Chill Thrills, Out on the Town, Student Life

Hidden hot chocolate at La Distributrice

Rich chocolate, anchored in bitter notes, is blended with robust, fruity coffee. On the tongue, La Distributrice’s decadent mocha is equivalent to a warm hug: An eco-friendly, locally-sourced hug. 

Walking along the busy street of Mount Royal Avenue, one could easily miss the small window shop home to this delicious winter staple. Its stark white awning peeping out from beneath stairs is the only thing signifying its existence to passers-by. 

Comparable in size to the collector’s booth of a subway, La Distributrice is a compact café. With no seating, the café operates as a counter, offering the ultimate coffee ‘to-go’ ideal for the busy patron. 

First starting as a barista under the shop’s previous owners, Max Vezina, the current owner, developed an affection for the miniature café style during his time working there. This ultimately led him to  purchase the café. He now aims to serve high-quality drinks as part of the third wave of coffee, in which coffee is viewed as an artisanal foodstuff, rather than just a commodity. 

“The vision, as I understood it, was to kind of revolutionize the ‘coffee to-go,’” Vezina said. “To make the most out of the small space and provide a good third-wave coffee from direct trade and eco-roasted. Basically to have a third-wave café with no seating places, and [to] be able to offer the passers-by the best coffee possible for a really good price.”

While it may be the smallest café in Montreal, La Distributrice is also known among locals for having some of the best hot chocolate in the city. Vezina attributes its high quality to the fine ingredients that go into it.

(Christopher Li / The McGill Tribune)
(Christopher Li / The McGill Tribune)

“[Our hot chocolate] is made with an extra bitter chocolate, so it is kind of the same idea as the coffee we have here, locally sourced,” Vezina said. “[…] It’s cocoa [is] so very present in the mouth, and not that sweet.”

The procedure for creating the rich taste involves melting the raw chocolate in steamed milk. The drink’s decadence comes from a mix of both quality and quantity; 37 grams of raw chocolate in each cup. 

The heft of the chocolate also blends well with the coffee the café uses, which has cocoa and fruity notes. When mixed, these ingredients make their mocha latte, another top-selling drink at La Distributrice, the crowd pleaser that it is. 

The miniature space was not always home to Montreal’s smallest café. The spot has a long history of different stores occupying it, including a pizza shop, a shoe shiner, and a taco stand. However, none have been quite as successful in staying open for as long as La Distributrice. 

“This is probably the only commercial location that is this small in Montreal,” Vezina said. “I think it was first used 15 years ago, by a guy who made all the procedures to have it be a commercial space because he wanted to have a newspaper stand [….] Pretty much each [new store after that] just succeeded one another every year, they never really last for long-except for this place, which has been here for five years.” 

Contrary to its external appearance, the café’s internal operations feel far from confining. Complete with warm wood panelling and expert organization, the small space maintains a welcoming atmosphere for staff and customers. 

“It looks really small from the outside, but I find the inside is very cozy,” Vezina said. “[….] It must be the one question I hear the most, ‘You must be claustrophobic working here.’ I’m always like, ‘No, I feel great.’” 

Vezina’s love for the compact concept is evident in his potential plans to expand. 

“It wasn’t in the plans of the previous owners [to expand to new locations], but I find [the window shop concept] so easily exportable,” Vezina said. “[If I were to open a second café], I don’t even know if it would be in Montreal, maybe have some in Quebec, or elsewhere. I would love to open a coffee shop in New Zealand. But it is such a good concept, and it works in the smallest of spaces.” 

While La Distributrice lacks seating, there is no absence of conversation or friendly customer relations. The shop has many loyal visitors, and the staff welcomes each customer, both new and returning, with kindness.

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