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Cafe Neon

Posted by Robyn Urback / Posted on September 19, 2011

Cafe Neon TorontoCafe Neon was designed to be a hub for the Junction Triangle community. It was that concept, in fact, that gave Café Neon its name. "Neon," owner Niki Tsourounakis tells me, "is derived from a word in Greek that means 'meeting place.'"

"That's what I want this place to become," she continues. "Something comfortable; somewhere people can hang out without feeling rushed."

Cafe NeonNeedless to say, Cafe Neon invites its customers to use its free WiFi and leaves its outlets uncovered. "I think it's working," Niki says of her measures to create a relaxed vibe. "Some people have almost run out on the bill," she says. "They'll say, 'Sorry, I felt like I was at home and totally forgot about paying!'"

"So in a weird way," Niki continues, "that's a good sign."

Cafe NeonCafe Neon opened about two months ago in a street-level loft space on Wallace near Lansdowne. Niki takes me next door to the adjacent vacant space to show me what the spot looked like when she first got her hands on the property. "It was just like this — there was nothing here," Niki says, glancing at the concrete floors. Indeed, all the space needs is a little puddle of motor oil and it would be akin to a vapid industrial garage.

Niki has managed to transform the space with custom shelving, eclectic furniture (including a communal table made from a bowling alley lane), a barn door serving as wall art, and a fantastic layered mural done by local artist Jeff Garcia.

Cafe NeonThough the concept for Café Neon began as that of a coffee shop, Niki admits that for her, it has always been about the food, particularly because she comes from a family of restaurateurs. At the moment the shop offers sandwiches, salads, and baked goods along with its coffee, but Niki says the food roster will be expanding in a huge way.

Cafe Neon"We just got our liquor license," she says. "And I'm hoping to start brunch service soon, as well as dinner." The dinner service, she tells me, will be sit down, making Café Neon less a café than a restaurant.

But it's very much still a café when I pop by, so I scan the list of coffee (a Granville Island blend) and loose-leaf teas (from Metropolitan Teas) and decide to go with an allongé ($2.75). It's strong, full-bodied and lightly bitter (though Niki warned me it might be beforehand), but certainly overshadowed by the chocolate chunk cookie ($1.75) I grab on my way out. It's substantial and chewy with that 'homemade' taste. And if it's any indication, I think we can expect more good things coming from Café Neon's kitchen.

20110916-cafeneon-1.jpg20110916-cafeneon-5.jpg20110916-cafeneon-8.jpg20110916-cafeneon-9.jpg20110916-cafeneon-11.jpgPhotos by Jesse Milns



Anita / September 20, 2011 at 11:11 am
One of the most amazing sandwiches I ever had in my entire life I had at Cafe Neon!
I wish I lived closer to this place.
JS / September 22, 2011 at 11:09 am
I live, "down the street" from this place but have yet to drop by. Liquor license you say and brunch coming soon! I'll be there!
Mike Farrell / December 18, 2011 at 01:13 pm
As residents of the Junction Triangle we were interested in this place - really hoping they'd have some solid espresso etc.

On our first, and only, visit here, we (mom, dad, toddler) were initially pleasantly surprised that they were open, had a reasonable board of food on top of cafe fare and were actually licensed.

However things went quickly downhill from there.

We ordered a latte, an americano and a simple pastry basket to share.

The coffees came quickly but 10 minutes later and no pastry basket.
You surely just need to pick a few, cut 'em up, put them in a basket and bring them to the table.

After fruitlessly trying to get the attention of our harried server (they were quite busy - only one server on the floor) I decided I'd ask to see how the pastries were coming on my return from using their ATM at the back (they currently only accept cash, not the best customer service decision to start with, especially when they charge two bucks per transaction at the machine AND are saving money per transaction by not accepting debit or credit of any kind - "the owner of this establishment, Cafe Neon, charges $2 per transaction", hmmm...but I digress).

As it turns out, our server and I met up at the ATM and I asked how the pastries were coming.

She replied icily with "they're in the line, as you can see we're very busy here".

She then, crazily, asked me "would you like me to cancel your order?".

I had a hungry toddler and I surmised it shouldn't be much longer now for one small little pastry basket so I replied, cheekily, "no, are you baking them fresh?".

To which the server replied "What would you like me to do?"

Not caring to engage any further in this silly and reckless game of "the customer is never right" I brushed past this now nearly combative woman and said, incredulously, "just order it!".

Well, the pastry basket arrived to our table maybe a couple minutes later, and was dumped unceremoniously at our table with intent by said server.

A few minutes later, the bill was literally thrown at my partner, again with no discussion. Wow.

Sorry. But it shouldn't take even a busy little coffee shop / resto close to 15 minutes to pick a few mediocre pastries from the pantry, cut them in half and bring them to our table.

Clearly there's dysfunction along the line in this place as the orders just go in and there seems to be no division of labour between server and kitchen to handle these types of basic requests - felt like a brewing "not my department" kind of thing coming from our server.

Basic word to the wise - don't lay your problems on your customers - particularly shiny new faces like ours who would have gladly returned had we been treated with simple respect and decorum. Now we'll just spread the bad news; I'm sure management will approve.

We will never return and will now post this same complaint directly to the fine folks at Cafe Neon as well as anywhere else we can. In a city this big and with such exemplary options available everywhere for anything this type of attitude is akin to commercial suicide.

Horrible experience.

Naive and self-important service overshadowed our entire, potentially, good experience.

Connr / December 19, 2011 at 10:40 am
Finally made it into Neon, didn't experience any of the issues stated above, So I;m going to write that off as a bad staff memeber. Great coffee and also some fantastic food was had, its also a comfortable place to hang out.

Looking forward to seeing what they do with a dinner service.
Cafe Neon replying to a comment from Mike Farrell / December 21, 2011 at 09:49 pm
Hi Mike,

My apologies for the experience you had. Definitely not what Cafe Neon is about.

My explanation of what happened won't change your experience, but perhaps give you a reason to try us again.

We actually did bake your item fresh from when you ordered it, and have taken it off the menu because of the time issue.
We wanted to wow people with our hot, fresh pastries, but quickly realized most people want food more quickly than that.

So once again we apologize you were caught up in this experience as your first visit to the cafe. Hope you'll be back. I can take full credit for not informing the server about the change.
Ask for me (Niki) and I will gladly take care of your next visit.

furcouch replying to a comment from Cafe Neon / January 13, 2012 at 02:59 pm
That folks, is how you handle an unhappy customer experience. Nice.
Mike Farrell replying to a comment from furcouch / January 24, 2012 at 02:02 pm
Niki, just checking back in now after our unpleasant experience back in December; thanks so very much for your candor and understanding. I will be by at some point soon to have a coffee and introduce myself; hate to write a good place off the list after one bad experience. I agree totally with the comment from furcouch above - you have handled this complaint in a public forum awesomely. Thanks again for your professionalism and understanding.

Peace and respect - mike
Ryan V / April 3, 2012 at 04:38 pm
I have a studio in the area and come here at least 3 times a week for coffee or lunch. It is really fantastic. It has quickly become the centre of the neighbourhood for me.

The coffee is very good and the sandwiches are really inspired.

Sometimes there can be a bit of a wait but it is well worth it.

If you have the opportunity try the bread pudding - it is to die for.

Simone / May 12, 2012 at 07:34 pm
I wonder if I had an encounter with the same staff who made Mike F's first visit to Cafe Neon a terrible experience. The issue was the price of my double espresso. The cashier told me it cost $2.75, but the previous time I had ordered one I paid $2.50. Normally I wouldn't think much about a 25 cent difference, but I had stopped at the cafe after a run and had limited change in my pockets. When I told the cashier that it had only been $2.50 a few days earlier, she said the extra 25 cents was due to tax, then haughtily said "fine, today it will be $2.50." Huh? I'm not a human calculator, but I'm pretty sure HST is not 10%. In any event, the tone she used was rude enough to make me want to never return. I've now discovered the Toronto Coffee Company on Lansdowne where the coffee is just as good and the staff much nicer. I'll be going there from now on.
Kathleen / July 13, 2012 at 02:06 pm
I sure hope Cafe Neon reads these reviews. The service is such a persistent problem that needs to be fixed. If it wasn't for the delicious food...
Vanessa / July 13, 2012 at 02:15 pm
I work in the neighbourhood and frequent all other cafes except for cafe neon. Food is good but when I was there 3-4 times the service was so awful, I decided never to go back.
Management / September 25, 2012 at 12:24 am
Hi BlogTO'ers,

I read these reviews quite often actually. They let me know what is happening and every day we try to make the cafe a little bit better based on our customer's feedback.

I do agree, our staffing situation has been extremely difficult, ever since the beginning. Having served for more than 17 years, the industry is something I know very well. (So you can imagine my frustration when good service doesn't come through consistently.)

Rest assured, I can honestly say our staff today is one I am proud of.

They work extremely hard and if you've ever pulled espresso's and served hungry people in a rush for 8 hours straight, you would understand it is not an easy job.
They are doing their best.

As for the "tax" situation, I can take the blame for that. For the longest time, I didn't realize our new and fancy POS was not adding tax to things. When I went to fix this, I didn't want to shock our customers so I actually lowered the base price on our items so it wouldn't hurt too much. (Hence the 25 cent hike not equaling 13 percent.)

Her attitude was probably due to the fact that you were giving her exact change, if not less.

In case you are unfamiliar with the service industry, especially in independently owned establishments, servers, baristas and bartenders often work for their tips.

I hope you don't take offense to this post. I find it only fair to explain.

I am more than happy to answer any other questions/comments you might have.

If you all have a moment, watch the documentary "I Like Killing Flies" unrelated but a great restaurant documentary!
And damn funny.
Sam / October 14, 2012 at 02:49 pm
Oh no someone didn't tip her on a $2.50 espresso! Give me a break. To be rude to customers because they do not tip is poor service. Especially when they are often snippy to begin witb.
PN / October 28, 2012 at 09:25 am
I agree. I want to like this place. Its proximity to my home and work, the beautiful space itself but the service has been horrible. The servers are too slow and forgetful. And sometimes I feel like they're doing me a favor. Niki having worked in the service industry myself, regardless of the pressures that come with working in it, the customer is king and bad attitudes, and shoddy and slow service deter people from coming consistently and making your spot part of their daily repetoire. Just saying.
terry / February 19, 2013 at 06:28 pm
great food and great coffee. yeah the service has been so so in the past, but i have been in recently and it is always great. all of the things complained about above happen all of the time in various places around the city. who gives a fuck? i don't take it personally unless it's really awful, but generally i brush it aside and if i like the place and the food i don't complain to the world.
Jay / July 17, 2013 at 07:36 am
Cafe Neon has been nothing short of fantastic for my wife and I. They were courteous, and quick. I have never experienced any of the complaints listed above.
Do not serve this customer replying to a comment from Sam / October 23, 2013 at 03:48 pm
hear hear
Tanner / January 10, 2014 at 02:23 pm
Cookies are always tasty. Sandwiches are hit or miss. Service has consistently been poor.
jared / January 26, 2014 at 03:13 pm
would it kill them to smile?
Yannis / February 23, 2014 at 09:11 am
All you guys complaining about the staff obviously aren't Greek. Rude staff is a big part of why you go to a Greek-owned place!

Να σας ζησει το Καφε Νειον!
KD / March 4, 2014 at 01:18 pm
I've never been inside Cafe Neon but someone in my office just brought me back a chicken salad sandwich from there and it is flippin' beautiful.

GK / August 21, 2014 at 04:25 pm
Went here the other day as I heard they have tasty sandwiches. I got there around 2:15pm and was snarled at for ordering a sandwich when their kitchen closes at 4. Weird.
Roger / August 30, 2014 at 05:37 pm
A huge compliment to Niki and everyone at Cafe Neon for being the first to host the Bring Back the Dome Poster Roadshow. They are so easy to work with and so open to new ideas. A pleasure working with them so far.

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