BY LAURIE SNELL
As one of the only vegan restaurants in the area, owner Tyson Reiser takes pride in the high-quality, healthy, well-crafted foods that distinguish Café Pyrus as a great, casual destination for the health-conscious, the curious – or even just the hungry.
Everything from Daiya cheese (a soy, casein, dairy and gluten-free cheese alternative), tofu, tempeh (a fermented soy product), sandwiches (or sammiches as they call them) and daily soups, to almond milk lattes, vegan doughnuts, fudge and gluten-free muffins that don’t taste like cardboard, can be found at Café Pyrus at a slightly higher than average cost.
A standard lunch of soup, a sandwich and a drink costs anywhere from $10 to $16 – depending on selected sandwich toppings and portion sizes for soup.
“Right off the bat we were different from everybody else … and because we were so different from everybody else, we got all the people who were so different than everybody else,” Reiser said, as he looked around the café, smiling at many of the familiar faces he knows by name.
The salmon-coloured walls are covered with paintings for sale by local artists, which have been hand-selected by Gallery Pyrus curator David Atkins. With splashes of colour and obscure sounds of jazz, punk and hip-hop music serving as background noise, and recurring after-hours events featuring local performers, it is clear that this independently-owned establishment is in touch with Kitchener-Waterloo’s community and culture.
The buzz of early morning conversation and clicking of diners on their laptops grows louder as the line to the register grows with the day. The cherry red couches, periwinkle armchairs and other mismatched furniture fills out the lounge area, surrounded by other tables and chairs – providing a quirky sense of character. The tagline, Kitchener’s kitchen and living room, begins to resonate with guests new and old, as they watch the cooks prepare their meals and baristas brew fresh coffee, from a comfortable couch or chair.
Everything about the place – the vibe, the music, the artwork, the food, the ingredients and coffee – is fun and casual, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of hard work involved in the process.
Now in its fourth year, Reiser is excited about the steady increase in business, and hopes that this is the year they will start to turn a profit. “That’s when I’ll know we’ve made it,” he said.
Five years ago, when Reiser and his then-business partners were creating Café Pyrus, he left his corporate job and life in the suburbs to kick-start a health-wise, environmentally and ethically-conscious business, based on the notions of veganism.
“I think the hardest part was, because of the business partners I had, to have that creative side and understanding what needs to happen and create this thing. Now we have this spot that’s made its mark on Kitchener … I have multiple businesses, I don’t run this place day to day. I’m not here behind the counter everyday. I’ve got great people who have been doing that and I provide them direction on how to manage the place and how to start,” Reiser said, adding that every member of his staff participates in developing the direction of the cafe.
“If it didn’t work out, I would find another way to make it work. Every time something doesn’t work, you just make slight changes and it just gets better, and if they don’t work, we can just keep doing other changes until they do work because I believe in this.”
The only exception to the strictly-vegan menu is the option to substitute Daiya cheese for organic cheese. After researching nutrition and finding recipes for healthy alternatives to traditional foods, Reiser created the entire menu himself. “The conventional food chain right now is really screwed up. When you’re getting a burger from McDonalds or anywhere else, that’s really just processed corn. They’ve made it highly processed through the animal – using the animal as machinery and pumping as much crap into it to get the cheapest form of meat possible – and that comes with a whole host of different problems … I can’t make a profit off of somebody else if I wouldn’t eat the product myself,” he said.
With the Charles Street bus terminal directly across the street, it’s no wonder the staff at Café Pyrus come across new faces almost everyday. Jadyn Clasper, who works as a barista, said the range of people keeps things interesting.
“I love all of the amazing people I get to meet. Being across from the bus terminal, you meet such a wide variety of people and we’re downtown Kitchener’s living room, that’s our tagline … it’s amazing to meet all of the different people who live around here.”
With all sorts of people popping in to see what the hype is all about, the staff at 16 Charles St. W. have heard almost every response from first-timers. “We’ve heard everything like, ‘what? There’s no meat on your menu?’ and they walk out and we’re like ‘great, you’re not going to connect with us anyways,’ to relief – where people are like ‘this is a place where I can eat.’ Many are surprised we make (ingredients) here. Like ‘wow, how are you doing this?’ A lot of places you don’t have that connection,” Reiser said.
The most notable response from diners, Reiser recalled, is more permanent than the average connection between a consumer and a food joint.
“We’ve had the extreme where people have “Pyrus” tattoos because they met here. Their lifestyles connected here and they have been in a relationship for three years now because of it. So they got the matching tattoos,” Reiser said.
There’s a reason customers keep coming back and staff turnover is so low – it’s all about making connections strong connections and actively engaging in the community. For Pyrus cook, Erik Stuhlmacher, it’s all about “…the atmosphere, the environment, it’s pretty relaxed … I like getting to work with good quality products and I’m pretty passionate about what I do … decent music is always playing and it’s a nice casual place to go.”
Clasper said, “We’re kind of like a family because we are an independent business.”