It wasn’t until he travelled across the world, visiting cafés from Thailand to Australia to Italy and the U.S., that Marc Tallman realized he didn’t actually like the coffee being sold at most local shops.
"There were beautiful locations that I loved visiting with lots of specialty offerings," he told the Free Press Tuesday. "But specialty coffee has this way of sort of alienating a wider audience."
That’s why Tallman knew, one day, he had to open up his own coffee shop where he did things just the right way. And despite the odds being stacked against him by the economic stupor of COVID-19, the Winnipegger did just that this week.
At Empty Cup Collective on Panet Road near Kildonan Crossing, coffee-lovers — new and old — can enjoy home-brewed, locally roasted fresh cups of joe on tap and even nitro-cold brews straight out of a keg.
It’s a café elevated with a unique ambience, easily distinguishable for its modern layout and flooring, that employs a chic monochrome colour palette for furniture and decor throughout the store. Customers can sit on tall bar stools at the large counter at the front, watching their coffee being made, then enjoy their food and drinks with a view through the large windows in the back.
"For me though," said Tallman. "What’s most special is that there’s something for everyone to enjoy — beer, good food, pastries, and especially the coffee, which is actually roasted to be accessible for everyone."
Getting this coffee shop up and running, however, wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to do during the pandemic. While Tallman initially planned to debut the store last year, he experienced several roadblocks along the way that caused him to delay its opening.
"Some things were surprisingly easier to handle like getting a roaster because other stores had dropped out," he said. "But we had construction issues, the permits were being very difficult to navigate and even hiring staff was quite hard at first since the CERB was around at the time."
Still, even as a 25-year-old, running a business is almost instinctive to Tallman. After all, he comes from a long line of entrepreneurs in a family that inspired him to go to business school at the University of Winnipeg.
His grandfather started Princess Auto Ltd. almost 85 years ago in the city, which has since expanded to 48 locations in all 10 Canadian provinces. That business was handed down to his father, and is now run by Tallman and his brother.
"My dad always taught us, growing up though, that we needed to start our own businesses one day," he said. "It’s why my brother runs Trans Canada Brewing on Kenaston (Boulevard), and now, this is something I’m doing."
That’s why Tallman is confident this is a sound investment to be making — with his time, energy and funding. And so, he’s worked hard to get this project going.
He knows there are numerous other coffee shops closing around the country, including 300 Canadian sites permanently shuttered by Starbucks Coffee Company. But he believes his business is a model that’s sustainable, despite those odds.
"I think people want to be going out because they’ve been stuck and confined at home for so long and they do have an appetite for wanting good coffee," said Tallman.
"Drive-thrus have their place, it’s why you’ll see the remaining Starbucks in the city being busy with cars around the block sometimes. At the same token, people are starting to embrace the walk-in market again, too."
Empty Cup Collective has a staff of around a dozen people. They’re in the process of opening up a second location at Sage Creek in the summer and a couple more stores in Winnipeg by the end of the year.
"After that, we’re hoping to branch out from there to other cities in Manitoba and maybe even other provinces," said Tallman. "I’m so excited to see us keep growing."
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press.