Joshua Campos, owner of The Coffee Lab, poses while making a cup of coffee in his 18-square-foot small retail space located on Spadina Ave. in Toronto. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Tiny coffeeshops help owners save on rent in high-cost Vancouver, Toronto

Three of the four most expensive main streets in Canada are in Toronto and Vancouver, a report says

Customers who don’t work in the building that houses Kento Kitayama’s tiny cafe near Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood better be prepared to settle for takeout. He can only take orders through a little window facing the sidewalk.

Iktsuarpok Coffee Stand, which opened late last month, has no seating and sparse furnishings. Kitayama could likely stand in the middle of the roughly 17-square-metre shop and reach out to touch the sink, refrigerator and shelving unit, counter, and espresso machine that mark the shop’s boundaries without moving.

READ MORE: B.C. rent increases capped to inflation, 2.5% for 2019

The cafe reminds the co-owner of how tobacco shops sold goods in his native Japan, but also suits his budgetary constraints. Kitayama and other business owners challenged by high rents in Canada’s two most expensive housing markets are turning to creative solutions in tiny spaces to open cafes that otherwise might not be profitable.

For a typical 85-square-metre cafe space in the city, Kitayama said he’d likely pay about $3,000 monthly. That’s unaffordable for his new business.

Robust data on average food retail lease prices in Canada doesn’t exist, but some figures help shape a sense of the market.

Last October, Toronto’s average commercial lease rate per square foot was $21.31, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board — down 1.1 per cent from the same month in 2017. But that includes all retailers, and the data is part of only 40 total lease transactions that month where the price was disclosed.

Three of the four most expensive main streets in Canada are in Toronto and Vancouver, according to an annual report from Cushman & Wakefield. The company tracks nearly 450 of the top retail streets in 65 countries. In June 2018, rents on Toronto’s Bloor Street were $300 per square foot and $100 on Queen Street West. On Vancouver’s Robson Street rents averaged $183.

High and rising rents have caused several restaurants in both cities to shutter their doors in recent years.

Wild Rice Market Bistro in New Westminster, B.C., served its last patrons on New Year’s Eve.

“We are all familiar with our high cost of living which is reflected in higher rents, increasing food costs and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff,” proprietor Andrew Wong wrote in a note to customers, adding the restaurant “is no longer viable in our current economic climate.”

Lease prices also pose a big barrier to entry for new hopefuls like Kitayama, who have turn to smaller-scale operations in an effort to trim start-up costs.

While cheaper rent may be part of the business plan, these spaces can be a hit with customers because of their unique forms.

In the social-media age where Instagrammers hunt for the perfect shot of outrageous food or compelling backdrops, a pint-sized coffeeshop can generate buzz and draw a crowd.

“People love it,” said Jake Holton, who co-owns Toronto coffeeshop The Nugget, adding several people stop by daily and coo over the Lilliputian cafe.

“People seem to love the novelty of just having like a little walk-up counter.”

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Guilty verdict for one of two men in large illegal marijuana grow-operation in Chilliwack

Charges dismissed against property owner where 3,200 plants, 32 kgs of dried weed found in 2017

Cubs rescued, hunter fined after sow shot in Skagit Valley

Officers opt for fines, as hefty punishment could prevent hunter cooperation in future

95-site RV camping to be built in Manning Park

RV park one of first to be built in a provincial park

Search continues for person seen floating in Coquihalla River in Hope

Rescuers halted the search Thursday night as darkness fell

Missing Chilliwack woman has not been in contact with family for several months

The RCMP are asking for the public’s help in locating 35-year-old Chantelle Chenier of Chilliwack

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, advocates say

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest

Liberal party finished 2019 having spent $43 million, raised $42 million

All political parties had until midnight June 30 to submit their financial reports for last year

B.C. teacher loses licence after sexual relationships with two recently-graduated students

The teacher won’t be allowed to apply for a teaching certificate until 2035

White-throated sparrows have changed their tune, B.C. study unveils

Study marks an unprecedented development scientists say has caused them to sit up and take note

Greater Vancouver home sales start to tick up, with prices holding steady

Residential sales last month reached 2,443, a 64.5 per cent jump from May

Langley Lodge’s deadly outbreak declared over

Fraser Health and long-term care home administrator confirm Friday declaration

Most Read