Quick. In what cafe you can score a Guava Nectar Smoothie and embrace the open source movement, all for the low low price of $2.69? Well, if the heading of this page didn't give it away perhaps you guessed Harbord Street's linuxcaffe anyway. This corner cafe just south of Christie Pits opened its doors in June, 2005 and ever since has been embraced by Linux devotees, dog walkers, WiFi seeking, gluten-free coffee aficionados and other members of the local community.
On the menu is freshly brewed (and fair trade) Ideal Coffee, espresso ($2.12), lattes ($2.59 and up), fresh juice ($5.09 - $6.49), panini and wraps ($4.69), fritatta ($5.35), Corn Flakes, Lucky Charms and other cold and hot cereal. There are also lots of freshly baked treats and dried fruit and nuts - all the snacks a WiFi warrior needs to whittle away the time at a nearby table, stool or (in the summer) patio overlooking Grace street.
The good food, drinks and free WiFi are enough to community-build in their own right but the linuxcafe goes beyond the usual and hosts events like art openings, user groups live music, community planning sessions and OSS related workshops.
To find our more about the cafe that's winning over fans from Koreatown, The Annex, Little Italy and beyond I recently asked owner David J Patrick to fill me in on what makes linuxcaffe hum. Keep reading for the interview.
What inspired you to create the linuxcaffe?
We were inspired to open the cafe in late 2003, when the film biz was floundering in Canada, and a local convenience store was going under. We recognized that it would be a brilliant location for a cafe. In designing the business, I knew I wanted to offer WiFi, and it then occurred to me (as a Linux enthusiast) that we could also offer thin-client laptops for rent, ala internet cafe, at very low cost.
After deciding to do that, it became apparent that very few places that focussed on open source existed. While linux is a huge global phenomenon, it exists almost entirely on the net, with no bricks-and-mortar in North America.
What's different about the linuxcaffe than other cafes in Toronto?
Everything! Because I'm a filmmaker, with broad theatre experience, but almost no restaurant background, linuxcaffe has no preconceptions. The joy of open source has affected every aspect of the operation, using nothing but free software and enjoying real contributions from the community. Our trade secret is that we have no trade secrets.
What are some of your most popular food and drink items?
The paninis, wraps, home-made soups and fresh baked goods form the core of our menu. We have developed many unique drinks, too, like the nectar-smoothie, the ginseng latte and our chai-spiced hot apple cider.
Who is your typical customer?
We are lucky enough to be frequented by several distinct communities; the locals and dog-walkers, who pick up a dark organic coffee on the way; neighbourhood folk who seek out home made healthy food (we offer nutritious vegan and gluten-free alternatives); we attract all sorts of students and creative types with the free WiFi; and many of our open source interested customers will come from surprising distances to learn more and hang with like minded enthusiasts.
In what way does the cafe interact with various tech communities in the city?
I'm a board member of the Toronto Linux Users group and linuxcaffe is host to several open source programming user groups. We are a magnet for Linux newbies and those looking for tech support, and we share all of the code we develop in-house.
Are you guys Linux gurus?
I'm not a programmer, just a user and advocate, but our Systems Administrator (Seneca Cunningham) and our Webmaster (Jamon) are brilliant.
I assume you're not a fan of PC's/Microsoft. What about Macs?
Linux is not necessarily anti-anything, and although I personally gag when I hear the Windows start-up sound, I simply stick to free software, and don't give the world's largest software company much thought. Macs, on the other hand, are a successful blend of beautifully designed hardware and interface running on a solid base of free unix (BSD).