Willie Mounzer’s ambitions to sell coffee on Robson Street are about to shake things up on Vancouver’s iconic downtown caffeinated intersection, where two Starbucks outlets faced each other for more than 20 years.
Until this spring, there were Starbucks shops on either side of Robson and Thurlow in an oft-cited echo effect that came to exemplify the suggestion that high-end coffee ran in the bloodstream of this city.
One opened in 1988 – the third Starbucks in Canada. The other, located in a 1908-era apartment building kitty-corner to the first, opened a year later. But Starbucks closed the first store last month, citing a failure to come to a deal to renew the lease of the property.
That failure opened a door for Mr. Mounzer, president of Vancouver-based Caffe Artigiano, a 12-year-old company known for its old-world, Italian-themed atmosphere and cutting-edge coffee.
Mr. Mounzer has snapped up the space occupied by the former Starbucks. He plans to open the his new store – the 14th in the Lower Mainland – within three weeks. There is also a store in Victoria and two in Calgary.
Where once there were Starbucks stores in stereo, there will now be rival coffee shops facing each other like gunslingers.
“We are not afraid of competition at all,” said Mr. Mounzer, noting there are Starbucks shops near many Artigianos. “I think we’ll do well.”
Mr. Mounzer, who bought Artigiano in 2006 after helping build the Earl’s restaurant chain that is a fixture of B.C. dining, said Artigiano won’t be adjusting its pricing because it is in line with other rival coffee shops in the Lower Mainland.