The owners behind Fools + Horses bet on coffee beans and a socially conscious business that aimed to make customers feel just as comfortable sipping a latte on Broadway as they did on their couch.
Four years later, the brand is steeped in success.
The local coffee chain has announced two new locations are expected to open within the next month — one in True North Square and another in Lacoste Garden Centre. That doubles their caffeine empire.
"Coffee shops are very social spaces. They are the kind of space where it is easy to go there every single day, sometimes even multiple times a day — we have a number of customers who do that. And so, when you’re in a space that often, it does start to feel like more of your space," said Ben Gillies, one of the business’s five co-owners.
Alongside hiring personable staff and offering unique products, Gillies cites the decision to use a Modbar — an espresso machine whose "guts" are hidden under the counter so it doesn’t create a barrier between baristas and customers — as one of the reasons for their success.
The open counter allows customers to watch staff prepare their drinks and strike up conversation with them.
"Once you start to feel like the baristas are your friends or acquaintances, you just want to keep going back there and supporting it," he said.
On any given afternoon, business meetings, study sessions and first dates pack the brightly lit storefront on Broadway, whose walls are covered in local art.
The baristas — who double as bartenders — serve up caffeinated beverages with an array of alternative milks, craft beer, wine and whisky. Their Broadway menu also includes a variety of flaky pastries, toast, sandwiches, fresh bowls and soup.
The original coffee shop opened at 379 Broadway in the spring of 2015. Two years later, a second, smaller location began brewing at The Forks Common.
Similar to The Forks, the two locations slated to open in December will be stands.
Jordan Hiebert, a co-owner of Lacoste Garden Centre, said he reached out to Fools + Horses amid renovations at his business to see if the team would be interested in setting up shop in the south end.
"Coffee’s a good fit almost everywhere," he said. "People love coffee."
Hiebert said he felt the suburbs were missing a hub and he wanted to change that. He wants to create a space where people can shop for plants, decor, clothing and coffee all at once, south of the Perimeter Highway at 2787 St. Mary’s Rd.
"Retail is changing. It’s not just about selling stuff anymore. You can buy stuff on Amazon, you can buy stuff anywhere. What brick-and-mortar retailers like us need to do is create a unique environment people want to go to," Hiebert said.
Keen on surrounding themselves with greenery such as oversized ferns and succulents in their coffee shops, Gillies and his partners accepted the offer. They plan to open up the first week of December.
During the past four years, the Fools + Horses team has grown from eight employees to about 35.
Gillies said the five partners, whose resumés range from having previously worked in the coffee business to the urban planning industry, wanted to prove they could run a profitable business while paying staff living wages and being environmentally sustainable. (They are currently working towards becoming a carbon-neutral business by investing in compostable cups and carbon offsets.)
Four years later, it seems they have come up with the right recipe.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.