Centretown welcomed a new independent coffee house to its hipster-friendly streetscape last month.
Tucked behind a busy stretch of Bank Street near the Queensway sits a small blue building that houses its proprietors’ dreams of becoming a local coffee hub.
Arlington Five opened its doors in early October at, unsurprisingly, 5 Arlington St. Owners Jessie Duffy and Dominic Paul also own Wilf & Ada’s Scratch Diner, situated just in front of the coffee shop on Bank Street.
The couple says Centretown — home to dozens of Starbucks, Tim Hortons and other chain coffee shops — needs a stronger independent coffee influence, and Arlington Five wants to meet that need.
“We’ve set it up so that it does feel like walking into someone’s living room,” says Duffy. “It’s got a lot more authenticity than your run-of-the-mill coffee house.”
She says she and Paul are confident that customers won’t be hard to attract, because people are already familiar with Wilf & Ada’s and the history and location of the building. Like the diner, their new coffee house serves a locally sourced and homemade menu from nearby farms and bakeries.
Duffy says they had been looking for months at expanding to the building behind the diner, now Arlington Five. ”Everyone was kind of leading us there,” she said. ”We started talking about different ideas and I had always wanted a cafe.”
Duffy has spent her professional career working front-of-house in restaurants, while Paul has a culinary background. They were both working at Fraser Cafe in 2012 when they met Ion Aimers, the man who would become their partner at both Wilf & Ada’s and Arlington Five.
Aimers is best known for starting the multi-million dollar Ottawa burger chain The Works. After selling the company in 2010, he is currently partnered with four new restaurants in Ottawa, including Arlington Five. Aimers is a restaurateur extraordinaire, with a flair for mentorship.
Aimers says he loves to watch his young partners grow.
“I look at my mentoring role now as very similar to parenting,” he says. “It’s using your experiences to hopefully make someone else have an easier time.”
While The Works may have been his biggest business success, he says his role as a mentor is far more fulfilling.
Aimers told the story of the birth of the new Wilf & Ada’s. He says for years he was a regular at the then-Ada’s Diner. He became acquainted with the original owners, Wilf and Ada Laham, and expressed interest in buying the diner should the 86-year-old and 64-year-old restaurant owners ever decide to hang up their aprons.
“One day I was eating breakfast (there) and she put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘We’re ready,’ and she meant we’re ready. They wanted to get out of there within a month,” says Aimers.
Buying the diner without Duffy or Paul, Aimers had started renovations, he says, when he decided the couple were the right people to take over. “They came in right at the very beginning and they just loved it.”
About two years after Wilf & Ada’s opened, the building behind the diner came up for sale. Duffy suggested a coffee house to Aimers, who was on the fence. “I was half and half on it, but I became a big fan,” he laughs.
“This is my new favourite spot,” says Reba Breault, a newly converted Arlington Fiver. The local food sourcing is a big draw for many customers, Duffy says. The ham and cheese sandwich being the most popular, with Berkshire ham from a farm in Perth and rye bread from Rideau Bakery.
Duffy says local food is a labour of love for her and partner Dominic. “Supporting that local sustainable system is certainly very important to both of us,” Duffy says.