Café leaves underground behind for Corydon corner New Thom Bargen location to offer breakfast, dinner and natural wines

An independent Winnipeg coffee company has shuffled the links in its chain, closing its Portage and Main underground kiosk and opening a 1,300 square-foot cafe on Corydon Avenue.

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An independent Winnipeg coffee company has shuffled the links in its chain, closing its Portage and Main underground kiosk and opening a 1,300 square-foot cafe on Corydon Avenue.

Thom Bargen Coffee Roasters opened in the Portage and Main “Circus” kiosk in 2018 in an attempt to provide downtown workers with their daily caffeine. For a while, that formula worked, but the work-from-home adaptations of the pandemic dealt a heavy blow to the small satellite location. Similar pains were felt at the company’s Kennedy Street spot, which was the busiest location on a per-minute basis prior to the pandemic, co-owner Graham Bargen says.

The company’s Sherbrook Street shop temporarily transformed into a hub for online retail and merchandise sales, and the company began roasting its own coffee at a West End brewery, but when pandemic restrictions eased, the crowds started to come back, pushing the entrepreneurs to look elsewhere for a new seven-day-a-week shop.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Thom Bargen co-owner Graham Bargen has big plans for the coffee shop’s new Corydon Avenue location, on a very busy, very competitive café stretch.

Bargen and co-owner Thom Hiebert looked to their old sipping grounds on Corydon Avenue.

“Thom used to live on Wentworth, and I lived at Grosvenor and Arbuthnot,” Bargen says. “Way before the specialty coffee days, the Starbucks (at Corydon and Cockburn) was the spot we’d come to. It was an epic place.”

When the pandemic began, the Seattle coffee giant initiated plans to pare back its Canadian storefronts, shutting down 300 locations by March of 2021 and pivoting to drive-thru, delivery and curbside pick-up shops.

One of those 300 was the Corydon shop. It has since become a cannabis dispensary, but the storefront next door — an erstwhile Perth’s dry-cleaning outpost — was up for lease.

“When the space came up here, it checked all our boxes resoundingly.”–Graham Bargen, co-owner

“When the space came up here, it checked all our boxes resoundingly,” Bargen says. The shop is directly on the corner, with a shared parking lot and lots of natural light, especially with the installation of new windows. The only drawback was the rent, nearly double what the company pays on Sherbrook or Kennedy streets.

Ultimately, the assets outweighed the liabilities, and the company began renovating what had essentially been used by the dry cleaner as a storage facility. New windows, slatted wooden ceilings and a black porcelain bar were installed. The space, which the company designed, took shape throughout the first half of 2022.

The company has big plans for the Corydon location, including a breakfast menu, dinner and shared snacks and an emphasis on natural wine, which Bargen says has parallels to the types of coffees offered. Roasting operations have outgrown the shared space at Barn Hammer Brewing Co.’s Wall Street brewery, and are moving to the Kennedy location, where Bargen hopes customers will get a better view of the production process.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Thom Bargen barista Valerriia Kulish makes speciality coffee drinks at the shop’s new location on Corydon Avenue, a former Perth’s.

When the latest shop from the trendy roaster opened last weekend on Corydon, customers flocked, with 550 beverages purchased. A typical weekend day usually nears 300 drinks sold, Bargen says. On Tuesday morning at around 11 a.m., not one of the café’s tables was available.

With the new shop’s arrival, Corydonites on that stretch of the venerable avenue now find themselves with perhaps more coffee options than anywhere else in the city.

Directly across the street from Thom Bargen is the neighbourhood staple Bar Italia, renowned for its no-nonsense espresso and cappuccino. A bean’s throw away, the stylish MAKE Coffee + Stuff offers a well-made list of teas and coffees in a beautifully designed environment. Just down the street, inside the popular Riley Grae boutique, Never Better Coffee features roasters from around the world, from Edinburgh to Rotterdam to Montreal. Across the road, Cocoabeans Gluten-Free Cafe and Bakeshop has treats of its own.

But there is another entrant into the fray.

When the latest shop from Thom Bargen Coffee Roasters opened on Corydon, customers flocked, with 550 beverages purchased. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Starbucks, which left the neighbourhood earlier in the pandemic, is coming back. The giant chain is currently renovating the former Harvey’s/Swiss Chalet dual-storefront at the corner of Stafford Street and Corydon Avenue, installing a drive-thru and preparing to throw its grande hat into the ring.

“I thought it was too good to be true to have this whole stretch of Corydon without a Starbucks,” Bargen says, laughing. “I guess they do their market research.”

ben.waldman@winnipegfreepress.com

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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