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Coffee culture brews in Saskatoon

By in Culture
Daylln Guenther sits behind the counter at the Underground Cafe.

Although slow to start, the independent coffee scene in Saskatoon is giving Tim Horton’s a run for its money.

At least this is what Dallyn Guenther hopes.

In mid-June his business, The Underground Café, opened its doors in Saskatoon. Located at 430 20th St. W., Underground is one of the latest in a string of businesses that have been springing up in the downtown and Riversdale areas.

The shop lies tucked behind an iron gate surrounded by flora and brims with natural light during the afternoon. Music on vinyl pours through the speakers and, save for a few paintings, it’s a sparsely decorated space with plenty of seating. There is no drive through and there are no anxiously simmering pots; espresso drinks are brewed individually.

Guenther holds that after tasting the difference in quality, many customers find it hard to go back to filtered drip coffee.

Two blocks away, Collective Coffee is thriving. Its vintage glass garage-style door gapes as customers pour onto the sidewalk in the middle of the day. Since opening in 2010, Collective has become a favourite among students and young professionals.

“Having Collective down the street is amazing, really — they’re kickass. I go there for coffee on Mondays when my store is closed,” Guenther said.

Guenther notes that urban cities like Vancouver are dense with both corporate- and locally-owned coffee stores in their downtown sectors, adding that Saskatoon is no exception to the unyielding demand for caffeine. In the past several years, unique places like Caffe Sola and Collective have drawn caffeine enthusiasts away from their beloved, not-so-sacred double doubles.

A view of the Underground Cafe from 20th street.
“I knew that, eventually, coffee culture would catch up here,” says Guenther, who decided that he would undoubtedly start his own café a few years ago. While studying in Australia a few years back, he worked in an Italian restaurant as a barista, only to find that he liked his job more than school.

“Everything about it won me over: the sights, the smells and the coffee, of course,” Guenther said.

After having this epiphany, the wayward barista traveled to New Zealand, built a mobile café in his car and served fresh brew from the driver’s window to passers-by. It’s clear that Guenther is an artist at heart. His story contrasts starkly with that of the apron-clad student working at Starbucks who dreams of doing anything else.

Aside from serving up the traditional Americano coffee, which is prepared by adding hot water to espresso instead of using a drip method, Underground offers uniquely flavoured drinks that are namesakes of famous ’50s crooners like Etta James and Sammy Davis. Although the café will be opening a lunch bar in the weeks to come, Guenther intends on keeping Underground “predominantly about coffee.” The drinks and atmosphere go hand in hand as the building is openly shared with Beaumont Film & Record — a vinyl record store owned by a friend of Guenther’s.

“Fusing the two seemed pretty natural to me, I always wanted a rock and roll-themed café,” Guenther said.

Despite interest Underground has gained  in recent months as both a café and music venue, it’s still the new kid on the block. This doesn’t faze Guenther, who believes that coffee culture isn’t about competition but rather cooperation. In the future, he hopes to see a couple more coffee shops open on 20th to draw more life to the area.

“It’s not about me trying to steal anyone’s business. I want people to think about 20th the way they think about Broadway. All of the coffee places do really well there,” he explains. “I just think, the more the merrier, you know?”

Photos: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

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