Winnipeg’s hip new wave of coffee houses


Coffee houses such as Fools & Horses are design showcases and meeting places in Winnipeg. (Photo courtesy of Fools & Horses)

Karen Burshtein Writer

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA — Winnipeg’s crossover creative scene is creating some of the most beautiful, interesting coffee houses in Canada. Here are some of them when you visit Manitoba’s increasingly interesting capital:

1. Fools and Horses was started by five young entrepreneurs, three of whom knew each other from time spent in a choral orchestra, two of whom work in marketing and economics, and none of whom had restaurant experience. But the group has a sense of style and connections to young builders and designers. Most importantly, they maintain a positive outlook. They saw the idea of a five-person business with five-person decision-making meetings as fun rather than something that could spell trouble.

fools and horses gouda and savoury fig jam toast

The Extremely Gouda is an example of the gourmet toasts that coffee drinkers can order at Fools & Horses. (Photo courtesy of Fools & Horses)

Community collaboration is part of the ethos of this cafe. The quintet took over a  corner space on leafy Broadway in downtown Winnipeg that was once a Money Mart, and turned it into one of the city’s most beautiful commercial spaces with a little help from their friends. They did a full refit, gutting the interior, adding inner walls, and raising the roof. All of those touches played on lightness of space.

This allowed for a gallery-like atmosphere for focus pieces, such as a table with a herring-bone design element in the wood.

“We chose people  whose taste we trust and told them ‘tell us  what are you excited about’,” says co-owner Lauren Kroeker-Lee. The retro tile floor is an  homage to the turn-of-the-century apartments in Winnipeg’s Wolseley neighbourhood.

“We’re so lucky to have that wealth of heritage apartment buildings in Winnipeg,” she adds.

A corner retail space sells candles and bouquet of flowers from florist Lily and Oak, and locally made jams. The cafe is also food focused. It includes gourmet toast (the Extremely Gouda with savoury fig jam and locally made Bothwell cheese is a must try). Oh Donuts, a local success story, that is opening down the street  provides some of the sweet treats inside Fools & Horses. The cafe’s anchor roaster is Pilot coffee (Fools and Horses was the favourite hangout for Team Australia during last summer’s FiFA Women’s World Cup of Soccer because their flat white’s reputedly lived up to the standards of Down Under).

Fools & Horses is also one of the few coffee houses that is patio licensed, selling local Lake of the Woods beer and wine from kegs. The  business partners’ community-space idea has turned the coffee house into hot-ticket events venue with music, art shows, even election-night parties that were hip.

2. Forth is a remarkable space by any standards. Located  in a turn-of-the-20th-century warehouse building in the historic Exchange District, Forth is owned by a Manitoba-born couple now living in Berlin.

Forth East Corner Winnipeg Cafe Josh Doohkie

Forth, inspired by German and Danish design, is among the most popular of Winnipeg’s trendy cafes. (Josh Doohkie photo)

The cavernous multi-storey space is at the intersection of design, coffee and the arts. It’s a multi-purpose space, that is, as Forth’s director Megan Heke says, “A community building, made for accidental moments.” For example, I came in for a cup of coffee and stumbled upon this killer art exhibit in the downstairs art gallery (run by Lisa Kehler, a bright fixture on Winnipeg’s art scene). Local design studio Din Projects and Jonas Klock from Berlin were responsible for its design.

Post-war Germany factory lights, vintage Danish school chairs decorate the space. A river bench from salvaged old-growth trees obstructs the view of a Dogwood coffee roaster in the cavernous back. Mid-century modern furniture, from vintage stores in the neighbourhood, are set up for conversation in hidden corners. And perhaps most beautiful of all is the  wine and cocktail bar in the basement: concrete counters topped with saddle leather, tyndall stone low table and  unique wood custom-designed shutters all completely worthy of design magazine closeups.

Like Fools and Horses, Forth takes a menu approach to the coffee house, with chef Pamela Kirkpatrick’s shakshouka, farrow bowls,  breakfast sandwiches, and in the evening dishes like miso soup, okonommiyaki and pulled pork tacos among the offerings.

3. Thom Bargen‘s second location has become a destination coffee house. In order to make it a draw, owners Graham Bargen and Thom Jon Hiebert had to do more than serve good slow-drip coffee. So the duo upped the design stakes. The corner unit store has been transformed into an airy, light-filled space using the floor-to-ceiling front-store windows. The partners’ handmade, marble-topped maple copper pendant lights and accents are among the design features. Despite being in a part of town that is associated with Winnipeg’s 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday workforce, Thom Bargen has managed to turn an old optometrist office into a bustling enterprise even on weekends. On a rainy Saturday morning, the cafe was full.

Thom Bargen cafe winnipeg

The owners of Thom Bargen have renovated a former optometrist’s office into a stylish coffee house in downtown Winnipeg. (Photo courtesy of Thom Bargen)

The number of local businesses involved helps add to the cafe’s sense of community. Mud + Stone local potter supplied the mugs for the slow pours. At the back of the 2,000-square-foot space is tenant Kali Siemen’s Modern Supply Co., a lifestyle and fashion boutique that sells an Instagram-able, curated collection of ethically sourced vintage and handmade fashion, textiles and jewelry from Turkey, Africa, Morocco, Paris and Antwerp. It’s been a long time since downtown Winnipeg had such exciting retail downtown.

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