CAFÉ AU YAY!
With numerous current and upcominglocations in southern Ontario, there’s plenty of proof that Olsen knows all too well that a craving may draw you into a café, but the atmosphere has to make you want to stick around.
Exhibit A: the packed patio of customers enjoying the Instagram-worthy Coffee in a Cone – a must-see, musttry treat. “There are a lot of millennials who love their food, coffee and beer,” she says. “I wish there were more of those people around when I opened. I spent a lot of time explaining to people that I was roasting coffee fresh – it took awhile to really take off.”
Beyond keeping an eye out for innovative ideas, Olsen names design as the most exciting part of her job. There isn’t an inch of the Balzac’s environment that she hasn’t curated. At her Liberty Village spot, her eyes light up while pointing out the zinc bar sourced in Paris and the ornate flooring tiles she had designed in the Dominican Republic. “I kind of look at the space and neighbourhood I’m going into and pay homage to them,” she says of her process.
Olsen also commissions original posters created in the spirit of vintage European coffeehouse artwork for every location. Plus, there are always plenty of antique touches on display. “I could open a coffee museum!” she says. “I have 13 cafés that have all these collectables in them. The older and more scratched they are, the better.”
Sourcing materials and collaborating with artisans make Olsen’s current to-do list starkly different than when she started out. Before setting up a bricks-andmortar coffeehouse in 1996, she spent several years operating seasonal coffee carts in high-traffic tourist destinations in Toronto. “It wasn’t a kiosk that you could drive like a food truck,” she says. “You had to set up the electrical, plumbing and everything. It was just brutal. I wasn’t breaking even, but it was something new and unique and I liked doing it because no one was doing that.”
When a customer at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair suggested that she open a café in Stratford, ON, she made a visit and discovered the perfect place. After opening her second café, Olsen learned the power of becoming less hands-on and the strength of a dependable team. “When you have a business with more than one location, you can’t be at both at once, so you really shouldn’t have to be at either,” she says. “I realized that nobody needs me anywhere; I just need to make sure that there are good people in place.”