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Tony Medeiros Interviews Sara Bilodeau From 49th Parallel Café

    Coffee connoisseurs rejoice, Montreal is about to get a new café from British Columbia. 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters has chosen to expand outside BC and picked Montreal as the first café expansion. MtlRestoRap‘s Tony Medeiros had the opportunity to interview Sara Bilodeau the Café Director for 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters Quebec. She is very excited about the new location in Old Montreal this summer. 49th Parallel is going to be a very popular destination for coffee lovers. In addition to their coffee, the brand is bringing with them their oh-so-delicious Lucky’s Doughnuts (Beignes Lucky’s)! With mouthwatering doughnuts and irresistible coffee, Montreal’s first-ever 49th Parallel Café is set to become Old Port’s new go-to café this summer!

    (MtlRestoRap) How did 49th Parallel come to be?

    Sara Bilodeau (Director Cafés)- 49th was founded in 2004 as a Roastery in BC. The intention was from the beginning to roast and share exceptional direct trade specialty coffee. The reason we were and are still so committed to a direct sourcing model is that it allows us to offer one of kind specialty coffees while building strong relationships with the growers and pay them sustainable and fair prices. We opened our first café in Kitsilano in 2007. Now, there are 3 cafes in Vancouver, and one opening soon in Montreal in the Old Port.

    We serve direct trade coffees and authentic, homemade delicious donuts under our brand, Lucky’s Doughnuts that are made fresh throughout the day on-site at the cafes.

    What inspired the name 49th Parallel and the design?

    In the Pacific Northwest, where we were founded, the term 49th parallel is used conceptually to refer to the Canada-U.S. border. The design of the cafes is based on the individual neighborhoods they are in and reflects the local culture of each location; the new McGill location will also be in tune with its surroundings and building it is in with its mid-century design features and cool-hip vibe.

    In the coffee business, branding is a very important word. What makes your brand stand above all others?

    49th Parallel is indicative of quality, sustainability, close relationships and crafting with intention. Our main goal is to be a leader in the Thirdwave movement and to make specialty coffees accessible. We want to make specialty coffee available to more people, in more ways and craft our exceptional coffees to inspire a spirit of discovery and curiosity in our guests. We would like to take the concept of coffee as everyday fuel to that of something special and more elevated for our clients to discover.

    Many in the coffee business say that “coffee is community.” How will 49th Parallel blend into the Quebecois landscape?

    We feel very strongly about this and have worked very hard to integrate into the Quebec culture and the local coffee community and scene – we have adapted our offerings to include Allonges (an exclusively east coast/European distinction) and iced drinks featuring locally grown produce like Haskap berries, argousier, Quebec strawberries, rhubarb, meliot, locally produced milk and our Lucky’s donut menu will include Quebec exclusives like the Pouding Chomeur and the Jos Lucky. We also feature in our new shop a large mural by a local artist, Stikki Peaches, and have every intention of integrating into the local coffee community by hosting events and being an active member of the local coffee scene.

    Why pick Quebec as an expansion, most companies expand into Quebec last due to its uniqueness.

    We picked Quebec because of its uniqueness and not despite it! We have many local café partners in Montreal that use and retail 49th coffees and have for some time now and that is how Montrealer’s have been able to enjoy our coffee and have come to recognize and know the brand. We also have an e-commerce platform 49thcoffee.com, where Quebec represents our biggest market outside of BC, so Montreal was an obvious choice as our first location to open a café in another province. We also feel that the Quebec culture and its palate and that Montreal as a city are well suited to the brand and that we could make a second home here.

    Coffee brewers and roasters are passionate about coffee. What makes a good cup of coffee?

    Knowledge, education, practice, passion, dedication and quality beans/roasting.

    Lucky’s your doughnut division has so many elaborate doughnuts – What is the most popular doughnut?

    In BC, our most popular donuts are the PB&J and the Vanilla Old-Fashioned. We are excited to see if that will be the case in Montreal or if the taste will run in another direction!

    Why did you pick Old Montreal as your first Quebec location?

    Finding and creating this space was a long, occasionally challenging but always interesting process that took over a year to complete! Space itself, its location and its history were an obvious draw. Plaza McGill was and always will be an institution in the old port. Some of us, namely myself, started our careers in hospitality eating here almost every day and it has been an honour and a privilege to be able to bring the space to a new life and vocation. This was a labour of love from all the people involved in the project, from the contractor to the designer – everyone came together to preserve the charm of the old building while bringing it to life. We kept some of the original features, like exposed bricks and masonry to show the building’s character.

    Many roasters hold their growers sacred, who constitutes a good coffee bean over other beans?

    Our Crop to Cup program is an open-source concept where we push the boundaries of transparency, engage with producing partners in long-term relationships, focus tirelessly on quality and create impressive coffees with real impact and a mechanism for positive change in the coffee industry and communities. Many of our relationships span a decade or more, with our coffee team communicating frequently with our partners around the world and visiting each year to meet face to face, tour farms and discuss opportunities for future growth. With each of our producer partnerships, we focus on quality — cupping coffees frequently, calibrating with our partners, celebrating successes and providing critical feedback — all in the spirit of continuous innovation and improvement.

    49th is committed to sourcing as much of our coffee as possible from Crop to Cup partners, growing with them from season to season. A portion of our coffee comes from new suppliers as well as quality contests and auctions through trusted supply networks – with a similar focus on transparency, quality and sustainability. Many of these new relationships turn into long-term partnerships over the years.

    How do you stay above the competition such as Starbucks and Tim Hortons? Loyalty is a word many savvy coffee drinkers abide by. They stay true a brand for years. How can you convince that daily office Tim Hortons wielding coffee drinker to try your brand?

    49th Parallel can be categorized as a Thirdwave coffee company, with a direct sourcing model that allows us to offer one of kind specialty single-origin small lot coffees while building strong relationships with the growers and pay them sustainable and fair prices. As taste buds evolve, Thirdwave shops and roasteries have become more popular and accessible – coffee being an affordable luxury, people have been turning to smaller producers like 49th Parallel who favor quality over quantity, can trace the origin of their beans down to the farmer who grew it and closely handcraft each cup they serve to their guests.

    We want to make specialty coffee available to more people, in more ways and craft our exceptional coffees to inspire a spirit of discovery and curiosity in our guests. We’d like to take the concept of coffee as everyday fuel to that of something special and more elevated to discover.

    Any new concepts on the horizon and more expansions in the future.

    The Montreal Cafe opening will be the first in many years, the idea, for the time being, is to open the Old Montreal location and see where it takes us… who knows, there might be another 49th Parallel in Montreal down the road!

    Covid-19 has become the new norm, while we were in lockdown mode, many businesses had to evolve and adapt to this new reality. What lessons did 49th Parallel learn?

    We designed and built the new Montreal Café around the Covid restrictions, our service counter and espresso bar are fitted with glass partitions that can be removed and replaced at will, we supply masks to both our staff and guests, and we have prioritized a terrasse seating area for those who are uncomfortable with indoor dining down the road. At the start of the pandemic, we also contracted professionals to come and do bi-weekly full clean-up/sanitization of all surfaces in our shops in addition to our regular daily cleanings, and we intend to continue with this program going forward. The safety of our staff and guests are always at the forefront.

    We have also used this as an opportunity to bring to our customers’ new ways of experiencing 49th Parallel Coffees and our brand in other ways, namely through our café partners, like Avril in Quebec and through e-commerce at 49thcoffee.com.

    Do you see any new trends in the coffee business?

    Coffee served and brewed in different ways. The cold brew and nitro brew trend of 2-3 years ago have evolved into coffee tonics and coffee-based beverages and even cocktails. Single-origin roasts and small lots are very popular, people are drawn by quality and rarity and are willing to spend money to get it. Tastes are also evolving – lighter roasts where you can taste the regional nuances of the beans are privileged. The plant-based milk selection is also constantly evolving with oat currently rating at #1. The presentation of the beverages is also more and more important, not unlike food in general.

    49th Parallel Coffee Roasters: Founded in 2004 in Vancouver, 49th Parallel engages in direct trade sourcing, micro-roasting, and selling outstanding specialty-grade coffee products. From humble Pacific Northwest roots, through word-of-mouth, its products have won over the most demanding baristas in a dozen countries around the world by crafting exceptional, sustainably sourced coffee.

    Location of 49th Parallel Cafe: 488 McGill St, Montreal, Quebec H2Y 2H2

    Opening soon.

    Interview by Tony Medeiros

    Tony Medeiros

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