Located in a quiet corner of Vancouver, BC's historic Gastown district, The Birds & The Beets has nestled itself into a competitive food and beverage scene. After opening in July 2015, the cafe has become a local favorite for baristas and foodies alike for a coffee shop experience that is distinct from anything else in Vancouver.
The cafe might best be described as a purveyor of all things lovely. Owned and operated by couple Matt Senecal-Junkeer and Sean Cunningham, the cafe means “a lot of things to a lot of people,” says Senecal-Junkeer. Beyond a coffee program driven by Victoria's Bows & Arrows Coffee Roasters and a locally sourced food menu, the extent of the partners' vision is seen everywhere, including a corner next to the front door being a dedicated flower display curated by a local florist, next to freshly baked bread for sale, perched above mason jars filled with homemade granola. When walking through the shop, you're just as likely to see someone enjoying coffee and lunch alongside a bouquet of flowers or a loaf of bread as you would a book or a laptop. There is a certain feeling to this place that separates it from other cafes.
The cafe's espresso is prepared on a La Marzocco Linea PB and ground on a Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima-Pro. A FETCO serves up a choice of two batch-brew options ground on a Mahlkönig EK 43. And after swiping a card through the POS system, the receipt immediately includes the customer's full name—which allows a drink to be called out directly to the owner for a subtle and classy touch of service. Paired with the coffee is a locally sourced food menu strongly representing a commitment to quality and sustainability: a large portion of the shop's produce comes from the University of British Columbia farm, located only 30 minutes away. Even the self-service water tap is located thoughtfully above a bed of flowers so that not a drop of water goes to waste.
The space gives off an air of high-priced design, but this couldn't be further from the truth. You would think a signature piece of the shop such as the bird-and-flower patterned yellow wallpaper was the work of a professional. Not quite. Instead, Senecal-Junkeer saw it in a store, thought it looked “whimsical and against the grain” and he tried hanging wallpaper for the very first time. Similarly, the majority of the cafe's simple, stylish seating is made up of chairs purchased from a high school chair supplier.
The long, narrow space begins on Powell Street where the coffee bar stretches into an open-concept food preparation area. The result is a kinetic bar with baristas pouring macchiatos next to chefs slicing avocados and bakers kneading dough. The shop then expands into a large seating area also accessible from Alexander Street. Originally two separate properties, Senecal-Junkeer saw the opportunity to blend the two spaces into The Birds & The Beets. The Powell Street half is more tight and compact, bursting with energy from street noise and bar service, while the Alexander Street side is more serene and relaxed with a low hum of chatter complementing the pedestrian traffic and charming array of plants.
Senecal-Junkeer functions with the belief that quality ingredients and delicious offerings don't have to be exclusive to upscale restaurants. “You can have more in a cafe dining experience,” he said. “Sourdough being baked in-house is our everyday quality, not a rarity.” They are taking these same principles into new territory as they partner with a local craft cider house and restaurant to transform their space into an evening destination as well.
That special something the shop possesses can be boiled down to an overwhelming sense of pleasantness. Customers feel comfortable, cared for, and content when experiencing a common theme of quality across all offerings. Whether it's a bouquet to surprise your partner, a loaf of bread for tomorrow's breakfast, or just an espresso and a good book, you will leave this place feeling better and looking forward to coming back.
Peter de Vooght is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Read more Peter de Vooght on Sprudge.