You hear the most amazing conversations at Co-op des Bons Voisins in Pointe Claire Village.
It could be a discussion about art -- or an anecdote about a pet, a piece of music, the relative benefits of capitalism and socialism or simply a child-rearing horror story. It could be anything. The great part is no matter what it is, it's almost always interesting.
The fair-trade, local-everything co-op is one of the hidden gems of the West Island, home to play groups during the day, vernissages in the evening and live music on weekend. It offers local artists and musicians a place to ply their trades and get some attention and allows local farmers' wares to get onto plates coming from the kitchen. The two-year-old co-op is everything a small community like Pointe Claire Village -- or a larger community like the West Island -- needs. It's the opposite of so many corporate coffee shops or snack bars that charge through the nose and deliver goods that are, well, lacking in quality. It's a little bit of everything: a raucous meeting room, or a quiet corner to read in. It's up to you.
It's a little quieter than they'd like in the coffee shop-slash-snack bar-slash art gallery-slash-community-centre-slash-watering hole these days
The small, unassuming coffee shop and diner -- which has been open for about two years in a former storefront at the corner of Lakeshore Road and Cartier Avenue -- is looking for ways to diversify and improve its revenue stream.
Financially, they're having a rough go of it; co-founders Anne-Marie Angers-Trottier and Nathalie Laplante have stopped drawing paycheques and have been donating the 75-plus hours they put in every week at the co-op for free, as have a number of their employees.
"This place is the undiscovered pearl of Pointe Claire Village," said Amcal Family Services executive director Heather Holmes, whose non-profit agency also calls the village home. "What strikes me is how dedicated and how passionate the staff is. It's their home away from home, and it's often done without pay. They are doing amazing things here," Holmes said.
Angers-Trottier and Laplante are desperately trying to drum up more memberships in the co-op Ð for $75 annually and six hours of volunteer work a month (no matter your specialty) gets you all the benefits of membership, including special prices on merchandise and use of the co-op for meetings or social gatherings.
"Members are like co-owners of the co-op," Angers-Trottier said. "Everything here is done with our volunteers," she added.
The co-founders have a big dream; they hope that by the time next summer rolls around, the co-op's stairway to the roof (which currently serves as the co-op's kids' corner) will lead to a rooftop terrace, which they think will liven up summertime at the co-op, which doesn't currently have an outdoor seating area for visitors.
Of course, they have to make it to next summer first. To do that, Laplante said, the co-op is looking for West Islanders to stop in and give their top-notch cooking and hot beverages a try.
"People love the food. People love the mission, but we need people to get to know us," Laplante said. "Once people discover us, they always, always come back."
And with good reason. Their winter menu (the menu change with the seasons because so does local produce) recently came out for the cold months featuring such cockles-warming goodies as vegetarian chili, the special Des Bons Voisins grilled-cheese sandwich with cranberry-onion confit, daily soups and their mouth-watering sweet treats such as their patented organic brownies. Customers can also pick up organic meat, tourtieres and other frozen specialties grown, made and cooked locally. They even serve brunch on weekends from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Co-op Des Bons Voisins is located at 247A Lakeshore Rd. in Pointe Claire Village. For more information, call 514-505-0578.