Little Victories Coffee opens second ‘destination-driven’ location in downtown Ottawa

Little Victories
From left, Little Victories Coffee Roasters co-owners Andrew Bassett, 28, and Jeremie Thompson, 43. Photo by Sarah MacFarlane

At a time when many businesses in the downtown core are struggling with reduced foot traffic, Little Victories Coffee is opening a new central location, based on its unique offering in the market.

Co-founder Andrew Basset says, at any given time, his cafes are bustling, thanks in large part to Little Victories’ “destination-driven” goal.

“Businesses that used to succeed just on traffic are struggling,” Bassett explained. “You have to make it an attractive space. People will always show up for quality and experience.”

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Nestled inside 44 Elgin St., this location looks out at the National Arts Centre and Confederation Square. Photo by Sarah MacFarlane.

The Little Victories cafes don’t have free Wi-Fi but instead encourage visitors to meet friends and chat rather than sit staring at their laptops, a move that Bassett said is largely inspired by internet-free cafes in Europe. 

This boosts table turnover because customers aren’t “camped out” at tables working for hours on end.

“You have to be creative about the business model and create a place to go be social,” said co-founder Jeremie Thompson. “Look around: everyone is chatting, no laptops. It kills people’s experience.

“If you want Wi-Fi, go to McDonald’s.”

The approach seems to be paying off, so much so that Little Victories is opening a new cafe at 85 Bank St. at the corner of Queen Street, three blocks away from its 44 Elgin St. location.

“(Elgin) is getting tapped out,” said Thompson.

Little Victories new location
Little Victories Coffee Roasters is preparing to open its third cafe this spring. Photo by Sarah MacFarlane.

The new cafe represents a full-circle moment for Bassett and Thompson; they had originally pursued the Bank Street space as their first storefront. Bassett said he and Thompson were negotiating to buy the lease from the cafe that had been renting the spot , but the landlord was not willing to proceed.

“We were still new, and I guess he didn’t think it was viable,” said Bassett.

Thompson and Bassett didn’t have plans to become business owners when they first met while working together as baristas. But they shared a passion for coffee and love for Ottawa.

A few years later, Bassett was travelling in Australia “expanding” his barista skills when he decided he wanted to bring more colour and options to Ottawa’s coffee scene. That’s when he got in touch with his former coworker, Thompson.

“It’s that age-old story that Ottawa is boring, that ‘Ottawa is the city where fun comes to die.’ We just got tired of people ripping on this city,” said Bassett. “So we decided to do something to contribute.

Little Victories
From coworkers to friends and, now, to co-owners, Bassett and Thompson never saw themselves starting a business. Photo by Sarah MacFarlane.

“We’ve both lived and worked (in Ottawa) and saw that the market was open and there was potential for us.”

Little Victories was born in 2016, the product of “a partnership as friends who love coffee,” and the first cafe opened in the Glebe on 801 Bank St. soon after. Bassett and Thompson also operated a pop-up shop that served customers with an outdoor takeaway window, rather than an indoor service would require barriers and distancing.

“It felt very unique and allowed people to actually come and visit us,” explained Bassett. “And it brought all this love and exposure to us that was fun in a time that felt really bleak.”

During the pandemic, Thompson said they were forced to “reinvent the company every week.” 

“Being small, we can adapt more quickly,” explained Thompson. “During the pandemic, we went from 15 staff members to three. But we figured, we have to either work hard and make it happen, or shut down. So let’s do our best.”

There wasn’t much of a choice — “we had no exit strategy,” said Bassett. “All or nothing.”

Part of Little Victories’ goal is to teach others about coffee, says Bassett. Photo by Sarah MacFarlane.

Little Victories already had an online store pre-pandemic, and the co-founders say the city showed up to support the local business. As a result, they opened the Elgin Street cafe in 2021.

As the company celebrates its eighth anniversary, Bassett said it’s still based around “coffee-driven ownership.”

And despite the new cafe’s proximity to the Elgin location, he’s confident the foot traffic at the Bank and Queen intersection will sustain business. Besides, Thompson added, “People don’t like to walk too far for coffee in Ottawa.”

Scheduled to open in the next few months, the new cafe will hire between six and nine new staff members and will not offer regular filtered drip coffee.

“We’re going to just do AeroPress and pour-over coffee there,” said Bassett. “It’s all about the experience. We got into it for the coffee, and that’s why we’re here.”

Local high school student Cole Pezacki comes to the Elgin location nearly every day on his lunch break. It’s where he learned about coffee, he said. Photo by Sarah MacFarlane.

Bassett and Thompson would love to open more stores and even expand outside of Ottawa someday, but Bassett said it will be “careful expansion” with an “Ottawa-first” mentality.

“I always liken coffee culture to skateboarding. (Skateboarding) is something with a culture to it, it just gets more and more interesting, and the culture is so engrained there,” said Thompson. “Or the beer brewers. They all worked together to make Ottawa a destination for that.

“It’s about coffee quality over making money and expanding. Yes, we have to make a living and make it viable, but we’re in it for the coffee,” explained Thompson. “Why make a product you don’t like?

“We’re in every cafe every day and I drink every drink on the menu every day,” he continued. “To me, that’s the measure of a place.”

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