Ottawa Journal visited the Byward Café, located on 55 Byward Market Square, to check out their fine collection of salads and sandwiches, and various coffee choices. The coffee store has a very warm and comfortable vibe, with a very friendly staff, and a patio to enjoy the nice cool breeze of Ottawa. At night, you can even enjoy the street performances, tourists walking by and the flashy lights of Byward, all while enjoying a fresh meal of smoked salmon sandwich and your choice of two salads on their patio.
OJ sat down with the owner, Khalid, of the coffee store for a little chat and get to know about the store a little bit more, enjoy the conversation:
OJ: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Khaled: I came here in 1994 and I worked in a café, for about a year, then I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t know the language [English] very well, because, we studied French back home and they spoke English here. Around that time this location came up, it was in a nice area and it looked nice, so we signed the lease, a 20 years lease, I don’t know why I did that, but it was good.
OJ: Why did you choose Byward Market as the location?
K: It is an everyday business and summer business, I was planning on going somewhere in the winter and leaving the business alone for the winter, sometimes you don’t have enough business, so you must work in the winter, but summer is very good here and you can make the whole year in the summer. It [Byward Market] has a long history, it is very busy, and I just heard about it, I didn’t know about it. I came from Lebanon and didn’t know about it. In 1998, I opened this store, so 20 years or more ago, and it went by so fast. I just signed a new lease, a 15-year lease.
OJ: where does the coffee used in the store come from?
K: I have two types of coffee, we buy the regular coffee from a local roastery called ‘Happy Goat Coffee’, they have a special blend for me that is used in my store, whereas, for the coffee used in lattes and cappuccino and espressos, we use coffee from a roastery in Switzerland.
OJ: What inspired the selection of food items that are present in the store?
K: In the beginning, when we started, we had European style sandwiches and salad. With the sandwiches we used to be so busy, we had two people making the sandwiches all the time. It was different than the others, even the salad was different that the others, which is why it picked up so fast. It was different and us behind the counter, we worked hard. You must show that you work hard, when you go to places and they can see that the people here are working then they are interested. And since then we have maintained sandwiches and salad, with coffee.
OJ: How is your store different than the other food stores in Byward?
K: We have really good customers, the people who work behind the counter help people come back. We put a variety of sandwiches and salad which people really enjoy. The service is good and really fast, to serve a customer takes about 1 and a half minute, along with care that comes with the service.
OJ: Is everything you use in the store bought locally?
K: Most of the things I buy that are used are bought locally, but I buy a few things from Montreal and Toronto. The frozen food comes from Montreal, the fresh stuff is bought locally, which includes fresh chicken, vegetable, and bacon.
OJ: Do you plan on changing the outlook of the store in the near future?
K: Actually no, we just changed the design when we signed the new lease. We did some renovations, and everyone loves the new setting, they find it comfortable. Even the patio setting is amazing, because you are looking on to the busy Byward market.
OJ: On Google Street Maps the name of the store is shown as Café 55, any reasoning to change it to Byward café?
K: When we opened the store, it was Byward café, but we were sub-leasers back then, then ten years later the other sub-leasers did not renew the lease, and so I renewed it but I couldn’t use the name, so we put 55 Byward Market, the address, as the name. When that lease expired, and we renewed the lease, we went back to Byward Café.
OJ: What would you order from your own café?
K: Meat options are really good here, but my favorite is the feta, spinach and tomato sandwich, it is the perfect sandwich, with just a little olive oil it’s perfect. I can eat all the other sandwiches, they’re fresh, but I really like that one, and as for the salad, Greek is the my favorite one. They are all made fresh so they all go well. As for the drink, my favorite coffee is café latte, I like espresso, but latte is my favorite drink. I think I go around and buy lattes, and I think we have the best lattes. The important part about lattes is how you do the milk and the humidity of the coffee is really important. How to froth the milk is very important, and we do it to perfection.
OJ: If you were to describe the café in three words, what would they be?
K: The Perfect Café.
OJ: Wrapping it up, aside from the café, what are your favorite hobbies?
K: I like tennis and speed, so Tennis and Racing. I like cars better because they are better than motorcycles regarding the safety. But yeah, I like tennis, racing, and sometimes I like to go try new restaurants.
OJ: What would you tell people who want to come here?
K: Try the Café Latte and try our sandwiches. Our coffee is very good, even the regular one is really good!