How a café-bar in Montreal that opened in a pandemic is thriving through mocktails

Cafécoquetel co-owners Gabriel Lavallée and Pénéloppe Tancrède. Submitted by Cafécoquetel

A small café-bar nestled in a residential area of Montreal is slinging up specialty coffees and intricate mocktails — and thriving — despite opening in the dead of winter and as the relentless pandemic drags on.

Cafécoquetel, which sits in a bright space in a brick building at the corner of Faillon and Berri streets in the city’s Villeray neighbourhood, opened its doors in February, when snow was still heavily falling and businesses were just coming back from another round of COVID-induced closures.

Gabriel Lavallée and Pénéloppe Tancrède, co-owners of the locale, say they wanted to create a place where people in the neighbourhood could meet and talk as well make it part of their routine.

The idea of the business is to give neighbours a place to hang out and transition from lattes to drinks but without the noisy setting of a bar. It’s meant to be laid back and welcoming to all kinds of clients, similar to European endeavours.

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“We really wanted a place where you can pass by after work,” Lavallée said. The pair say Montrealers stopping by and grabbing a drink doesn’t have to be a big outing or deal. People are welcome to come as they are.

Cafécoquetel opened in February during the depths of Montreal winter and the second wave of COVID-19. Submitted by Cafécoquetel

The pandemic has led to some changes from the original plan. Cafécoquetel is only allowed to do takeout under the current restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, so the pair can whip up coffee and mocktails but they are not allowed to serve alcoholic cocktails to go.

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And despite almost two years of planning to secure the locale and opening up shop in the neighbourhood, the business is also not eligible for any kind of financial aid since it opened during the health crisis. Tancrède notes they have been lucky since coffee shops have stayed open.

The residential stretch where the business operates has also been home to a few cafés in recent years that have either changed hands or shuttered before Cafécoquetel settled in.

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But what Lavallée and Tancrède have found is that the casual but friendly and welcoming ambiance they have been striving for has still fallen into place.

In fact, they are serving up to 150 drinks on a daily basis and even more when it’s busy. And they are also making connections with Villeray residents, especially as the health crisis takes its toll and limits social gatherings.

“People are more vulnerable,” Tancrède explained, adding there is more dialogue with patrons as a result.

“We have beautiful conversations.”

READ MORE: What Montreal’s city centre might look like when COVID passes

Aside from that, the pair have also listed their entire recipe menu online so that potential clients or curious neighbours can try out their own version of what they make and they can all discuss ideas together.

Lavallée, who has a background in design, and Tancrède, who studied journalism, have both worked in the service industry. They understand that going out can be expensive and that can be a barrier for many Montrealers. With that in mind, they wanted to give people a chance to try new drinks — whether they are alcoholic or not — at the shop and by giving them the chance to make them at home.

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The most expensive drink on the menu is $7.

“We wanted to keep the prices accessible,” Lavallée said.

Even if there wasn’t a pandemic, it was also a priority to offer an array of mocktails that go beyond a soft drink. The objective is to be inclusive and to give clients an option other than coffee or alcohol-infused drinks.

“It was very important for us,” Tancrède said.

Cafécoquetel has all of its drink recipes listed on its website. Submitted by Cafécoquetel

Cafécoquetel also aims to reduce waste as much as possible by working with local ingredients and what’s in season in both the drink and food menu. If there are fruits leftover from a beverage, for example, the kitchen will try to use them in another order.

Their next goal? To hopefully build an outdoor setting for the summer.

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It’s not yet clear when the café-bar will be able to accommodate people to sit indoors due to the pandemic, but the co-owners are looking to offer space right outside the door so that they can carry on the conversations and exchanges they set out to build.

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