City Living: Greenhorn serves up coffee in style

The idea to own a café, a coffee shop or something along those lines — it was just a dream after all — came up during Ganga Jolicoeur’s first date with Walter Le Daca some 20 years ago. The couple met at the now long-gone Commercial Drive restaurant Le Grec; he a server, she a patron with friends who dared her to introduce herself to the fellow Argentinian.

A whole lot of life happened between then and now: they dated, married, lived in Mexico (where they were involved with the ACA World Sound Festival in Acapulco for a few years), had a daughter named Uma who travels so well they were able to pack themselves into a pick-up truck and drive to Mexico from Vancouver during the fall of 2012. But the dream of having a shop of some kind in Vancouver never went away.

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And then Le Daca came across the empty storefront at 994 Nicola St. and knew it was perfect. The Greenhorn is located  in a small building in the middle of a neighbourhood, with a drycleaner’s on one side and a fire hall across the street. Working in the West End appealed to Le Daca.

“The West End is a very proud community,” he said. “That’s something that’s always appealed to me.”

With the help of close friends as well as outdoor designer Kevin Paetkau, whose daughter Deuphine Apedaile works at The Greenhorn, the space was meticulously appointed with touches that would look right at home in coffee-cool Portland, Ore.

From the care-free floral arrangements sprouting out of wall-mounted sconces and the industrially distressed wooden shelves featuring Elderflower Presse juices in old-fashioned tonic bottles to the rolled brown paper menus featuring a lovingly assembled assortment of sandwiches and Moja bean coffee features, every detail was accounted for.

Walk upstairs and visit the café art gallery, which currently features homage to Le Daca’s love of anything with two wheels: three vintage bicycles posing as sculpture.

Sometimes a good idea, good work, and good instincts override the sensibilities of having a business plan, something Le Daca and Jolicoeur never bothered with. “It’s the Greenhorn way,” laughed Jolicoeur, referring to the three Englishmen who bought most of the land in the West End during the 1860s, and were mockingly labeled greenhorns by the locals who considered them silly for their plan of making bricks out of the area’s clay.

Last Friday was the first day of the official opening (up until then, Le Daca often invited neighbours in for a coffee as he was experimenting with the machines) and was packed all Saturday long with a continual line of people who repeated the same thing, “We’ve been waiting for 15 years for this to open up in the neighbourhood.”

One of the neighbours, who got to know Le Daca and Jolicoeur during their six months of setting up, popped in and took in the crowd with wide eyes. He told Le Daca that he must know all the people, that they were charitable friends.

“I stood up and called out, ‘Who here is my friend?’” Le Daca recalled. The response was nothing but looks of bemusement, and people turned around and went back to their chatter and coffee.

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