For those who feel that the Mile End is too far away yet crave Café Olimpico’s delicious lattes and wonderful atmosphere, the world has decided to grant their wish. A new location, just a few blocks from campus on Boulevard Robert-Bourassa, north of Sainte-Catherines, opened in December.
‘Montreal’s Best Café’, as their website boasts, has a rich and deeply rooted history. Since its opening in the 1970s in Mile End, it has been a legendary staple of Montreal’s café scene. Jonathan Vannelli, the current owner of the three Café Olimpicos across the city, is the grandson of Rocco Furfaro, the original founder, and has been a member of the family business since he was 16, rising through the ranks from busboy to owner.
“My main goal is to continue my grandfather’s tradition,” Vannelli said. “His vision for the café is to always build a community, offer a great espresso at an affordable price, and to build relationships with customers by offering the best service possible.”
This vision of a cafe centred around good company and great coffee has proven successful, highlighted by their spot on The Telegraph’s list of “The 50 Greatest Cafés on Earth”. Vannelli explained that remaining true to Furfaro’s values throughout the café’ and being a family business is what distinguishes them from the myriad of Starbucks or other café franchises that keep springing up across urban centres like Montreal. Another thing that sets them apart from corporate cafés is the coffee itself.
“We use six blends [… and] our beans are all freshly roasted in Italy and shipped to our door,” Vannelli said. “My grandfather’s recipe hasn’t changed in 50 years. We still keep a great relationship with our coffee suppliers.”
There are a few differences between this new location and its renowned counterpart in Mile End. Firstly, the cost of products are higher downtown, which the owner explains is perfectly normal because rent is higher there. However, even with the increase, prices remain affordable given the quality of the coffee. The location is also much smaller, with only 12 seats packed into a bedroom-sized space. The café is clearly catered to those working in the downtown area who only have five minutes to stop by and gulp down their espressos. While the space is a comfortable and pleasant environment, it is not the most ideal atmosphere to sit and study in. Vannelli describes how developing this aesthetic took some time to create.
“It was a long process,” Vannelli said. “I did everything myself with the help of my designer. We wanted the design to stay true to our roots, with the walnut wood finishes and marble counters, and yet make some small changes, such as the design and aesthetic of the wood panels along the walls and bar.”
The design is more modern and structured, but the feeling of something shared and great coffee is not lost. The new Café Olimpico remains true to the family name and every expectation longtime customers might have. If you ever have a second of your day to make the short walk from campus, Café Olimpico is definitely worth it.