A legend in the making? T2F reviews Waves Coffee House, Columbia & Begbie

Waves Coffee House – 715 Columbia Street, New Westminster

Open Monday-Sunday (and holidays), 6am-12am

View Wireless Internet Cafes in New Westminster in a larger map

In a decision which must go down in history under the column “why didn’t we think of this before?” New Westminster’s first Waves Coffee House location opened June 1st in the first floor of the Westminster Trust Building, in the former Provincial Government Office space at the corner of Columbia and Begbie.

In a building full of small businesses, within spitting distance of newly remodeled Hyack Square, and at the foot of what could be called “Bridal Row,” it seems strange that this prime location in a heritage building has only now attracted a chain coffee shop. What remains to be seen is what this new coffee spot brings to the neighbourhood.

A made-in-Vancouver chain, Waves Coffee House locations provide coffee, deli-style food, desserts, tea, and an array of the popular drinks in coffee house culture: chai lattes, red tea lattes, matcha, blended iced coffee drinks called Frappes, and Waves’ specialty, fruit Frappes in five flavours. Thirteen locations have opened across the Lower Mainland since the flagship store at Richards and East Georgia opened in 2005.

My previous experiences with Waves have placed it out of my top 5 for coffee chains – the locations I’m familiar with have often been crowded and in poor condition, with a generally unmemorable atmosphere. Their coffee is occasionally burnt and certainly wouldn’t satisfy a true coffee connoisseur, but in general better taste and value than Starbucks. Pluses for the chain include frequent promotions (including free ‘Canadiano’ beverages on Canada Day), discounts and a much larger variety of drinks for the non-caffeine drinker than most other locations. I am told by a friend in the know that Waves’ matcha tea lattes are among the best available from Western coffee shops.

With this in mind, I set out to see this new location for myself – and because Waves’ food and drink is familiar enough, my main goal was to find out how this location fits with downtown New West, and to find out where it sits on our map of Wireless Cafes. A second goal was to learn how Waves Coffee Houses line up with competition in New Westminster.

One of the first things you notice is that this location has some serious curb appeal. Along with a well-chosen location in one of downtown’s most iconic buildings – ‘the city’s first ‘skyscraper,’ built in Beaux-Arts style in 1912 for Westminster Trust and Safe Co. – the shop blends well with the building’s architecture, and actually uses the large bank windows and high ceilings to great effect. The first thing I noticed on Friday’s very hot afternoon was a row of customers enjoying frosty beverages at a high counter in front of a huge open storefront window facing Begbie St. It screamed out to me CHILL OUT HERE, and of course I obeyed the impulse.

The next thing I noticed upon entering from Columbia Street is the absolutely stunning high ceilings – complete with white mouldings and modern chandeliers that lent a bit of a heritage flair to Waves’ standard brown/taupe/blue decor. The space itself is a long, narrow and airy room with ceilings that appear to be a full 20ft high. There is a combination of seating styles, including the high bench seats along the front store windows, a very few small tables and chairs, and in the back, a larger living-room-style area with pleather club chairs gathered around a gas fireplace.

What sets Waves apart from the rest is that it is one of the few coffee chains which provides completely free and unlimited wireless internet access, and this New West location is no exception. The day I was there, the internet connection was fast, easy to connect to (no proxy or sign-in page, and an easily-recognizable SSID, Waves), and the power outlets were plentiful! I spotted at least four obvious to the naked eye, installed in strategic locations in each of the different seating types.

In other locations, free wireless internet has been the cause of some problems, such as being overrun by students who stick around working on their laptops all day, buying little and monopolizing the best seating from paying customers. This location may also suffer a similar fate, but is bigger in seating and square footage than most I’ve seen and appears to be aimed more toward the local business clientele. So – easy, free, and fast internet and plenty of power outlets, that’s two checks off my list of non-negotiables for a proper wireless coffee shop.

In addition to its above-average decor and architecture, it appears that this location has even more to offer the local population than standard: along with the Waves head office in the back, there is also a 12-14 person conference room off of the back “living room” area which can be booked by local customers and businesses. Waves’ also offers catering for local meetings, which may be a welcome addition to the street where many of New West’s businesses and offices are located.

Another refreshing change for me was the lower counters. I’ve seen this trend in other coffee chains as well, moving toward a more open and accessible counter and bar where customers can watch their beverages being made, and customers with disabilities (or short) can actually reach the till and their own drink at the bar. A small detail, but much appreciated. This location also had far more staff than I would have expected, but they were all well-trained, cheerful, and accommodating.

The food is what you’ll find at any Waves location, but it is exceptional when compared to other chain coffee shops. Waves Coffee Houses seem to focus more on providing fresh snacks and light lunches to go along with their large drink menu, and though I’m not sure how much of it is prepared on-site, they do have a large kitchen, and none of the sandwiches, paninis, or wraps were served in packaging. Waves’ paninis are popular, and like their other wraps and sandwiches, are served warm from the grill on a real china plate. Their long glass deli cabinet also holds several rows of some very yummy looking desserts, and what with this location’s long trading hours (6am-12am each day), it makes it very competitive with smaller restaurants on Columbia for the evening crowd – perfect for a snack and a chat after a walk around the Quay, or to stop for a drink with the pooch mid-walk. Certainly the business folks in that part of town will enjoy finally having some good, quick and apparently fresh lunch options for a change.

My concerns with this location were few: the ubiquitous blended-ice Frappe drinks caused quite a loud blender noise, and the high ceilings tended to echo the sound throughout. On a hot day a conversation might be obliterated by the demand for Frappes. I also have a concern that this visually stunning location could soon go the way of the Mt. Pleasant and Commercial Drive locations, suffering from serious wear and tear. Some locations struggle with visits from the local street population who can sometimes leave the bathrooms vandalized or unusable. These bathrooms are kept locked with a punch code available from the counter, likely for just this reason. Given Columbia Street’s own struggles with itinerant folks, and the long hours that this location is open, it remains to be seen whether a location this fancy can be maintained over time.

This is the sort of place you’d take your friends after you bought an expensive condo in the old post office building, to convince them of what a hip and up-and-coming place New West really is. “See? Even our coffee shops are a little bit different,” you might say. It also struck me that this would be a perfect apres-cinema spot, given its late-night hours and nice conversational seating – now all we have to do is get a cinema back into downtown. Even more likely, I see Waves supplanting Starbucks on 6th and Columbia as the spot to collapse with your future mother-in-law and your maid-of-honor after a long walk up and down Columbia Street, as you post-mortem your bridal gown options.

In all it was a pleasant experience, and the sound of the train whistle from the Begbie crossing nearby made me smile. The diversity of customers was really something, with seemingly every age demographic represented. Interestingly, though, the only real demographic that I didn’t see were business people.

24 Replies to “A legend in the making? T2F reviews Waves Coffee House, Columbia & Begbie”

  1. The meeting room in the back is fantastic for New West. We are a town replete with community groups, advocacy orgs and citizen’s alliances. A little meeting room with a low barrier to entry is very welcome.

  2. The meeting room is free, but they ask that you purchase food/beverage while you use it. It does not seem to be air condiditioned at all (according to the staff) so when you close the door to keep out the noise, it gets very stuffy.

    I am very excited to have Waves on my block. My only complaint has been the service. Many of the staff are very inexperienced and could use more training – they seem very uncomfortable in their surroundings. This makes for some inconsistency in the quality of the coffee drinks. I know they are all still new, so I hope that things will improve soon.

    Meanwhile, Starbucks is not nearly as busy as it once was and the staff are falling over each other to offer effective and efficient customer service!

  3. I tried Waves on opening day and found the coffee had a very burnt flavour.The decor,equipment and promotional supplies very attractive (expensive). I challenged the owners to a taste of the “best in New West” and have yet to see them at the Village Coffee Lounge. The Village Coffee Lounge has free Wifi, same snacks and is located on 12th Street, a street slowly becoming the Commercial Drive of New Westminster.
    Waves is a good addition to Columbia Street and I hope they are able to wait out three decades of indecision for Columbia Street. It is businesses like Waves, Heritage Grill, Sherlocks and a few others who will provide the leadership in developing Columbia Street, and this City. City Council should do everything to help them, and other businesses in New West.

  4. Belinda – thanks for the specific feedback – I’ve been thinking I will talk to the manager for some response and input on their new location, not to mention they’ve relocated the Waves corporate HQ to New West, so it’ll be interesting to hear the perspective of a new business tenant in the area.
    I’ll be sure to give your feedback on their employees’ training as you’ve indicated. I wonder when you were last there? I found them very knowledgeable and competent when I was there, but the manager was also there and I’m sure everyone was on their best behaviour.

    John, I wondered what your thoughts might be about a new coffee chain in town. Certainly my preference is to support smaller and locally-owned businesses, but in this case given Waves is just a larger, locally-owned business in an area that’s been struggling toward revitalization for decades (as you pointed out), I think they deserve our interest.

    It’s hard to review coffee shops based on their coffee – most coffee places have similar brews and only the truly exceptional stand out. My one comment about Waves was that their drip coffee is better than Starbucks drip coffee, which is terribly bitter and burnt. I’ve also found Waves’ latte’s to be nice, not exceptional, but nice.

  5. Because I live on the same block as Waves, I have been a frequent customer since it opened – probably 4-5 times each week. Even just this morning, the cashier made 3 mistakes with my order – wrong sandwich, did not know how many shots were in a large Canadiano and could not remember if I was stay in or take out. I think that the staff will probably get better as they get more confident.
    The shop is beautiful and the food is pretty good. I am a student, so I love the free wi-fi and the late hours – although the high ceilings make it pretty noisy.
    With all the new development happening here on Columbia Street, there are lots of opportunities for new businesses like Waves. I am very excited about downtown and how it is changing. Waves fits in very well with the neighbourhood.

  6. I took my three-year old daughter into Waves the week before last, and it's great – a really comfortable environment. She had an enormous chocolate milk, which makes me think that it's assumed parents won't take their three year olds in there – no kids sizes, it seems. And it's lucky I asked the manager if it was OK if she try a sample of what looked to me like a coffee slushy. It was made with espresso, which certainly would have changed the course of our day if she'd had some.

    Still, I'm glad it's there, wifi and all. And I'd like to echo the sentiment that it is the perfect after-movie meeting place. All we need, as it's been said, is a cinema. Actually, what would be really good would be a repertory theatre that shows older movies on the cheap. But, that's another story… 🙂

  7. I stopped by twice a few weeks ago too. The medium chai was more than $4.50 and was really sub par, but then I'm picky about my chai and I know how much it should cost. I have also tried their London Fog and while it was good, it was ridiculously too hot and took about an hour to cool off – I wanted the drink while I was walking, not when I got home! Also, I have to echo what Belinda said – the staff couldn't count back change – which is one of my biggest pet peeves of all time, and after I handed them my bill and they typed it in, and it told them what to give me in change (without giving me the chance to look for change), and I then produced the three cents, that stopped them dead in their tracks and they said "Oh we'll just do it this way." No, you won't. Here's three cents, give me a freaking loonie.

    They were friendly, the building is gorgeous, and I am frankly glad to see something non bridal related rent some space down there.

  8. Sounds like there are more than enough concerns here for a talkback post with the manager. I have to say I'm curious to know how much leeway they have to depart from the apparently lock-step Waves branding to adapt the menu for local customers' desires – such as Rob J mentioned, more child-sized portions, or as might please Jen Arbo, would they take on a local product like ChaiByNight to serve to their customers if it was obviously superior?

    I have to echo the price concern, however as someone who is used to paying exorbitant Starbucks prices at work (anything larger than a "tall" is over $4, unless it's tea) I don't find it that terrible in the scheme of coffee chains.

    I think I'm with Jen in that the quality of the Chai latte a shop provides seems to indicate it's overall quality as a coffee shop. Not that a Chai Latte is hard to make, you just put concentrate in (or chai mix, or teabags), steam milk with a little froth (without burning!) et voila! It just seems that the sub-par shops serve cheaper chai concentrate, burn the milk or use sweetener in the milk to make their drink even more painful to the teeth.

    Stay tuned for a follow-up, hopefully from the manager.

  9. So there I was this past week, in need of a cool bevaerage wit ha friend of mine. I decided to try once more. I walked up to the counter (no lineup) and the employee barely looked up from her binder she was flipping through long enough for me to say "I'd like an iced Chai Latte". Another employee then walked up to her and the two of them proceeded to have a lengthy conversation about how stupid it was that they had to read and sign some component of said binder every day. I actually INTERRUPTED and also ordered a chocolate croissant and had to ASK how much I owed. She then gave me the wrong croissant and I had to remind her what I wanted. Seriously, she had the memory of a fruit fly! My total for a chocolate croissant (that was stale and bleh) and a medium iced chai, which, admittedly was a good flavour (although I suspect it came from a carton)) was $7.29. Her and her coworker then went on to slag their woe-is-me jobs about how hard it was to do whatever they were doing – I didn't get a thank you, a have a nice day… nothing.

    I will not be back, ever. I'll pay more money for decent service. I noticed "Urth" Coffee House has opened up on 8th Street across from Douglas College so I'll go there from now now. Sorry Waves, I gave you three tries and now you suck.

  10. Wow. Well I wonder if the service I got was somehow different – manager was in that day, so that could be why.

    Thing is with coffee shops of the chain variety (with the exception of the almost always uber-perky Starbucks "partners"), I don't think you'll find a different attitude. I have a lot of trouble with Blenz and (even worse) Tim Horton's. They don't even give me the time of day, let alone let me pay them money for crap coffee.

    I will see if I can get the manager to speak with me on the blog. Could be interesting given the obvious kinks that have to be worked out. Jen I think you need to review "Urth". Mostly because there is no way I can get myself safely to anything on a hill that steep.

  11. It’s awesome to have choices in New West. And from what I’m told there is a high end coffee shop planned for the InterUrban development across the street. Can’t wait for that.

    Have you tried the new coffee shop on 8th ‘Urth Coffee House’?

  12. Hi Folks – just to let you know that you can expect a follow-up to this post in the next two weeks. I've set up a time to meet with the owners, managers, and PR (!) person for the shop at the end of next week.

    Stay tuned!

  13. There are many things I question about Waves’ approach in general. I go to the one in New West to avoid the Starbucks on my way to work (there are 3….) and don’t mind paying a little bit more to a Canadian company.

    The service is inconsistent at best. I’ve noticed some turnover with the staff and many of the better ones have stuck around. Quite often, I’m one of those people with my laptop (unless their music is cranked up) so I tend to see Waves from a number of different angles. I don’t touch their food as a general rule after eating some microwaves wraps at another location and find their muffins too sweet.

    Their staff seems unable to handle a line-up and also not that great at prioritizing tasks to ensure customer satisfaction and speedy, consistent service. Without customer service skills, and without consistent barista skills, I’m not really sure Waves has any differentiating factor other than its mere presence as an alternative to Starbucks (not just in New West) and an attractive franchise.

    Basically, I’ll keep going back, adding some extra time to my commute in the morning compared to when I’d stop at Starbucks and not be too optimistic about them achieving consistency anytime soon.

  14. Wow, it’s just coffee people. Thank god I can go somewhere after 8pm when stupid Starbucks closes shop. Plus, I used the meeting room tonight free of charge. No fuss, no muss.

    The wifi is great, never lags. The service is ALWAYS with a smile. One day the NEW girl didn’t get my change right and I helped her out on counting up. Food has been good every time. I’m particularly fond of the cinnamon rolls.

    Again, its just a little coffee shop. If you want 5 star service your coffee will cost $9 dollars. Place is always busy so I don’t think there is much being done in the “wrong” category. Better than having some unused outreach centre there.

  15. Why is it that I provide some feedback and I am told to chill out because it’s just coffee? Was there some sort of “only post smiles and rainbows” clause with this review that I didn’t know about? 🙂

    I don’t want five star service. For that, I stay at home and serve myself. I want efficient reasonable service that does not require my intervention to ensure it goes smoothly. If I am paying $7.29 for a croissant and a chai, I don’t think my expectations are unreasonable. Waves is not a charity run by volunteers, it’s a business, and as such they will stand to profit if they do a good job and stand to fail if they don’t, and hiring competent staff should be a priority. I’m glad you report it’s always busy, but it’s not my dollars filling up their register. I might only be one little person but that’s what I personally choose to do. It is unfortunate that all three times I tried Waves, it was not a positive experience. When a local company does a good job, I am generally the first one on this blog to laud a positive review highlighting a local business who deserves my business.

  16. I’ve had to put my two bits. If an article is going to state that “Waves is Legend in the Making” its going to perk some people up, I’m guessing that was the point of the title. A question: If there was a restaurant which had poor service and food that wasn’t that great , would you still go there?
    Why do we not hold coffe shops to the same standard? If its a coffee shop , it should have the best coffee. Does waves? I’ve had Waves coffee and I’ve had better at the Chevron on 6th but I got it free when I filled my gas tank. Let’s realize what Wavesis , they are franchizes. There are so many opening up because there coffee is so cheap but they charge like their coffee is highend. I suggest to go to Hideout Cafe which has continential coffee or Urth Coffeehouse which carries 49th parrallel , to taste what good coffee should taste like. Then go back to Waves order one of theirs, you’ll see tthe difference. Waves should be ashamed for ripping people off with the coffee they offer. I guess they kind of know that when customers have to spend around $2 for coffee, people are not the picky. For me, I buy a coffee everyday so that adds up. I like good coffee ,so obviously you want find me in waves again. I don’t care about free wifi , it’s everywhere.

  17. No “smiles and rainbows” clause, I just found it refreshing to ground the conversation back in the knowledge that it is just a coffee shop, not a geopolitical issue.

    Comment away! That’s what posts are here for.

    Don: Just so you know, the “legend in the making” title was because my experience the day of my review was a positive one, and the “wow factor” of the location itself can’t be denied. And, well, it makes a lot of sense to put a coffee shop there.

    I still have trouble figuring out why the mountains of hurt feelings over this coffee shop. It’s as if you don’t just experience not great service or bad chai or poor coffee. People go to Waves on Columbia and write comments that sound downright offended at the not great service, bad chai or poor coffee. It’s intriguing to me and I want to find out what it is about this spot that makes people so… vehement!

    I wonder to what extent it is out of disappointment – that a place with such “wow factor” in such a great location would be so disappointing makes people mad that they aren’t doing it better, given all the things that are going for it. If this is the case, then Waves better smarten up because it’s not going to get easier as the digs get shabbier and the novelty wears off.

    As stated, my metric is: (not in this particular order)
    – good seating
    – good ambience
    – free wifi*
    – reasonable food/drink.

    (* I agree wifi is becoming more ubiquitous but you’ll note from our New West free Wifi Map that it is far from widespread in NW and oftentimes problematic.)

    We’ve had several requests for reviews of Urth coffeehouse near Douglas College – but this location is very problematic for me to get to as it is on the side of a rather herculean hill. Anyone out there want to apply their own reviewing metric to this location and write a review for T2F?

  18. Didn't mean to take a shot at the title, it was good and made me read the posting.

    I think the less then positive response to Waves comes from people getting tired of another coffee shop just serving below average stuff but charging the same high prices. We've all had the thought at one point, that there is alot of coffee shops in the lowermainland. What I've discovered is that not all coffee shops are equal. Some shops actually care what the coffee taste like, while others concern themselves mainly about how much money they can make,that's what annoys me. I'm not that simple minded to think that not all business are in it to make money but some business do care about what they serve. Those are the ones I'll support with my hard earned money. I'll leave it at that


  19. Hi everyone

    iam agree with jocelyn 100%,but not with Don,who knows he is not

    from hideout coffee house.to me i dont like 49th parrallel their coffee is not good.

    If you look at waves they have one harvest coffee which has the best qulity,iam from mexico and i know about coffee.some times people are from competation to make such comments which is not nice.I went to hide out befor waves opened,owner is not friendly,food is old and higher than waves food in price,so please be happy we have great coffee house like waves in our nigberhood.

    1. Leno
      Hi Newwest
      i think waves on coulmbia was a great help to bring standard up ,also they have great coffee and great food why not to be happy .


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