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guy holding skateboard looking at photos Café Léo/Supplied

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A New Shape-Shifting Café Arrives on Berri

Café Léo is starting out as a coffee shop and study spot, but plans to soon host movie screenings, art exhibitions, and maybe even pottery classes in its reconfigurable space

When Andréanne Léonie Murdaca broke the news to her father that she’d be foregoing her career as a civil engineer to open up her own coffee shop in the middle of a pandemic, he had some concerns.

But now that Café Léo is up and running (since August 1), in Montreal’s Latin Quarter, Murdaca says, “I think he’s actually proud.”

Located on Berri, smack dab across the street from a Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) building, Léo is invariably catering to its student body, who are, for the most part, more artsy than those at the Polytechnique Montréal, where she earned her degree. “Just in front of the school like that, my thinking is that it can’t really go that wrong,” Murdaca says.

coffee counter with baked goods Café Léo/Supplied

Students looking to Léo as an alternative to nearby libraries will find a bright, white 2,000-square-foot space (with a mezzanine) and a beverage menu largely built around coffee roasts from Montreal favourite Zab. For now, food options are limited to pastries and some flammekueche (Alsatian-style pizza), but once the semester begins next month, sandwiches made on bread from Mile End bakery Guillaume — including a vegetarian “croque monsieur” that trades in ham for apples — will be added to the offering.

Billed as a “modular café,” Murdaca says Léo is destined to be more than just another coffee shop where university students convene for exam prep. In time, she expects the space to become a hub for local events, including concerts, comedy shows, movie screenings, and maybe even some pottery classes.

Right now, Léo is exhibiting a photo series chronicling the process and partners involved in getting the project off the ground. “But next week, it might be something totally different,” she says. To facilitate these frequent shifts, she’s built two large walls on wheels that can be used to swiftly reconfigure the space when needed.

someone plating salads Café Léo/Supplied

As for that civil engineering degree? It wasn’t all for nothing, Murdaca says. It came in handy as she oversaw months of construction at the cafe, verifying everything from electricity to ventilation. Meanwhile, at the helm of Leo’s kitchen is Mathieu Plamondon, a fellow former engineer and friend she made in school.

During the pandemic, Plamondon, like Murdaca, reassessed his career goals and began hosting dinners for friends, before deciding to do so professionally at Léo. Once the university semester is in full swing come fall, he’ll be adding a late-night, market-driven menu to Léo’s offering, thereby giving the café yet another guise — that of dinner destination.

Café Leo is currently open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., at 1215 Berri. Hours are subject to change.

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