When we moved to Ottawa, I left my job in marketing research to become a full time caregiver to our children, and I have been in that role ever since. But with the kids now being older and more independent, I have started taking on some freelance projects. And as these things tend to go, things went from 0 to 60 really fast and I almost had to skip this month’s Business Beat. But while I was working away on my first report, I realized it gave me the perfect topic to write about: work/study/meeting spots in Old Ottawa South.
I tend to do about half my work from home, but will often chose to work at a coffee shop, as it forces me sit behind my laptop rather than constantly getting distracted by the fridge, laundry, etc.
Below is a(n incomplete) list of the work/study/meeting spots I am familiar with in our neighbourhood and I rated them on several aspects, using a score out of 10.
Bridgehead is my go-to spot, largely due to its proximity to my house.
Seating comfort: 8 (benches and seats) - 3 (stools)
Seating is pretty good overall, but if it’s busy and you’re condemned to a dreaded stool it might be tough to stick around for more than a coffee. But at least the stools can serve as a temporary holding spot until a better seat becomes available.
I like Bridgehead’s food. There is a really nice mix of sweet and savoury choices, and this makes it easy to stay through lunch if needed. And because Bridgehead has more than 20 locations, they now also fall under the rule that they have to post calorie information for their items, so making a somewhat more informed choice has become a little easier. My favourite is probably the breakfast wrap, which is luckily often available well into lunchtime. My only complaint is that they got rid of the morning bun. I pine for it often.
Bridgehead probably has the best coffee and tea in the neighbourhood and it’s no punishment to be forced to order several drinks over the course of a work session.
Availability of seating: 7
Bridgehead can get busy, especially right after school drop-off (i.e. around 9:00 am) and of course around lunch time. But it is rare that you cannot find a seat at all, even if it’s just a stool for the first little while.
WiFi: Yes. Added bonus, most of the bench seats have power outlets in them.
Starbucks is Starbucks. Like many in our neighbourhood, I like local, independent stores, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like or go to Starbucks.
Seating comfort: 7
When I work at Starbucks, I actually prefer to sit along one of the two “bars” on the high seats, which are surprisingly comfortable. The regular seats are comfortable enough, but I get a bit uncomfortable after long stretches.
I like the consistency of Starbucks coffee and if I want to indulge in a special drink (basically desert), this is likely where I head.
I like the breakfast sandwiches at Starbucks, but don’t love the lunch choices. And although I quite like the chocolate chunk cookie, I find most of the food decidedly meh.
Availability of seating: 6
Starbucks is clearly still very popular with the university crowd and since they are a bit smaller than other coffee shops in the neighbourhood it can sometimes be hard to find a seat. But the two “bar” areas mean that if you’re by yourself you can usually find a spot.
Black Squirrel Books
Black Squirrel Books (BSB) is clearly the place to be if you own a Macbook. And yes, I will occasionally try to sneak in even though I don’t quite fit the youthful, hipsterish bill.
Seating comfort: 7
Black Squirrel Books has a hodgepodge of chairs and their comfort level can range from a 9 (if you snag one of the fauteuils) to a 5 if you end up on a flat, hard wooden chair. But generally speaking the chairs are comfy enough to spend a couple of hours at work.
I really like BSB’s coffee and they have a great tea selection. And, as I mentioned in last month’s article, they are now also licensed so if your task at hand is relatively straightforward you can even indulge in a wine, beer, or cider.
This score is primarily reflective of the food selection rather than the quality. The few treats that BSB offers are quite tasty, but they are just that: treats. If you’re looking for something more substantial or plan to work through lunch, you’re better off somewhere else.
Availability of seating: 5
BSB is very popular, especially among students, and have a somewhat limited amount of seats available (they are after all primarily a bookstore…), so getting a seat can be tricky. And it seems that once people have settled in, turnover is very limited.
Life of Pie
We witnessed all three moves of Life of Pie and it’s been very exciting to watch them succeed and grow. Their current location seems to suit them perfectly, as it provides ample space for the amazing baking, storage for the take home food, and lots of seating.
Seating comfort: 5
The tables and chairs are a bit spartan at Life of Pie, and I usually find it hard to sit in them for long stretches. They do have a few comfortable seats, so one can always move around if need be.
The coffee is generally very good (they serve the amazing Happy Goat Coffee), but selection is fairly limited.
I can’t say I always love the lunch options, but what I do love is that you can check ahead of time to see what’s on offer that day. So I will often pick and choose my days to coincide with some of my favourites. Like the Mac n Cheese. I have also been known to make detours to Life of Pie on Morning Glory muffin days.
Availability of seating: 9
Life of Pie is big, and the lack of WiFi makes it a lot less popular among the student crowd. So seats are (almost) always available. The only time you may have trouble finding a spot is during Hopewell school’s off-property recess times for their Grade 7 & 8s (1:30-2:00 pm). The generally ample availability of seating make Life of Pie one of the best spots for a local meeting.
WiFi: No, but depending where you sit you might be able to hop onto the Starbucks network.
Stella Luna Gelato Café
Working at Stella Luna can obviously be quite dangerous. It takes an incredible amount of willpower to spend any amount of time here without succumbing to the gelato’s siren song.
Seating comfort: 7
Seating is quite mixed, and spending more than an hour on one of the wooden pews can be hard on the body. But the chairs are quite comfortable and like most other places, Stella also has a few comfortable lounge chairs. One of the added bonuses is the large, boardroom-like table in the back, which is ideal for meeting.
I always find the coffee at Stella Luna a bit disappointing. I know that that’s in part because we are spoiled by some of the specialty coffee places, and I also think I rate them more harshly because I evaluate the coffee next to their gelato. I do like the fact that they have a bunch of Aranciatas available to quench one’s thirst.
Sure, the gelato is amazing. We all know that. But I also really love Stella Luna’s Panini's. And the frequent rotation of paninis on offer means that there’s almost always a favourite available. One thing to keep in mind when working here on a busy lunch day: if lots of people are ordering paninis, the place gets filled with a strong odour of burnt toast and tends to get a bit smoky.
Availability of seating: 8
On a hot summer day, it can be next to impossible to ever sit down at Stella Luna. But generally speaking it isn’t too difficult to find a spot to sit and work, although showing up right at lunchtime will definitely limit your choices.
WiFi: No, which helps with the availability of seating.
I have to confess that I do not go to our local Tim’s all that much. For me it’s the perfect place to stop on a long drive when one is in need of a bathroom break and caffeine boost. And given the large number of alternatives, I have yet to sit down and work at our local location. Which is not to say that I dislike Tim Hortons, on the contrary. As a new Canadian, I love Tim’s for all the reasons their sappy commercials tell me I should love them. And as a Dutch expatriate, I love that I can go to Tim’s around New Year’s and get a few Dutchies to remind me of our oliebollen.
Erik van der Torre has lived in Old Ottawa South for over 8 years. He is a member of the OSCA Board, the Traffic & Safety Committee, and Hopewell Avenue PS’ Parent Council.
Originally published in the November 2017 OSCAR.