Sometimes, it takes a bit of faith to enter an establishment you’ve heard about but, from appearances, just doesn’t seem to be the right place. A few months back, this was me, as I stood in front of a building on Sainte-Catherine West, a few months ago, looking for newly opened La Formule Espresso. There was no sign of a coffee shop, and, for what I could see, the address belonged to a candy store.
I was so wrong . . . and right!
John Panoryios left a good job in engineering sales to follow his passion for coffee and open what might just be the best hidden cafe in Montreal. La Formule Espresso Bar is, in fact, located inside a candy shop. At the very back, and hidden on the mezzanine of BonsScoops in Shaugnessy Village, near Concordia University in Montreal, I finally found what I was looking for. While on my first visit, I considered this to be a less-than-ideal place to launch one’s first cafe. Panoryios, nearly a year later, has proved me wrong.
Panoryios and his partner, Maggie, do everything themselves at La Formule, with no employees, and the business is slowly catching up. A longtime coffee enthusiast, Panoryios decided to try to make a living out of it after tasting a particularly good cup at Pourquoi Pas Espresso, a respected Montreal cafe. Former Pourquoi Pas co-owner Tyler Mastantuono became a friend, and he helped the couple in the early stages of their business, consulting on equipment, setup, and the general organization of the cafe.
Mastantuono had a relationship with Toronto roaster Pilot Coffee, and introduced the roaster to the Montreal couple. “It’s rare to see that level of passion,” explains Nathaniel Fried, the account manager at Pilot, of the team at La Formule. “Right from the start, John brought a ‘scientific’ approach to what he was doing, measuring everything, working with a refractometer, thriving toward quality and consistency in every cup he serves. And he quickly became very knowledgeable about the coffee we send him, sharing information about his results and his clients’ reactions.”
“Nathaniel was really helpful,” insists Panoryios. “He’s also a fantastic barista, a regular at Canadian national [barista] competitions, and he likes to shares his tricks. Working with him is great, as you never stop learning new things in [this] business. I always look forward to his visits in Montreal.”
Panoryios himself has become quite a barista. Working with a La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine, a Mahlkönig K30 grinder and all his precision instruments, Panoryios takes pride in his craft. Affable, he can explain in detail the subtle nuance of each Pilot coffee he offers. “I like to talk about coffee and the clients are more and more interested to learn about it and to try quality products. That’s what we offer them here.”
With his wife, they have made the most of their awkward space, creating quite a cosy cafe on the mezzanine. “It’s our first business and we probably made some mistakes,” explains Maggie Panoryios. “But it’s great fun meeting all those people and we are learning a lot.”
Still unknown to many Montrealers, La Formule Espresso will always be a “hidden” cafe, but it doesn’t have to be a secret . . . and you can always take the time to restock on jelly beans, lollipops and other sweets on your way to a very good coffee!
Michel Marois (@MMcafeLP) is a sportswriter for La Presse, and a Sprudge.com contributor based in Montreal. Read more Michel Marois on Sprudge.