Cafe 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."
Needless 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 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.
Though 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.
"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.
Photos by Jesse Milns