For years, Montreal’s Café Névé has drawn coffee lovers with its laid-back vibe typified by co-owners Luke Spicer and Gabriel Rousseau. As they say, walking into the original cafe on Rachel Street feels like entering someone else's apartment, and you quickly become a family member.
The brand's second spot, Névé Mile End, is a collaboration with international menswear brand Frank and Oak. This is the online retailer's first flagship store, built to serve the creative community in one of Montreal's trendiest neighborhoods. Still, the cafe inside this space is much more than a pass-by counter or a retail afterthought; indeed, Spicer & Rousseau have pulled off a neat trick here, somehow managing to infuse a large part of the Névé spirit in their swank new locale.
As if that weren't enough, a third Café Névé has also opened in recent weeks. Working again with Frank and Oak, Spicer and Rousseau have brought Névé’s flair to the city’s downtown, on Stanley Street just north of Ste-Catherine.
After long days of preparation, medias, and industry sneak-peaks and parties—Montreal’s The Barr Brothers were on hand—the duo and their shiny La Marzocco GB5 were ready to roll on October 10th during the official opening of the store. “We are working on the same model as our Mile End café, but on a much larger scale,” explains Rousseau. “The cafe takes much of the first floor, there is a barbershop on the second floor, and Frank and Oak spreads their collections on the third level of the beautiful space.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Ethan Song, co-founder of Frank and Oak, who could not be more pleased to be building a partnership with Cafe Névé: “Our company was born on St-Viateur Street, in the heart of Montreal’s Mile End, and the creative energy of the neighborhood is very important not only in the style of our clothes, but also in the way we do business. We like to offer a complete experience to our costumers, both online and in our physical shops. When we decided to open our first shop, in 2013, we wanted to create a welcoming space where people can spend some time, meet friends, and have a haircut!”
Song continued: “Having a cafe was a natural fit as we wanted people to hang out in our store. The reputation of Névé was well established. They share that creative spirit that I’ve talked about and we are both attracting that 25 to 35-year-old generation that we are part of.”
With more than 1.1 million members on their website, stores in Toronto and other Canadian towns, a recent opening in Boston and other stores planned in the United States, Song and his associate Hicham Ratnani have big projects.
Hiding their ambitions behind “débonnaire” looks, Spicer and Rousseau are also taking their coffee venture to another level. They are launching a Café Névé in the new Frank and Oak Toronto location (officially opened on October 17), and at The Shops at Don Mills, a shopping mall in the North York neighborhood. “We've been thinking of opening something outside of Montreal for some time now and the possibility came up with our friends at Frank and Oak,” says Rousseau. “It’s a big step for us, but it’s also a good setup that will give us the chance to see how the people in Toronto respond to our cafe style.”
Spicer feels the opportunity was too good to miss. “The rent was really low and we had a chance to strengthen our collaboration with Frank and Oak,” explains the Australian-born co-founder of Névé. “We also found someone in Toronto who was ready to work with us. The recent weeks have been quite hectic as we are also working on a new space for a commercial kitchen. We cannot do all our baking and cooking on Rachel Street like we want to do…”
And if that is not enough, Névé’s cafes are now serving their own coffee, a product of a close collaboration with Nova Scotia roaster Anchored Coffee. “We spent the last few months working with our friends at Anchored, Cut (Sam James), and Pig Iron in search of a blend that we would like to have as our signature coffee,” tells Rousseau. “We wanted something that can appeal to most coffee drinkers, something classic but with some character.”
Spicer describes his coffee as something with a lot of chocolate and sugar, with a bit of acidity and bitterness. “Pushing the boundaries and showing all the possibilities in coffee are important and we will continue to serve the products of our friends, but in the end, we wanted something that simply tastes like coffee!”