Bean Brothers Cafe Bistro: The Gathering Place

Interviewed by Eden Jiyeon Kim
Photographed by Noriko Nasu-Tidball

Neighbourhood cafés are special. Not only because they are usually owned and managed by a local, but also because they are warm, welcoming, and friendly. In the heart of Kerrisdale, there is a place that has been refilling everyone’s cup of coffee for the last 20 years: Bean Brothers Café Bistro.


This year marks the 20th anniversary of Bean Brothers Café, and this would have been impossible if it was not for the new owner, Michael. Leaving his profession as a corporate finance lawyer after more than a decade, Michael took an ambitious step in his life to continue the meaningful tradition in his neighbourhood. As a Kerrisdale local, he came to appreciate the connectedness of Bean Brothers Café to the community and understood the symbolic meaning of the place. Like other locals, he saw it as “the neighbourhood kitchen table”. That is what makes Bean Brothers Café unique: it feels like the customers’ place.
Michael says his experience in the legal community has certainly helped him with his business. Along with the legal resources, he mentions that the customer skills taught as a lawyer, which include a “clients first” mindset, have been tremendously helpful in this highly interactive business. Yet, he says simply enjoying interacting with people is the most important aspect of his work, because most of his customers are also locals who are community oriented and very supportive of local business.


clip_image002There are quite a few corporate owned coffeehouse chains near Bean Brothers Café. People choose to go to these franchises because they are standardized, consistent, and their products are “branded” with their logos in frequent advertising and marketing campaigns. However, even with the big competition around the block, this local café seemed to be doing very well, attracting customers consistently throughout the day and night. When I asked him about the secret to his success he told me, “For me, I care about what happens in my community. I love Kerrisdale and I want to see the Village thrive.  I see Bean Brothers as a significant part of the Village, and my staff and I are committed to doing everything we can to survive, and hopefully even thrive, in the face of growing competition.”

Although he is highly experienced in the law field, Michael is constantly learning about his new role as a business owner. He says “you have to know your strengths and weaknesses, and not be afraid to ask for help.” When things get difficult, Michael looks for advice and solutions from different sources. For business matters, he talks to his former law colleagues and increasingly to a number of the other local, independent business owners in Kerrisdale. When making changes in the restaurant, he looks for feedback from his customers and key staff. And for support, he turns to his loving wife.
Michael has made several changes to the café to make the place better and to accommodate the customers’ wants and needs. One of the most drastic and positive changes to the café has been his “coffee improvement program” that lasted almost 6 months and included 17 different blind test coffee cupping trials with independent consultants to find the best quality coffee for Bean Brothers’ customers.  Freshly roasted coffee makes a significant difference to the quality of coffee being served because coffee beans start to lose flavour within 10 days of roasting. Now Bean Brothers Café proudly serves coffee from JJ Bean, which imports the best coffee beans they can locate throughout the world and roasts them daily right here in Vancouver.  This ensures Bean Brothers receives coffee beans with unbeatable freshness, deep aroma, and flavour.

Moreover, many companies package their roasted beans in bags which are then flushed with gas to extend the shelf life. But Michael has chosen JJ Bean, despite its higher costs, because the certified organic, fair trade, freshly roasted beans they provide are also packaged in brown paper bags with no added chemicals. His “quality over profit” attitude in the coffee improvement program has gained tons of positive feedback with returning happy customers.
The varieties of coffee beans change seasonally but at any time Bean Brothers Café has at least 6 different kinds of coffee beans, roasted from light to dark (and even chemical free, Swiss water processed decaf), so customers can have their perfect cup of coffee or try something new. Same goes with the organic teas that they serve, which come in 18 different varieties. If you are mesmerized by the number of choices, try the peppermint, Michael’s favourite.
So far, the biggest challenge for Michael has been making changes to improve Bean Brothers’ food program. Like the coffee, Michael wants to incorporate more organic and local ingredients to the food menu. He has been talking to a food consultant to improve the current menu and a lot of things have changed since then. He started by providing organic soups, removing trans fats from all the baked goods, and watching out for allergies; now he meticulously checks all the ingredients before he makes a purchase or adding a new food item. Seems like a lot of work, but he says it is necessary because he wants the locals to trust what they eat and get good quality products that are worth coming back for.

clip_image005Even though the business has been great for him along with the local support to help out the neighbourhood café of 20 years, Michael is concerned with the business environment and the increasing loss of small and local businesses in the Kerrisdale community.  He believes that community thrives when local business interacts with each other and the community.  This type of social interaction will strengthen the bond between every member of the community and make it a wonderful place in which to live.

What is next for him? Michael says his primary focus will be on the new food program. Offering healthy, tasty, consistent meals with fresh organic ingredients to the neighbourhood is his main goal. He says he wants to continue the traditional aspect of the place, but he also wants to create “the café with wow factor food.” As for the business, he says he hopes to keep it for the rest of his life. It seems as if Bean Brothers Cafe has become a part of him.

clip_image006Throughout the interview, I came to understand how a successful lawyer became so attached to his local community and changed his lifetime career to become more involved in the place that he loves. Most people may think of his choice as risky or reckless, but he has informed me that although practicing law has been great for him, he really missed connecting with people. For him, it was not about making a different career choice. It was about doing what he had longed for, which also involved his love for Kerrisdale. “I have so much fun just being here. It doesn’t feel like work. I feel like I am catching up on people’s lives and am honoured that people choose to spend their time at Bean Brothers and share their stories with me,” he said as a final comment, “I want Bean Brothers Café to reflect Kerrisdale. I want to do more in the community and do what is best for our neighbourhood.”


Beans Brothers Café is located on 2179 at West 41st Avenue. It is open daily from 5:30am to 11:00pm. For more information or questions, you can visit them on their website at or by phone (604) 266-2185.