To call Café Névé a staple of Montreal coffee shops borders on being an understatement. For regulars or those just passing by, the fogged windows rounding the modest corner of Rachel and De Bullion promise a homey atmosphere, a warm drink, and a good bite to eat. Yet the shop’s reputation reaches beyond being just a café, to encompass a community space thriving on the unique customers that pass through.
Owner Luke Spicer says the shop was born out of a lack of this sense of community in many coffee shops around the Plateau and Montreal as a whole. Névé is “just a place where you feel at home and the people that are behind the counter make you feel at home,” he says.
Co-owner Gabriel Rousseau lists inspiration in shops like New York City’s Café Grumpy, where he says, “it really feels like you’re in someone’s apartment, but at the same time it feels community-based.”
With Névé, the sense of community is thoroughly steeped in Montreal’s cultural sensibilities. Rousseau says with a laugh, “I think Névé survived for the first year basically on all the friends in bands who just had nothing to do with their days except to come over here and drink coffee.” It is not uncommon to spot local or visiting artists grabbing a coffee and joking around with the staff.
Névé’s most recent venture, a coffee counter within local menswear brand Frank & Oak’s founding boutique and barbershop on St Viateur at Casgrain, extends the sensibilities of the Rachel location. The clientele, akin to the industrial Mile End locale, are “a lot of designers and people that work in web development, start-ups, and fashion,” says Spicer. The café largely services those working and living in the surrounding streets, creating an inclusive atmosphere, akin to the original shop, but adapted to the neighbourhood.
Beyond the quality food and pastries, made in-house on Rachel, Névé keeps their coffee selection close to home. It’s important to them to feature Canadian roasters, such as Dartmouth’s Anchored Coffee, and Toronto’s Cut Coffee and Pig Iron. “It’s really the care that they bring to their product and the amount of effort that they put into it reflects what we’re trying to do,” says Rousseau. “It’s finding the people that work with the same goals that we have.”
Pushing this relationship further, Spicer and Rousseau are going to be visiting some roaster friends out of province in the coming months, “to possibly find exactly the coffee we’ve been looking for the past five years,” says Rousseau. Bagged Névé coffee beans are in the cards for this spring or summer, says Spicer.
Regarding what their coffee may taste like: “hugs… donuts,” jokes the pair. They made sure to add “unicorns and blowjobs” – definitely a mental image to savour at first taste. In reality, Névé’s coffee will have a back to basics approach. Spicer praised third wave coffee’s innovations, “pushing the boundaries and showing that there are so many more things we can taste in coffee,” but expressed their desire to return to “coffee that tastes like coffee.”
“We want something that’s got a lot of chocolate, a lot of sugar, and a little bit of acidity and bitterness to it,” says Spicer. “Something that is going to be accessible to everyone.” Though they enjoy catering to connoisseurs, Névé appreciates the age-old enjoyment of coffee for the sake of coffee. Knowing their refined taste and collaborators, the project will no doubt be damn good, in the most classic sense.
The shop’s approachable vibe reflects the unpretentious approach to third wave coffee emergent throughout Montreal’s coffee scene. Alongside other pioneers such as Myriade and Pikolo, Névé has been at the forefront of a local explosion of cafés with comfortable spaces and quality offerings. “When we started out,” says Rousseau, “five and a half years ago, there were only a handful of third wave coffee shops. Now everybody has a little neighbourhood coffee shop just right around the corner.”
Montreal’s thriving coffee scene is nevertheless behind on the international scale, but catching up fast, says Spicer. This progress is pushing Montreal quickly onto the global coffee map (can you say #mtlcoffeecrawl?). The team also appreciates the influx of cafés “because it means everybody has to step up their game and be doing a better job,” according to Rousseau.
Spicer and Rousseau, unabashed foodies and wine lovers, also admire Montreal’s flourishing restaurant scene. “I’m so inspired and have so much respect for Montreal chefs,” says Spicer, “like the cats at Hotel Herman, Nora Gray… they’re amazing.” The quality of these spots make Névé reflect upon their own product and ask, “is the coffee that I’m serving as good as the food these guys are serving and slaving for in their restaurants?”
While continuing to push for the best in their existing cafés, the pair have exciting plans for the Névé empire. Two more shops are underway to open this year, with the likelihood of a downtown location and another in the Plateau. It will be exciting to see how Spicer and Rousseau’s flare for cultivating unique spaces will manifest itself in new environments. The Café Névé family may be expanding, but its name is only becoming more refined, and its reputation (marked by epic cookies) more respected.