I Love You Coffee Shop: An Exercise in Idiosyncracy, and One Hell of a Red Bean Donut
Some of the best surprises in a metropolitan city lie behind inauspicious facades, tucked away in the hidden corners of a place. Generally, when something has survived off the beaten path, there is a reason for its lasting appeal. Given enough time, history, and sheer force of population mass, any city will start producing such tiny diamonds of brilliance in the smothering urban pressure of concrete jungle.
Evidently, Calgary has graduated in cultural variety and dynamism to be able to include a legitimately unique merchant among its diamonds in the rough: boutique coffee in curiously splashy and vibrant environs, backstopped by a top notch vinyl record library and Japanese baked goods. If it sounds a bit odd, that’s because it is, but rest assured that “odd” in this case is synonymous with “hilariously offbeat,” and “genuinely pleasurable to experience.”
Let’s paint a picture for you. I Love You Coffee Shop is owned by Dan Murray, a long time stalwart of dance music and DJ culture in Calgary with roots in the legendary Homebreakin’ Records and at top tier clubs and bars all over town. If you don’t know him, he’s a sharp, smart cat with a quick wit and a killer record collection, and the perfect entrepreneurial spirit to craft a truly individual path into business ownership.
The aforementioned unassuming façade for a charmingly oddball boutique coffee shop? None other than the corner home of the unmistakably weatherbeaten Happy Together convenience store, known in the city record books as 348 14th Avenue SW. That gathering place for colourful characters is recognizable to virtually every Calgary resident who spends a respectable amount of time downtown, and quite frankly would never register as a building housing the sheer volume of cute, quirky, enjoyable stuff contained in I Love You.
I actually failed to track the place down for a few minutes on arrival, and once I pieced the location together I actually appreciated the inconspicuous nature of the place. Much like many of the best bars, venues and restaurants in great cities around the world which are housed in obscure, subterranean seeming locations, I Love You is a destination to remember and rewards its visitors for the slight off-the-beaten-track nature of it.
That charm comes from the heart, and even more strangely …. melon buns? Dan and the shop take a particular pride in carrying rare bagels and sweets and pastries even further afield, like Japanese melon buns and red bean donuts.
It’s not hard to imagine why. After all, Dan is at his heart a music fiend and a highly accomplished DJ. His background in boogie, funk and disco, not to mention general music catalogue, is on the upper echelons in Western Canada. For anyone who’s gained traction in any DJ scene, the odds are very good they take genuine pleasure in the process of hunting around and between the forgettable records in any old dusty milkcrate or dim back room with records in it, just to find those few slivers of solid gold wax to cherish and share with their friends for the rest of their lives.
In a way, that spirit of adventurous musical searching is reflected in the nature of I Love You Coffee Shop. After all, it is a little slice of authentic, artistic charm hidden amongst the regular goings-on of Calgary, As culturally minded folks become more engaged in the city around them, they choose to dig deeper and search out experiences that stand out from the crowd - no different than a music aficionado keen for dope records.
More to the point, once you’ve found your way down the stairs of 348B 14th Avenue SW, you’ll be confronted by a high contrast, vibrant colour scheme, a plethora of happy, healthy plants, and finely curated coffee and snacks, atop a sonic backdrop of truly great records, many of which sit within the realm of boogie, funk, hip hop and soul. The day I dropped by an artist was in the middle of hanging paintings for an exhibition and party later that evening, and small offbeat music shows have been happening in the space since its inception.
As I chatted and caught up with Dan behind the counter, he shared the initial social media execution with me. “When we were first opening the place up, I really wanted to emphasize the uniqueness of the place and the idea I had. We ended up getting some good momentum because I was sharing these very cryptic, teaser type videos and photos on Instagram. You know, a picture of the colour swatches, or a repaired piece of drywall at first. Gradually as time went on we started to reveal more, and the mystery and strangeness of that stuff really seemed to catch on with people.”
Dan Murray’s teasers for the opening of I Love You Coffee Shop, posted to @iloveyoucoffeeshop
It all adds up, despite the anachronistic ingredients, into a well balanced and unusual experience, both literally for the palate and figuratively for the senses. Of course, the coffee is great, but I would have felt remiss if I hadn’t sampled a signature something from under the clear dome of quirky donuts on the counter. I settled on a red bean donut -- it seemed weird enough to be something new, but ultimately a safe bet due to the taste of the proprietor and the decided passion for quality that defines Japanese culture.
Sure enough, my red bean donut was soft, fresh and fluffy, and the all important centre of this filled piece of doughy goodness was a moist, sweet filling with a considerable twinge of smooth savoury flavours. At the end of my experience, sat in a really great score of a thrift armchair, I experienced a truly new flavour with prime quality ingredients in a fun setting with legit tunes. I’d call that a perfect microcosm of the I Love You Coffee Shop experience. Find out for yourself.
Visit Dan and the friendly I Love You team downstairs at 348B 14th Avenue SW, down the stairs next to the entrance of Happy Together convenience store.