Words by Mia Anhoury
Audio by Sania Malik
Photography by Sarah Boumedda

From the outside, it looks like one of the many other small independent coffee shops in Montreal, but in reality it is wide and spacious on the inside. It’s hidden in plain sight on Saint Catherine St. in the heart of the Gay Village. The three-year-old café, La Graine Brûlée, is becoming a go-to place for students, entrepreneurs, and even families.

Stéphane Koué, co-owner and manager of the café, said the Gay Village was the perfect place for La Graine Brûlée, which translates to “the burned grain.” It is more than just a café, however. Like many other up-and-coming places in the city, La Graine Brûlée allows its clients to rent its corners and rooms.

Koué said they are used for meetings by students and independent workers who don’t have their own offices in which they can meet. The rooms, however, aren’t your typical meeting rooms with large oval tables and neatly tucked-in chairs. The café is themed after a carnival.

In the centre of the café is a carousel. “It’s the main attraction,” said Koué. The carousel, which is almost closed off from the rest of the café, is a huge, round table with a round couch wrapped around it. The ceiling-reaching wooden columns are what make it feel like a carousel.

LISTEN: Stéphane Koué talks about the origin of the café’s name, its décor, and its atmosphere, and why it fits perfectly in the Village.

If you look to your left, you’ll find a little house built with some more yellow-toned wooden walls and what looks like an unfinished roof. Finally, there is an arcade room on the other side of the café lined with carpets. It includes a Super-Nintendo and a Nintendo 64 among other consoles.

“The neighbourhood certainly inspired us in the creation of the café,” said Koué. “It’s diverse, eclectic, and joyous, so we thought it would have to be something that would pop as much as the neighbourhood itself to attract its people.”

“It is a travelling carnival; you’ve got wagons, you’ve got a big wheel, you’ve got a haunted bathroom, an arcade area, a carousel,” said Koué.

Koué is also one of the owners of café Oui Mais Non, in Villeray, he said La Graine Brûlée was intended to provide spaces to be rented by clients, since smaller cafés cannot offer such corners.

“People need, instead of classrooms and conventional offices, these new spaces,” said Koué.

He added that UQAM professors have also been teaching classes in the little house every couple of weeks. The demand for these work spaces, according to Koué, is increasing.

“There are more and more independent workers, who don’t have offices so they hold their meetings here,” he said. Koué wants to perpetuate what he’s begun. “We’re here to stay.”