Like My Home, With Better Coffee


I’ve always wanted to be a coffee shop regular. They waltz in like they own the place –immediately greeted with smiles and handshakes. With a nod, they place their order, always perfect, sometimes free.

They look so cool and being a sucker for appearances, I decided to make it my mission to become a café regular, somewhere. 

Two months in, I can confidently say I’ve succeeded! Documented for your enjoyment are my tips for turning a coffee shop into your second home.


Commit to One Coffee Shop

I’ve lived in the same hood for nearly four years, yet the status of café regular eluded me. I didn’t care so much before…I café-hopped, went to Starbucks when I had a gift card, and grabbed a coffee on campus when I was still in school. I’m not saying you have to put a ring on it, but if you’re going to be a regular, you have to be…regular!

I thought about what I needed out of my coffee shop. It was going to be a place of work since I work from home. I narrowed my choices down to two beautiful coffee shops, both equal walking distance from my house. However, specific criteria like capacity, outlets, and business hours swayed my final choice, and I settled on Lili & Oli on Notre-Dame Ouest.

A pros and cons list of sorts. Am I that difficult?

I wondered if I had to commit to a consistent order so I could have “the usual”. I used to think to be a regular, the barista had to remember my order. “They might not know my name,” I thought, “but they might know me as cappuccino-no-sugar”. Problem is, I’m not the type to want the same thing every day, and I switch between three or four favourite drinks. Turns out it wasn’t that important. 


Have Meaningful Interactions

Chat up the baristas and make it a point to ask them their name and introduce yourself. They didn’t remember mine at first, but I continued to address them by name until they felt embarrassed about not knowing mine. Eventually, the conversation became natural, and I could move on to the next step: joking around.

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You want to get beyond polite small talk, like why I drink almond milk and the merits of cinnamon over cocoa powder. By creating meaningful interactions, you’re more likely to stand out, be remembered, and eventually get a little more real.

This also extends to other coffee shop regulars. Spot the regulars and find excuses to strike up a conversation. I found them so easy to talk to since the coffee shop is a second home to them. In my experience, they reached out to me first, learned my name, and started introducing me to other regulars.

By nature, some individuals are connectors. They make sure everyone meets everyone and try to connect like-minded individuals. These people have been instrumental in helping me integrate the coffee shop ecosystem. They filled me in on café history, key players, their backstories, and more.


Be Selfless and Open

Be generous with your time and attention. Cafés are frequented by all sorts of characters.  Be kind to everyone, not just people who seem like you. This is something I learned growing up in a church community. You don’t choose who is part of your community. The beautiful thing is you will become friends with people you never expected, who will teach you and challenge you in new ways.

My café crew includes a Sudanese artist, a photojournalist, an events coordinator, and one of my best friends.

Open up about what you do, your skills, and interests. By building more real relationships, you can also identify opportunities to help each other out with projects and advice. Be generous with your time, it’ll be rewarded.


Allow Spillover

Allow your new café life to spill into other parts of your world. I knew I was part of the gang when my coffee shop buds started adding/following me on social media and checking in when I’d been away for a few days. They invited me to join their lottery pool, and I was asked to neighbourhood activities that otherwise wouldn’t be on my radar.

The beautiful thing is you will become friends with people you never expected, who will teach you and challenge you in new ways.

I started running into them at other neighbourhood hot spots too. Turns out, being a regular is contagious. When I run into a Lili & Oli customer elsewhere at the local brunch joint for example, if they happen to be a regular at that place, I can piggyback on their status. Sounds kind of weird, but it’s interesting how these dynamics play out. 

All in all, this has been such an enriching experience, and I’ve deepened my connection to my neighbourhood and community. I feel a sense of belonging that goes beyond getting almond milk at no extra charge.



5 responses to “Like My Home, With Better Coffee”

  1. Love this piece! Coincidentally, I tried to go to Lili & Oli last week with a colleague in from out of town but there was no space. It’s lovely and cozy but so small — I can’t imagine how small Buck 15 must be if it beat out L&O on the size front. 😉 Do you always manage to get a spot?

    1. Andrea Zoellner Avatar
      Andrea Zoellner

      Oh no! That’s too bad. It gets so packed as of 10am and hits a few lulls throughout the day. Hard to predict. I usually get a seat early in the morning and stay put. The one time I didn’t, I hung out at the counter until someone left.

      1. Sounds like a good strategy if you’re going there daily! We ended up at this place in NDG that was very good.

        1. Andrea Zoellner Avatar
          Andrea Zoellner

          Their desserts look DELISH!

  2. […] Lili and Oli – Former VIP intern Andrea’s local hangout […]

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