Coffee culture in Winnipeg

Fresh beans and new shops springing up in town

Thom Jon Hiebert of Thom Bargen Coffee at the new Kennedy Street location.

Photos by Simeon Rusnak

There’s a new trend in Winnipeg’s coffee scene, and it’s one that involves the local community and some fresh beans.

Gourmet coffee shops have seen a rise in popularity over the last five years within the city and they continue to grow steadily. Winnipeg is now home to a number of new local businesses.

Among these newcomers are shops like Fools & Horses Coffee, Thom Bargen Coffee and Tea, and Forth, which have all opened up locations within the last 18 months.

Fools & Horses, located at 379 Broadway, have been open since April 2015. With five partners owning and operating the business, the dynamic space not only serves caffeinated drinks to the downtown community, but also offers a selection of alcoholic beverages and a charming menu of food items.

When designing their ideal space, Fools & Horses co-owner Lauren Kroeker-Lee explains that the group wanted more than just a coffee hub, but a community space as well.

“We wanted it to be an extension of the community life. We decide to be open later for events from music to different environmental, urbanistic and political groups,” Kroeker-Lee says. “We wanted a place to accommodate that, both in space and in our hours.”

The shop continues to grow in popularity and Kroeker-Lee credits the overall culture that has formed towards fresh coffee, as well as being downtown.

“I think a lot of people did, if not still, assume it wouldn’t be adopted by Winnipeggers. Either because of the perception that the coffee would be more expensive or in quality vs. quantity, quantity would always win. But I think that’s like a lot of things that’s been introduced (in the city)… everything that’s been developing has been to the contrary of that,” Kroeker-Lee says. 

Fools & Horses Coffee.

“There’s so much potential… it’s exciting to be a part of a movement, and downtown is right for it.”

Kroeker-Lee is also optimistic about growth for the gourmet coffee shop industry in the next five years

“The fact that Forth can open, Thom Bargen, and us (all within the downtown area), there’s room for that. There’s a huge customer base that is growing and untapped. We can, all together, grow by being accessible and promoting ourselves,” she explains.

“It’s just going to grow. I think people want to be a part of it… I think there is still more room and it is in no way saturated yet.”

Thom Bargen, another well-known coffee shop in the city, opened its first location in February 2013.

Located at 64 Sherbrook St., the shop started out as owners Thom Jon Hiebert and Graham Bargen felt a personal longing for a place to enjoy good coffee.

“We realized we needed better access to coffee, it didn’t take much time, we crunched some numbers and began looking for locations,” Hiebert explains.

Over the last two years, Thom Bargen’s community at Sherbrook has grown and evolved – so much so, that a second location opened up this March at 250 Kennedy St.

Hiebert also credits the growth in popularity of gourmet coffee within the city for Thom Bargen’s success, but stresses the importance of making quality product available to the community of Winnipeg.

“The difference between a manually pulled, single origin shot of espresso, one week off roast, that has so much flavor, and sweetness, acidity and balance with no bitterness, if you compared that to what’s being served at chains anywhere in Winnipeg, you don’t need to be any kind of coffee snob to realize the difference,” Hiebert says. “I think if people get it and they like it, it’s hard to go back.”

He compares the difference between traditional methods of brewing and the local shops method to that of fresh vs. old fruit.

“Once you start treating coffee like produce, instead of like sugar, or other household staples, you can pull out so many nuance flavors to it… People are catching on,” Hiebert says.

So what exactly is bringing customers into these local shops?

Holly Biberdorf, a 22-year-old Red River College student, credits the location and the quality of product for her visit to Thom Bargen.

“The quality and the care at chain stores is so mass produced, so it’s always nice to support a local business… Thom Bargen just popped up here (Kennedy Street), but since I’m downtown, I also go to Fools & Horses a lot. I bounce between the two.”

For Georgia Fox, a 20-year-old University of Winnipeg student, it was social media and the opportunity to try something new that brought her to Forth in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.

“I had followed Forth on Instagram and the setup of the shop looked cool, a lot bigger than all of the other ones,” Fox states. “I knew they sold other stuff that wasn’t just coffee, so I wanted to check it out.”

Whether it’s the atmosphere, the superiority of beverages or the location, a diverse and welcoming culture for coffee continues to develop in Winnipeg.

Kroeker-Lee says she hopes that one day, no matter where you are in Winnipeg, there’s a great coffee shop nearby for anyone to visit.

Published in Volume 70, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 31, 2016)

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