Story and photos by Laura Warner
Cycling along the Annette Street bike lanes in Toronto’s Junction, Max and Amara Mancuso stumbled upon a boarded up shop at the corner of Quebec Avenue. With a baby on the way, the couple immediately saw this location as a way to shift gears away from their hectic lifestyles. "We just fell in love with the place," Max recalls. The young couple had been looking for a place to open a coffee shop and this simple bicycle ride helped them uncover what would soon become The Good Neighbour Espresso Bar.
Located on the mostly residential street just south of the hustling Dundas West strip, The Good Neighbour opened its doors in April 2010 and has been living up to its name ever since. Stepping through the front door and into the café’s welcoming atmosphere feels like walking into an old friend’s living room. (An old friend who happens to make amazing cappuccinos.) Having both spent many years working in the restaurant business, Max and Amara found opening a neighbourhood coffee hub came naturally.
“We wanted to keep the shop local,” explains Max. The rustic yet elegant interior decor is a mix of old, new and converted materials, mainly from furniture stores just down the street. The bird’s eye maple counter top is salvaged from a 100-year-old Junction bowling alley. An antique mirror, matted with black and white photographs, hangs on an exposed brick wall and there is a set of cozy arm chairs next to a book shelf and fireplace, perfect for settling into on a cold morning.
On the menu at The Good Neighbour are baked snacks and a wide selection of organic beverages. The focus is on local and ethical menu choices including Intelligentsia coffee, a company whose fair trade practices pay bean farmers directly. The beans are roasted the week they are delivered to The Good Neighbour. Julian, a shop manager, also praises the quality of the coffee, "They really know how to roast beans, they’re extremely consistent.”
Quality and attention to detail at The Good Neighbour does not end with the furnishings and menu. The employees, as Julian explains, "are all seasoned baristas, have worked in other cafés, know what they’re doing and care deeply about the quality of product they present." The employees take pride in the work they do but don't expect to find attitude here. After speaking with staff I was impressed by their genuine graciousness and positive energy (although, the day-long access to caffeine may explain their never-ending energy).
Amara and daughter Delphine, photo courtesy The Good Neighbour Espresso Bar
As the owners and many of the staff are also cyclists I came to find out why there is such a strong affinity between people who ride bikes and coffee. “There’s such a strong, symbiotic connection. I don’t know how to explain it.” Max laughs and continues, “I guess coffee is like gasoline for bicycles.”
Stop by The Good Neighbour on a Saturday or Sunday and the few bike racks outside will certainly be full. “We are in a huge cycling community,” explains Julian, “after their weekend errands or recreational tours cyclists come in to fuel up. It’s like an energy boost; it gives them that extra push.”
The Good Neighbour Espresso Bar
238 Annette Street