The staff from former Mile End café-doughnut shop Chez Boris are getting back into the fried dough business as Co-Op Beigne Oui, a collectively-run café, set to open in April 2018.
Chez Boris’ shutter last April came as a surprise — although according to Beigne Oui coordinators Calvin Clarke and Olivia Champagne, the former employees had been preparing for the closure since September 2016, after hearing whispers of problems with the lease (which the landlord eventually terminated). In search of a solution in the event of a shut-down, the team settled on the idea of running a co-op. And thus, Beigne Oui was born.
Clarke, Champagne, and the rest of the team of six coordinators are still in the planning stages for Beigne Oui, and have yet to lock down a location, although they anticipate it to be in the Plateau or Little Italy. The team is focusing on cultivating a homey atmosphere, and are looking for a spot with expansive floor space, large windows, and room to grow plants.
Beigne Oui’s menu will feature some of the crowd favourites from Chez Boris, including the Russian doughnuts Boris was known for, in three flavours: cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate. (Chez Boris owner Boris Volfson gave Beigne Oui the blessing to continue using those doughnut recipes.) Though the details of the menu are not set in stone, Clarke says he hopes that it will also include Chez Boris’ doughnut sandwiches, along with a more diverse set of of meals, including rice bowls, and to-go lunch boxes.
The Beigne Oui coordinating team is prioritizing sustainability and eco-friendliness for the menu, with a goal to source as many of their ingredients locally as possible and to minimize the cafe’s carbon footprint.
“I think our kind of idea to differentiate from other doughnut shops is to be more environmental,” Champagne said. “So like recycling all our oil, and obviously composting, and other little things we’d [like to] do to reduce [our impact].”
While there are similarities between Chez Boris and Beigne Oui, the team stress that it’s not Chez Boris 2.0 — partly because the newcomer will operate with one big difference. While decisions at most cafés are typically made exclusively by managers or owners with little (direct) input from customers, running the business as a co-op will give the clientele a bigger say in daily operations. Using the principle of economic democracy, decisions about the co-op’s menu and services will be made by a group of coordinators, a board of directors, and a body of members — the latter of whom pay a social share and yearly fee in order to have voting power and discounted rates on products.
“It’s really challenging this whole idea of how business is run in a capitalist society and allowing the community and people involved to have a say,” Clarke said.
The coordinating team for Beigne Oui also plans to open the space up to the community for special events.
“[We’ll be] getting the community involved and seeing what they would like to have happen within this space that would be theirs as well.”
“We have a dedication to previous customers at Chez Boris,” Clarke said. “These people have...been supporting us and still want us to succeed, so even bringing it closer to home for them is kind of ideal.”