Coffee shop with an a-parent twist
Portage Avenue café brews up a break for moms and dads bringing infants and toddlers
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/09/2019 (1227 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Before we begin, Katrina Tessier, owner of Scout Coffee + Tea, billed as Winnipeg’s “only play café,” would like to give props to the individual who was in her place of business a few weeks ago, and wasn’t fazed in the least by the controlled chaos going on, all around him.
The fellow in question was in his late 20s, Tessier guesses. He had been there for 45 minutes already, sipping coffee and typing away on his laptop, when she considered giving him a heads-up that a children’s party was imminent, one that was going to involve a whack of three- and four-year-olds dressed up as their favourite Disney princess.
Tied up with take-out orders, she never did get around to tipping him off. So when one little girl posing as Frozen’s Princess Anna showed up, followed by another, followed by another, she wondered how long he was going to stick around, exactly.
“To his credit, he didn’t seem distracted at all, even when there was something crazy like 20 princesses running back and forth between the tables,” Tessier says, seated near the front of her sunnily lit café, located at 859 Portage Ave. almost directly across the street from Vimy Ridge Memorial Park.
“I was like, wow, whatever he’s working on, he’s some kind of dedicated.”
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Tessier, 29, readily admits “coffee shop owner” would never have been her childhood answer to the query, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A graduate of Kildonan East Collegiate, her heart was initially set on becoming a veterinarian. After studying at the University of Winnipeg for two years, however, she switched gears by enrolling at the Academy of Broadcasting, instead.
Tessier and her husband Phil, a bartender at One Great City Brewing Co., got married in 2012. A few months after exchanging vows, they moved to Victoria, where she had successfully applied for a promotions co-ordinator position at a radio station.
It was while she was living in B.C., on maternity leave with their daughter Stella, who is now five years old, that the seed for Scout Coffee + Tea was planted.
“It’s since closed, but not too far away from our home was a place called Crumsby’s Cupcake Café, which catered primarily to young families,” she explains.
“I belonged to a Facebook group made up of first-time moms, and that was one of the places we congregated at most often. They had a little rug on the floor with toys and stuff where you could put your baby down and let them do their own thing, while the moms chatted over a cup of coffee.”
Wanting to be closer to family, she and her husband returned to Winnipeg in 2016, purchasing a house on Spruce Street in the West End.
Tessier caught on with a radio station here but in her spare time, she began to set the wheels in motion for the business idea that had been running around inside her head, almost since her first visit to Crumsby’s.
“There are lots of places in town that have play structure type set-ups, but in my opinion, those sorts of things aren’t really geared towards younger children.” — Scout Coffee + Tea owner Katrina Tessier, on finding her niche with new parents
“There are lots of places in town that have play structure type set-ups, but in my opinion, those sorts of things aren’t really geared towards younger children,” she says.
“Our daughter, for example, didn’t really feel comfortable in a McDonald’s Playland till she was about four. So what I had in mind was a place that would be a bit more low-key, one that promoted creative play in a setting where parents could see what their kids are doing, at all times.”
The first thing Tessier did was consult the most recent Winnipeg census report she could find. She was already 99 per cent sure she wanted to open her venture close to home and her research, which showed that Wolseley and the West End have one of the highest densities of young families in the city, only cemented that belief.
Next, she signed up for a three-day course run by Futurpreneur Canada. One of her assignments was to present a detailed business plan. Tessier smiles, recalling how her adviser scoffed at her expected earnings, telling her she shouldn’t anticipate making a penny in profit during her first 12 months.
“I told her, but I have to make something,” she says with a chuckle. (Not to jump too far ahead, but Tessier hit her Year 1 projections and then some, taking in $15,000 more than even she had budgeted for.)
Once Tessier turned up a suitable location, a 1,200-square-foot former used clothing store at the corner of Portage and Home Street, it was time to select a name.
She briefly considered Wild Child’s Coffee, a notion she and her husband quickly kiboshed, agreeing “wild” might not be the best descriptor in the world. Because their daughter’s middle name is Scout, after Scout Finch, one of the main characters in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, they thought, hmm, that’s kind of catchy.
Following three months of renovations that included a new dropped ceiling, new flooring and fresh paint job — not to mention outfitting one wall in the designated play zone with a chalkboard in the shape of twin mountain peaks — Scout Coffee + Tea, which boasts locally roasted, organic coffee from Black Pearl, tea products from Brewt and foodstuffs dropped off daily from Oh Doughnuts and La Belle Baguette, officially opened for business on Dec. 1, 2017.
Did she sleep the night before? Like a baby, Tessier says with a wink.
“I’m a weird person in that I always have a positive mindset and nothing really frightens me, which sometimes drives my husband crazy. He’ll go, ‘Things can’t always work out,’ whereas I’m like, ‘Yes they can. Things will always work out.’”
From the get-go, Tessier, who also offers smoothies, hot chocolate and a concoction called a babycinno (steamed milk with sprinkles on top), has incorporated a wide mix of kid-friendly programs into the daily goings-on at her locale, open seven days a week.
Besides the aforementioned princess affair, there have also been regularly scheduled children’s book launches, musical performances… even a good, old-fashioned, sit-down, parent-and-child tea party.
As the nine-year owner of Heather’s Pretty Parties, Heather Perlov has been to her fair share of venues in and around the city. When it comes to relaxed, welcoming environments, few, if any, compare to Scout Coffee + Tea, she says.
“It’s definitely a unique concept and I can honestly say I’m not aware of anything else like it in Winnipeg.” — party organizer Heather Perlov, a customer and collaborator with Scout Coffee + Tea
“It’s definitely a unique concept and I can honestly say I’m not aware of anything else like it in Winnipeg,” Perlov says. “Plus, if you have a kid-centric business like mine, it’s a great way to get your own name out there. Almost since the day she opened, Katrina has hired characters from our company to help host special events. I remember one we were involved in — I think it was a Halloween party — that was so well-attended, she practically had to lock the front door to stop more people from coming in.”
Besides having a working relationship with Tessier, Perlov, a mother of two, is also a regular customer. If she has to sit down with a staff member or consult with a potential client, she almost always proposes hooking up at Scout.
“I usually have my kids with me and my son, who just turned four, definitely feels right at home there,” she says. “He loves to do things with Lego, he loves building puzzles, so I never feel like I’m dragging him along. Plus the food and coffee can’t be beat.”
With her shop’s second anniversary right around the corner, Tessier is already thinking of expanding her operation to other parts of the city. Her parents live in Transcona and she figures that would be a prime setting for a second location, if and when that occurs.
“That’s right around where I grew up and I know people in that end of town are very loyal to local businesses,” she says. “Plus, like the West End, there are lots of young families moving in, buying their first home, having their first baby, so it definitely fits in with our demographic.”
Oh, in case you think it’s been all sunshine and lollipops since Scout Coffee + Tea threw open its doors, Tessier says there is one online review of her establishment, which serves as a drop-off depot for the charitable organization You Can’t Spoil a Baby, that irks her, to this day.
“It was on Yelp and started off by saying how everything was so great, the coffee, the food, the service… Except then it went on to conclude, “But this place is clearly for kids: Two stars.”
“I was like, two stars? But you just described our place to a T? I don’t know what they were expecting but for sure, good food, good coffee, kid-friendly…that’s precisely what we strive to be all about.”
David Sanderson writes about Winnipeg-centric restaurants and businesses.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.