By Jodie Lanye, photos by Cindy Titus.
When I set foot in Little Sister Coffee Maker on that first Wednesday they were open, I could feel my eyes widening. I’d known what to expect, to an extent, from their Instagram account – but the reality was so much better. It was official – I was in love with a coffee shop. I declared right out loud that first day, “I wanna move in here!”
Housed in a tucked-away little spot below ground at 470 River Avenue, is the place that charmed me so. The LSCM team renovated the space nearly entirely themselves, transforming it in an impressive two months.
While its previous incantation as a wine bar left memories of a half-assed opium den, Little Sister is blanketed with a surprising amount of light from its floor-to-ceiling windows making up the front wall. A beautiful blonde wood bar faces outwards at the perfect height to lean and sip espresso, flanked by a Marimekko tapestry. Glossy white subway tiles cover the counter and tiny hexagonal tiles lie underfoot as you move through the cozy, but lively shop. Herman Miller tables and chairs line the textured rock wall and, partnered with a bench, make up the seating area.
It’s modern and minimal, but decidedly femme with its sweet details and playfully sophisticated splashes of pastel mint. And, of course, they have the best hand-crafted beverages in Osborne Village – if not the city – to back it all up.
Photographer and dream babe, Cindy Titus, and I made our way down to LSCM one night to chat and giggle with co-owner Vanessa Stachiw over prossecco and scotch.
FGFS: So I just love this place the most ever. Seriously. Okay, now that I got that out of the way can you tell me a bit about how you came to love coffee so much and what your experience as a barista is?
VS: Well, I worked at the café next to my house in high school and I guess I just liked it! I thought coffee shop lifestyle was nice. Then I worked at Espresso Junction at The Forks for four years, which was not the nicest coffee shop, but lots of fun girls worked there and it was like a party all the time.
When I did the explore program in university, I went to Montreal and visited all the great coffee shops and was like, “I can do this. I’m gonna do this. It’s gonna be so great.” I remember emailing Nils (Vik, owner of Parlour Coffee) and Melissa (Nils’ wife/Vanessa’s sister) and said “I’m opening up a coffee shop when I’m done university, it’s happening.” And Nils emailed me back and said, “Actually I’m opening up a coffee shop now.” So, I worked there for two years and it was great and I was so happy. Then I graduated from university and me and Nils started talking.
FGFS: What did you take in university?
VS: Oh, just a B.A. in French Studies. Pretty basic.
FGFS: Wait, you don’t sign B.A. in your email signature do you?
VS: Oh yeah, of course I do. (Laughing) No, no of COURSE I don’t.
FGFS: Okay, good or I was going to have to make fun of you.
VS: So, I started thinking about doing my Master’s because that’s just what you do next. I started taking honors courses and was like, “Nope. No.” So I dropped out and called Nils and we started looking. We knew we wanted to be in Osborne Village and kind of cold called this place. We saw the ‘For Lease’ sign knowing that it wasn’t for this space. But they asked what we had in mind and we got the space!
FGFS: Obviously! I’m so glad you did! So, it was strategic for you in be in Osborne Village?
VS: Nils and I have both lived in Osborne Village for several years and even though we recently both moved out of the neighbourhood, we just love it. It’s such a great neighbourhood! It’s nice to be part of something here, where everyone likes to support local everything. It’s so weird that there hasn’t been an independent coffee shop around here.
FGFS: Are there special things that you did differently with LSCM because you were in Osborne Village, or were those just things that came about organically?
VS: We wanted to do everything different from Parlour. We wanted to establish ourselves as a different place than Parlour and not to make it like Nils is opening up a chain or anything. We’re using different equipment, brewing different coffee, our hours are different – the major things are the coffee and the equipment.
FGFS: Is it purposeful that it’s a lot more feminine in here and that it’s called Little Sister?
VS: Yeah, well, Little Sister is actually a double entendre because we’re Parlour’s little sister, but I’m also a little sister. Nils and I designed this space with our friend Tom. Nils has a background in design, so he really brought it together. And yeah, there is a gal involved and –
NV: And I mean, look at this guy (references self)!
VS: Yeah, there’s a very feminine man involved(laughs)! But, yes, it’s on purpose.
FGFS: What has it been like so far, being open?
VS: It’s been funny – it’s been so great! Our opening day was so busy, we were really overwhelmed and so grateful. It’s mellowed out a bit since[that first weekend], but it’s been so fun and really great. Everything has gone way more smoothly than we imagined. I think people like it and they think it’s nice: we’re happy-go-lucky people and when happy people serve you, you’re happy too.
FGFS: So, tell me about all of these new coffees and – if I spy correctly, you’re doing drip coffee now too?
VS: Our main roaster is George Howell and he is kind of the granddaddy of coffee roasting in the states. He’s a real guy and his coffee is so delightful. They roast just outside of Boston. He’s done so many things for the coffee industry, so we’re lucky and proud to have him and it’s new to Winnipeg. We’re also carrying Bows and Arrows from Victoria. They are getting to be the best roasters in Canada – they’re definitely in the running.
We are doing regular coffee. We have a batch brewer and it produces great coffee. The response from people has really been across the board. People’s reactions to having good drip coffee is funny. Some people are just not interested because the last drip coffee they had was bad and gross from – wherever. Pick a chain. But here, it’s delicious and the machine actually mimics a pour-over situation.
FGFS: So, is running a coffee shop everything you hoped it would be?
VS: It is and it isn’t. It’s really fun and I’m really happy. It’s also a lot of work – I don’t know why I didn’t expect it to be this much work. The last two months have been renovations, but now that it’s open it’s a lot better. We have some super allstar staff that know how to do everything better than us, so that’s made things really good. Yesterday, in my first week, I was able to take the morning off! I definitely feel different, but I couldn’t have expected how this would feel. I feel really nice about what we made.