Receiver Coffee Co. set to open second location

Owners Sean Bruinooge (L) and Chris Francis partner with Breadworks at new Water Street roastery

There are two kinds of people in this world: those that drink coffee and those that love coffee*. Sean Bruinooge and Chris Francis, without a doubt, fit into the latter category. The pair are so passionate about the art of roasting and the world of coffee that they decided to make it their livelihood by opening Receiver Coffee Co. Four short years later, the duo are getting set to pull off another caffeinated coup, launching a second café in the heart of downtown Charlottetown.

Receiver’s new sister shop will be located at 178 Water St, in the charming red brick building that housed the provincial visitor information centre and a liquor store last summer. If that still doesn’t situate you, walk along Water St between Prince and Hillsborough and you’ll find it sitting in the foreground of Founders Hall, with a parking lot on the other side. It will be more of a traditional-style café, serving coffee and several grab ‘n’ go food items. Perhaps most notably, John Dale of Breadworks fame will be relocating his Great George St bakery to the new space.

“We’ve knocked out the walls,” Bruinooge tells me, confirming that renovations of their new space are underway. “We’re aiming to be open by late June.”

The three of us are sitting at Receiver Coffee Co.’s patio on Victoria Row. It’s a sweet, sunny Sunday morning in mid-May. Everyone and their dog seems to be out and about, literally: I count seven dogs (and they’re all big dogs on this particular day) going by in the span of ten minutes. I also count at least eight people waiting in line to order — and the line is steadily growing.

“From day one, we knew we wanted to be roasting,” Francis says, by way of explaining their reason for taking on this expansion. “We moved to our current location on Victoria Row for more seats and more room for roasting.”

Joel Fitzpatrick (L), Bruinooge, and Francis, along with the rest of the Receiver team. serve up espresso, food and smiles at the Victoria Row cafe. Photo credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

I’d almost forgotten that Receiver Coffee Co. started in a tiny space just a few doors down. I like to think this is a testament to the pair’s exceptional success at building such a strong community hub that it seems like it’s been there since the beginning of time. Or maybe my memory is just fading.

Moving to their current location was a game-changer for the pair. They knew that they’d have to create a food menu, because as Francis notes “you can’t have a coffee shop without food.” But they didn’t want to create just any menu. They wanted their food to be as quality-driven as the coffee they were roasting. The result was an eclectic offering of “super-meaty, coma-inducing foods and fresh, healthy foods,” Francis says, adding that they’ve always been dedicated to buying ingredients as locally as possible.

“We approached [menu development] like we did coffee, with lots of trial and error, tasting and tweaking and tasting until we got where we wanted to go,” Bruinooge says.

All of that tasting and tweaking proved worth it, as their Victoria Row café soon developed a large and loyal following of customers that came for the coffee, the edibles, and the friendly, laid-back vibe that the space emanates in every aspect of its being.

It’s an impressive feat, this thriving café-cum-social hub, especially when you take into consideration that Francis and Bruinooge were only 22 and 23, respectively, when they first opened the doors.

They tell me they’ve been best friends since Grade 4 or 5. “Let’s go with Grade 5,” Bruinooge says. Growing up, the two lived about a ten minute walk from each other and met on the bus.

“Sean had Pokemon cards before me,” says Francis.

“Yeah, I was the cooler kid,” Bruinooge responds, not missing a beat. “I probably had a yo-yo before you too.”

“I used to bully Sean on the bus… it was an awkward friendship in the beginning,” Francis says.

The two managed to overcome Pokemon jealousy and school bus bullying to become best friends, bonding over music and culture. “Whatever we were doing, we did together, whether that be biking or playing music,” Francis shares.

After high school and a stint of travelling for Bruinooge, the two landed jobs at Young Folk & The Kettle Black, a café and coffee roastery which had opened on Water St. “We eventually became baristas and then managers,” Francis says.

In time, the owners of Young Folk & The Kettle Black opened a second location on Victoria Row to expand their coffee roasting capacity. Bruinooge and Francis were both excited by the roasting process and spent much of their time managing the new location and operating the roastery. Then, in November of 2013, the owners decided to pack up and head back to their hometown, Ottawa.

“That’s when we changed it to Row 142,” says Bruinooge. “We started toying around with pizza. We wanted it to be the best it could possibly be.”

Being the best they can possibly be is the underlying philosophy upon which Francis and Bruinooge approach every aspect of their business. They credit the community around the café with helping shape everything that you see, taste, and experience.

“We have regulars [whom] we still ask their opinion,” says Bruinooge, listing a couple that come to mind immediately, including Peter Rukavina and Isaac Grant.

Gordon Cobb, a Receiver regular, enjoys a delicious strawberry. Photo credit: Richard Schroeter/Salty

“We want to compete on a global level,” Bruinooge says. “If we’re selling our coffee [wholesale] off-Island, we’ll be competing with specialty coffee roasteries like Blue Bottle in San Francisco, that have been funded by Google,” Francis adds.

Which brings us back to their current expansion. The new shop on Water St will enable the pair to roast five times as much coffee as they are currently able to and focus on expanding their reach in the wholesale coffee market.

“Right now we’re roasting out of the craziest little room on Belmont St… you can’t control the heat and there are no windows,” says Bruinooge. The roastery was moved out of their Victoria Row shop last spring to make room for more seating.

“We’re getting a new roaster [too]. It’s a San Franciscan, the same brand as we currently use. They handmake their creations,” Francis explains, adding that they hope to have the machine set up in the new location by November. The pair are as excited about their working relationship with John Dale as they are about the impending arrival of their roaster, which is saying a lot.

“John has been amazing. We couldn’t do this expansion without him. He approached us, he likes our vision and we get what he’s doing. It’s important to him that his business remains quality-driven,” says Francis of the partnership they’ve forged with the Breadworks’ owner, which to some extent is geared towards providing Dale with an eventual retirement plan.

As the pair look towards the future, they remain equal parts ambitious and humble. Ambitious about what lies ahead as they grow their thriving coffee business, humble about their impact on the Charlottetown café scene, crediting their “extended family around the shop” for supporting them. They’re also pretty humble about their own success as young entrepreneurs.

“We just kind of fell into it and we’ve been running with it since,” says Bruinooge. Keep running with it guys, it seems to be working out pretty well.

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon is the co-founder of Salty and was its editor-in-chief for the publication's inaugural year. When she’s not writing about food, Shannon's either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a holistic-nutritionist and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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