Café Velours: Villeray’s Own Queer and Community-Based Coffee Shop

Volunteer-Ran, the Cozy, Comfortable Space Celebrates One Year

  • Fresh tulips adorn the counter of Café Velours. Photo Caroline Marsh

Café Velours may look like any other place offering a warm and cozy environment to study, work, or meet your friends. But this Villeray coffee shop stands out—Café Velours is run by an energetic team of volunteers who strive to serve the queer community they love, and provide a space where everyone can express themselves and feel safe.

“It’s about offering a place where everyone, including the most marginalized, get to be visible and feel included,” said Allison Murray in French, who started working at the café earlier this year.

Café Velours stands where Villeray’s Baklawa Café once stood. Founded in 1980, the historic bakery became a staple of the neighbourhood. When its success pushed the owner to find a bigger location, three employees, Vanille Salé.e, Alexandre Huard, and Ariane Proulx offered to take over.

The place reopened as Café Velours a year ago, and the former bakery workers were joined by two other friends, Murray and Mariam Mathlouthi, to help manage the business aspect.

For now, everyone in the team has been volunteering their time at the socially conscious establishment. “We hope to be able to hire employees in the future, but we want to be able to offer them more than minimum wage,” said Murray.

One of Café Velours’ comfortable places to sit and work and relax. Photo Caroline Marsh

Offering an alternative to queer social life outside of bars or clubs was also one of the goals behind the creation of Café Velours. “It’s something that I realized when I stopped drinking,” said Murray. “All of sudden, my options for queer places became more limited. We want the café to feel welcoming to everyone, like queer families who want to bring their kids, and to queer seniors as well.”

This has allowed the café to become the home of unexpected and engaging encounters. “I think it’s nice for queer youth to see and meet older queer people, to see all the different lives that aren’t always represented in mainstream media, and to share their experiences,” said Murray.

Customers Laure and Nora have become regulars of the place. Laure has lived in Villeray for a while and she knew the place when it was still a bakery. “I like how they’ve redecorated the place,” she said in French. “The atmosphere is warm and relaxing; it’s a great environment to work in.”

Nora discovered Café Velours when looking for Middle Eastern pastries in Montreal. “It’s nice to see a queer friendly place that serves baklawas.” said Nora in French. “It can sound funny, but it’s two aspects of me that I’m not used to see come together like they do here.”

The team wants to make sure that the café can exist within Villeray without participating to the gentrification of a historically working class neighborhood with a strong immigrant presence. They let the Association des locataires de Villeray, a local non-profit advocating for tenants’ rights, use their space for meetings and informative panels.

“We want the café to feel welcoming to everyone, like queer families who want to bring their kids, and to queer seniors as well.” — Allison Murray

“This place is great because you get to see how you impact the community.” said Mathlouthi in French. “You can talk about changing stuff you don’t like as much as you want, but here it’s concrete.”

A concern of affordability is reflected on the café’s menu. The baklawas are still there and have been joined by soups, salads, and sandwiches. “It’s important to us to offer low-priced and healthy options to precarious customers,” said Murray. “We want the café to be accessible to students or to retired people with small pensions.”

The team envisions the café as a place where all kinds of activists can organize and share their expertise with the community. “We have more and more organizations reaching out to us lately. I’m really excited about what’s coming up for the summer,” said Mathlouthi.

The team strives to keep the café as environmentally friendly as possible. A bright yellow plant wall where they grow all sorts of herbs for their kitchen acts as a partition in the middle of the open room.

The bright yellow plant wall acts as a partition in the middle of the open room. Photo Caroline Marsh

The plant wall is the result of a collaboration with Mantis Environmental. The startup offers its expertise on sustainability through educational workshops. They already hosted several do-it-yourself events at the café to introduce to hydroponic farming or teach how to build solar-powered phone chargers.

Café Velours also aims to support the local artistic community as much as they can, explained Mathlouthi—they allocated space for artists to display and sell their work.

“We try to have the artists who can’t always pay the fee a traditional gallery would charge them,” said Murray. Regularly, they host open mics events where they encourage and welcome every art form.

At 313 Villeray St., Café Velours is open everyday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m, according to their Facebook page. You can follow them on Facebook for upcoming events.

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