THE BIRDS & THE BEETS
THE BIRDS & THE BEETS
BOTANICALS, BREADS, AND BARISTAS
The Birds & The Beets café brings a softness to Gastown in what’s becoming a minimalist neighbourhood. While still holding onto moderation, the café’s design exudes comfort with its calm hues, light woods, greenery, and pale yellow botanical wallpaper. Located in a worn, heritage building with hardwood floors and red brick walls, there’s a preciousness to the space. Warm service, an airy interior, botanic delicacy, and a wholesome undertone to its food all add to the café's naturalness, and its intent.
The café sources from nearby farms, so the menu changes in response to what's locally available, and special items are a quick sellout. Before you know it, you'll find yourself trying to order a hops kombucha, a rhubarb soda, their homemade lemonade, and a macchiato, all before even looking at the food options. Once you see a miso barley bowl glide onto the service bar from an employee's hands, you'll be instantly back to scanning the menu board: the options for novel, healthful gratification are endless.
Hard to find in other breakfast-friendly cafés in the neighbourhood, their Museli (a Chia Oat Bircher option) acts as a reliable morning go-to with a twist of toppings: rhubarb compote, or cinnamon, pear, apple sauce. Naturally, these flavours oscillate with the sway of the season. They offer both a 'grain salad' and a 'green salad' which sound similar upon order––but even if you're mistakenly heard, you wont be grieved either way, since both are so delightful. Bowls often feature house-made sauerkraut or pickled cauliflower and carrots. Toasted sesame, and pumpkin seeds are always a scrumptious addition to their bowls, delivering that added homemade touch.
The addition of in-house baked bread sets The Birds & The Beets apart from the area's other establishments. If you visit during the earlier hours of the day, you'll be charmed by the sight and sweet smell of their dough being kneaded by a skilled employee.
The café purchased all their furniture from old schools. Larger desks can accommodate bigger group sittings which make the café great for informal business meetings and study groups. Marvelously, they also embrace laptop usage with multiple locations for plugs and a Telus Wifi connection.
Owner Matthew Senecal-Junkeer is a big part of the success behind The Birds & The Beets. He’s soft-spoken and kind-hearted but also driven and adept with years of experience at accomplished establishments. He knew he wanted to open a café while he was working at Matchstick Coffee Roasters throughout University.
After completing his undergrad, the next step was either going to be Law School or Culinary School—both of which, arguably, are equally as intensive. Having chosen the latter, Senecal-Junkeer went on to work at revered restaurants in Toronto as well as 33 Acres Brewery in Mount Pleasant, though he found he was always more drawn to cafés. "They're very simple, approachable, and, kind of everyday type of places," he tells us on a warm afternoon sitting outside of the Alexander Street entryway to his bustling café.
After a real estate agent (and previous customer from Matchstick) found an enticing availability in Gastown, Senecal-Junkeer seized the opportunity and bought both 55 Powell St (formerly Sea Monstr Sushi) and the store behind it. He hired Simcic + Uhrich Architects, they knocked out the adjoining walls, and created a connecting corridor between the two spaces.
While in culinary school, the café proprietor saw the difference in items that were made fresh, in-house, and from scratch versus cooking with something that was processed elsewhere. "You can bring in really great things, but you can also bring in things, unfortunately, that have a lot of xantham gum or something else that ultimately compromise the product." So in opening The Birds & the Beets, the new café owner connected with local farms and producers. "We use 3 farms generally: UBC Farms, Cropthorne Farms, which is in Delta, and Klippers Organics."
In the last two years, the team behind The Birds & The Beets have really come into their own, tying together what their values as a company are. The café owner, who works alongside his employees equally as rigorously, notes that being season-dependant is something he views as a plus. "We want to be somewhere where we can serve the best available produce and food," for what he sees as, "a pretty attainable and fair price."
Recently partnering with other local culinary entrepreneurs like Chams Sbouai, the award-winning-kitchen trained pastry chef known for his dessert start-up, Sweet Boy Cream Puffs, The Birds & The Beets currently hosts themed provision pop-up nights. "I saw that we had this unique space, especially for evenings," Senecal-Junkeer notes. He wanted to utilize this and offer his room to other like-minded proprietors who were looking to run evening events.
Glad to have his nights off when the café closes at 6 PM, Matthew adds that he still finds himself coming to attend Wednesday's 'Juice Bar' evening where cheap, regional, and ecologically-minded wines are highlighted alongside other local treats, like the aforementioned Sweet Boy confections. Senecal-Junkeer also teamed up with the folks behind Orchard and The Sea, a craft cider night presented by Txotx Imports that pops up every Friday and Saturday night. Spanish olives, charcuterie boards, and Cantabrian white anchovies are just a few of the options for side treats. The café operator confesses his delight in seeing other epicureans succeed in his betrothed space, "both pop-ups couldn't be busier," he tells us.
A version of this article originally appeared in HAZEL NOIX on December 7th, 2017.