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)

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

Just Posted

Ron Flockhart and sister, LaVerne—who’s holding her grandson, Conner—at the Sicamous and District Recreation Centre for the unveiling of the sign honouring Rob Flockhart on June 6, 2021. (Contributed)
New sign honours the late Rob Flockhart at Sicamous and District Recreation Centre

The sign was unveiled on June 6 to a small group of Flockhart’s family members

Effective Aug. 1, 2021, Donna Kriger will be the superintendent of schools for School District 83 North Okanagan-Shuswap. (Photo contributed)
North Okanagan-Shuswap School District hires new superintendent

Candidate from Saskatchewan to hop to the helm on Aug. 1, 2021

Erin Jackson, the city’s director of corporate services, was appointed acting chief administrative officer for the City of Salmon Arm on June 15, 2021. (Photo contributed)
City of Salmon Arm appoints acting chief administrative officer

Heads of two city department to temporarily fill empty CAO position

The old Dirty Dirt Farm Co-op sign now hangs in the forest behind one of the cabins. (Jim Cooperman photo)
Column: The saga of the Dirty Dirt Farm Co-op

Shuswap Passion by Jim Cooperman

Brook Kosick competes in the barrel racing event at a BC High School Rodeo Association rodeo in Quesnel, which was held from June 11-13, 2021. (Cassidy Dankochik - Black Press)
VIDEO: 14-year-old Salmon Arm rodeo athlete Brook Kosick competes at provincial level

Quesnel rodeo on June 11-13 was first of season for Kosick, who said it meant everything to be back

Bear wanders Kelowna on June 15. (Michelle Wallace/Facebook)
Bear climbs fence, uses crosswalk in Kelowna

The bear was spotted on Baron Road Wednesday evening

This photo of the small wildfire burning above Naramata was taken at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021 (Monique Tamminga Western News)
BC Wildfire on scene of small wildfire above Naramata

Smoke has been showing since earlier in the day

Students in the Grade 10 entrepreneurship program at Summerland Unisus School have completed a cookbook with international recipes. (Contributed)
Summerland students create virtual international cookbook

Entrepreneurship program at Summerland Unisus School uses virtual cookbook as fundraiser

More flames
Lake Country home destroyed in large blaze, 11 dogs rescued

Fire crews are responding to 10839 Hallam Drive

(Facebook/Kelowna Cabs)
Kelowna Cabs reaches tentative agreement with dispatchers union

The tentative agreement could help end the dispute between the taxi company and the dispatchers

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

201 First Street West 1980s. Prior revitalization. (Photo from Revelstoke Museum and Archives)
Man who redesigned downtown Revelstoke honoured with lifetime achievement award

Robert Inwood has worked on historical projects across the province

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

The weekly COVID-19 map for June 6 to 12. (BC CDC)
South Okanagan sees only 5 new cases in last week

The Similkameen Valley went a second week without any new cases

Most Read