A unique OEV café and roastery finds a new home
Photo: Misgna Menameno
WHEN MISGNA MENAMENO first opened his coffee shop in Old East Village in 2012, it was the fulfillment of a goal he’d had since moving to Canada from Asmara, Eritrea (bordering on Ethiopia) decades earlier: to have a café like those he had enjoyed in his home country; a blend of Italian and African cultures, where people relaxed, visited with friends, enjoyed reading or simply watched the world go by.
Asmara Caffee quickly gained a loyal following, due in large part to the robust in-house roasted Ethiopian coffee and Menameno’s genuine, friendly demeanor.
It was a perfect location, says Menameno, until he received notification that the property had been sold and rezoned, and that his strip of Dundas Street was going to be under heavy construction in the coming year.
“I wanted to stay in the neighbourhood,” he says. “I love Old East Village. It is community-oriented, and once you become very familiar with a group of loyal customers, you don’t want to go away.”
Fortunately, Menameno believes he has found the perfect nearby location to move and grow, recently reopening the café at the corner of York and Lyle streets and rebranding the business as Asmara Coffee House.
With a fresh name — “[The former name] was play on the Italian caffé, but people just thought I misspelled it,” laughs Menameno — a fresh look and an expanded food menu, the coffee house is seeing more than a few fresh faces walk through the doors.
“The building is owned by Start.ca, an amazing group with lots of coffee drinkers,” he notes, “and there is also a massive staff at TD right across the street, plus lots of drive-by and foot traffic stopping in to grab a coffee.”
The new space has lots of natural light, thanks to large windows on two sides, and ample parking right outside its doors. The open layout has the coffee roaster in a visible space on the floor, meaning customers will be able to see Menameno, a master coffee roaster, at work. “It’s the same amount of space here,” he says, “but the layout is much more modern.”
The menu continues to feature light meals, mainly geared to breakfast and lunch — bagels, sandwiches, soups, pastries — with the new addition of some traditional African dishes.
Working 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, Menameno didn’t have much in the way of time to promote the new location, so he enlisted the help of his daughter, a grade-12 student, to get the word out via social media. Not that he’s playing to the gig economy, however. Like a growing movement of cafés, Asmara Coffee House purposely ditches free wifi to encourage face-to-face interaction. The sign sitting on the pastry counter couldn’t be clearer: “Connect with each other. Emails can wait.”
Or, as Menameno points out, “You can watch the trains roll by.”
Although the transition meant closing shop for six weeks, when he opened in mid-February, Menameno wasn’t surprised to see his regulars find their way to the new location. “We’ve always had cab drivers hang out,” he says, “and I’m sure most of my customers will follow me here.” Kym Wolfe