Bows X Arrows Café on Fraser Street wants to take coffee in a new direction. Hoping to free java from its nine-to-five confines, the Victoria-based roaster recently opened up shop in Vancouver’s blossoming Riley Park neighbourhood with a menu more ambitious than your average coffee house.
“Most of the competition, they all have cafes, and that was our initial motivation: to sell coffee in our cups,” says co-owner Drew Johnson, over an early morning pour-over. The company’s Victoria location had long been established as a local favourite, but Johnson, who was born in Vancouver, always set his eyes on opening a spot on the mainland. After a drive-by scouting, Johnson and his team decided to set up shop—running into a few of those competitors along the way, as Vancouver-based coffee purveyors began eyeing the same area. “As we were building, we knew Prado was going in and JJ [Bean] is there, and we didn’t want to just compete on coffee and muffins or something,” says Johnson. “As we got to know the neighbourhood, we realized there wasn’t really a place to go for a drink.”
In response, the Bows X Arrows Café is a mashup of a small-plates restaurant and coffee shop. “We wanted to have a neighbourhood place that you could go back to multiple times in the day,” Johnson explains. “You don’t just have your coffee shop where you go at three o’clock because you’re tired. We already do coffee, and we do it well, but we also have other interests.”
Those interests: ham hock terrine with spicy peppers and mustard on toast, Berkshire pork belly with polenta, and salt cod brandade with parsley and garlic, for starters. The location is also fully licensed, hosting a modest bar behind the espresso counter including pours from the likes of Four Winds Brewing Company, Dominion Cider, and Brassneck Brewery. Bows X Arrows is applying lessons learned in the roasting business to the restaurant business. “We take the same approach with the menu as we do with coffee as far as sourcing good things,” Johnson says. “We’re not necessarily trying to have something for everyone, but it’s easy to find good producers for beer and wine and local produce.”
The kitchen, helmed by chefs Daniel Crossin (previously at Cinara) and Trevor Pruegger of Thomas Haas and The Birds and the Beets (who also takes up the morning baking), already has quite a set of defined challenges ahead thanks to the cafe’s particular commercial license. “There’s no hood van, so we can’t have a grill or a deep fryer, and those things become kind of crutch cooking things—because you can always make food taste good by searing it or deep-frying it,” Johnson explains. “So it’s more technique-driven, because we have to do things with limited space: more curing, more picking.” Neighbourhood functionality and purpose is at the forefront of Johnson’s vision. “We didn’t want to have these massive expensive plates,” he says. “It’s meant to be a place to stop and have a snack if you’re on your way somewhere else.”
The space, designed by Toronto’s MSDS Studio and situated with a few small tables and a 26-foot-long communal table, still feels better suited for laptops than share dishes. There’s also still a lingering awkwardness around the concept, perhaps because of the brand’s recognition as a purveyor of fine coffee. But even with a few kinks to be worked out, Bows X Arrows is pouring in the right direction.
UPDATE, Aug. 17, 2018: Bows X Arrows has shut down.