Laura wanted to present a low price point product that would bring people joy despite the challenging times, so she launched a webshop and started selling her felt toys. By April, she was also making masks to fill the demand for these crucial items, then turned to scrunchies, and now bucket hats. “It’s an evolution!” To date, Laura has made almost 1000 masks to keep people safe during the pandemic; better yet, the last 400 that she has sold have included a $2 donation to the Northumberland Fare Share Food Bank.

Photo from @laulaubird.

When she’s not using her creative talents, Laura is usually on the go and staying active. A lifelong runner, Laura started running early in her childhood. In high school and into university, she shifted to hockey, but when her hockey career ended because of an injury, she found her way back to running and continued through her adult years. Unfortunately, in 2017, she suffered some health issues and is still sidelines, “but, a runner at heart, I know I’ll be back some day hopefully sooner than later.” In recent years, Laura has been swimming five days a week at the local pool. She loves that the pool requires you to book a time slot and pay in advance; the system serves as a great incentive to stick with it even on those days when excuses creep in. And with plans to start on a run/walk schedule, Laura is excited to ease back into the sport she has always loved – running.

So Laura, how can the Toronto running community support you and your business, particularly during this challenging time?

“Over the years the Toronto running community has done so much for me, since leaving Toronto in 2019 I’ve had waves of feeling connected and disconnected from a community that was once the bread and butter of my social life. The biggest support right now is honestly words of encouragement and sharing word of mouth. Words of encouragement because I have a long road ahead of me to finding fitness again, and word of mouth for my small business it’s the best advertising you can get!”

You can shop Laura’s products on her website and follow her on Instagram.

Run TO, Shop TO: Heather Gardner of Kardia Athletica

Our new “Run TO, Shop TO” blog series aims to shine a spotlight on Toronto-area runners who are also passionate small business owners. We have all heard about the challenges facing small businesses as they re-open and operate safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is our hope that by sharing these stories, we can rally and encourage the running community to shop locally. We are all in this together – let’s support our fellow runners!


You probably know Heather Gardner from seeing her and her run crew out on the MGT on a Wednesday night or Saturday morning, their enthusiastic cheer stations at races, or her motivating Instagram presence, @catchingheather. A passionate runner, Heather has been dedicated to the sport for over a decade now. In 2009 she transitioned from a very active job as a health and physical education teacher, to a sedentary one of consulting on health and phys.ed. It was at this time that she got a personal trainer, someone who has become a real mentor and close family friend, and it was the trainer’s idea that Heather try running. Since then, she has never looked back, running 11 marathons, including NYC three times, in the past ten years!

Photos by Jess Baumung.

But more than a recreational runner, Heather is the founder and owner of a fitness studio and community in Toronto. Back in 2013, she started @Tribe_Fitness as one of Toronto’s inaugural run crews. “I sent out a tweet asking people if they wanted to join me for a run, and to my surprise, people did. They invited their friends, who invited their friends, and we just grew from there. In 2017 we opened TRIBE as a studio, a hub for our free crew runs, our coached race team, as well as indoor cycling, and yoga classes.”

This week, Heather’s studio has gone through a pretty big and positive change, one which demonstrates real leadership in the fitness community. “Our goal has always been about community, and building community through running and fitness. When we heard that our name did not have that same meaning for all members of our community, it because our focus to work towards changing our name as quickly as possible. On Wednesday September 9th we made the decision to change our name to Kardia, (@KardiaAthletic). It combines our love of community with our love of cardio (a.k.a. running).” Heather is so grateful for all of the support that she has received from the Toronto running community throughout this time of change and growth.

With so much of her energy dedicated to running the studio, leading runs, and teaching classes, it is a wonder that Heather finds time for her own training – but train she does! For her, scheduling is key; if she has an event to train for or a training plan to stick to, she can schedule her day, get into a routine, and stick with it. “It certainly isn’t always easy to put my training above work or my clients. I know that it makes me a better person when I can dedicate that time to myself.”

So Heather, how can the Toronto running community support you and KardiaAthletica, particularly during this challenging time?

“Shopping local and sweating local is important for every small business right now. We know at @KardiaAthletica that not everyone is ready to come back to a studio workout, so we’re offering all of our classes simultaneously online. So, from the comfort of your home you can join us for a 50-minute foam rolling class, yoga class, or body weight HIIT workout for only $10 or $15 in studio. We’ve got over 50 classes weekly, so check out our schedule at www.kardiaathletica.com.”