I recently passed by, first to see the trendy new Café Alphabet Montréal. Eyeing Bernie Beigne across the street, a spot that I was told had the best donuts in the city, I ventured over afterward.
First, let me tell you about Café Alphabet Montréal (5765 Rue Clark). It is run by brothers Tony and Tommy Argiropoulos. In only a matter of days, word spread and the place has a constant flow of customers. It’s an extension of the Ambros Coffee brand Tony and his team have worked tirelessly to establish over the last three years; a place to serve and showcase the coffee they source from all over the world, and roast, themselves, right here in Montreal. “We aim to build a community around coffee and add our colors to an already vibrant neighbourhood,” says Tony.
There is a nice selection of croissants and pastries, curated from local bakeries. I enjoyed a delicious chocolatine and a fabulous decaf latté, so good in fact I did not need to add my usual packages of sugar.
This is all very nostalgic for the Argiropoulos family. In 1973, uncles Nick and Jimmy opened Mrs. Montreal, a Greek bakery, on Bernard, where Tony and Tommy’s dad worked as a young man. “Exactly 50 years later, just three blocks from there, we opened Café Alphabet,” Tony notes. “Life, sometimes, comes full circle. Perhaps, it was coincidence; maybe it was cosmic, but, when we saw our spot, we knew it was right. We intend on embracing our roots in the Mile End and, in return, hope the community embraces us.”
The place seats 15 inside and there are planter benches outside, which will be popular during the warmer months. Tony and Tommy fell in love with this vacant storefront the moment they saw it, signed a lease in February and proceeded with renovations in May.
“It is a great area,” said Tony. “A lot of people work and live in the area. In a short time, we already have so many regulars.”
What makes Café Alphabet different, says Tony, is that unlike most coffee houses there is a direct connection from the business to the roaster. “That is because we are the roaster,” he says. “Most cafés have a disconnect from the products they sell, and that is understandable. We happen to be in this unique position where we can tell you the story of each brand of coffee we sell. You can buy a cup of coffee or a bag of one of our original blends to take home.”
When you enter the café, there is a large board listing the different coffee available, from Espresso and Americano to cappuccino and more. There is also a large flatscreen television, inside a pretty frame, and of course free internet.
Café Alphabet is open from 7 am to 7 pm on weekdays and 8 am to 7 pm on weekends. For more information go to https://ambroscoffee.com/pages/caf-alphabet
Bernie Beigne’s decadent donuts
I have been meaning to do a tasting at Bernie Beigne since it opened in 2021. Fortunately, my invitation to Café Alphabet opened the door to such an opportunity.
Dean Giannarakis went to pastry school at St. Pius X Career Centre in Ahuntsic of the English Montreal School Board. Just over two years ago, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was having coffee with his friend George Giannopoulos and the idea to establish a donut operation was hatched.
Settling on Bernard led to the name “Bernie” and then of course “Beigne” being the French word for donut. He and Giannopoulos became partners and business has been booming from day one. Five days a week he and his team start work at 4:30 am, making dozens of donuts in an incredible 24 different flavors.
When I came by an employee was using a marker to identify the flavors. Each one looked more decadent than the other. Dean handed me a warm honey-glazed donut to try on the spot. It was heavenly. I couldn’t leave without a small take-out order. But what to choose? I opted for the Oreo, maple bacon, chocolate sprinkles and cream and the dressed-up brownie. Now this may not have been good for my calorie count, but wow did I spoil myself with dessert for a few days?
Dean told me that clients come in from across the island for pickups. People make large orders for parties and no wonder. The choices range from old-school classics, as well as modern and contemporary concoctions featuring everything from fruit loops to kit-kat chunks.
“A good donut is a feel-good food,” says Dean. “It’s a guilty pleasure. You can be two years old or 82 years old, everyone leaves with a smile on their face.”
Dean has spent the better part of his life in restaurant kitchens owned and operated by his father, aunt and uncle, from whom he credits his “old-school work ethic.” He is proud of his time in the professional cooking culinary program at St. Pius X back in 2014, considering it as a catalyst behind his love of cooking. “I honed my skills at Pius,” said Dean, who also attended Dunrae Gardens Elementary in TMR and Royal West Academy in Montreal West. “It was very structured and professional. I learned all the techniques and the science behind cooking. It opened my eyes.”
Bernie Beigne is up to 25,000 followers on Instagram. “To have a lineup each morning outside before you open is a sight to see,” Dean says. “You look forward to going to work every day and making people happy.”
Dean has not forgotten about those less fortunate. Whenever there are leftover donuts at the end of the business day, Bernie Beigne brings them to the nearby Mile End Community Mission, so that the organization’s members can have something to enjoy with their morning coffee the next day.
Bernie Beigne is located at 23 Bernard St. Ouest (corner Clark) in the Mile End. The shop is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 10 am- 6 pm or until supplies last. You can follow them on Instagram at @berniebeigne.