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

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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.

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I am one of those people who works better when I have a din of white noise behind me, when I’m in a place with a good feel, surrounded by people but not in demand. For me, coffee and good work go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have spent the majority of my university years (both undergrad and post-grad) doing my studying and schoolwork in coffee shops.

When I lived at SFU, I was able to give my business to the locally owned SFU institution Renaissance Coffee and the new organic sustainably-minded joint, Nature’s Garden Organic Deli run by SFU alumni Bill and Doris. What I loved about these places is that they had free wireless internet for patrons, good seating for using a computer, and a friendly atmosphere. Though the food at Renaissance wasn’t my favourite, and their “organic-ness” is in dispute, they were open the latest of the on-campus coffee places and their internet was provided through the SFU wireless system. Nature’s Garden had great organic food, cheap coffee and nice people. In a pinch, I’d frequent the Starbucks at Kensington and Hastings which featured a long study table with several outlets, strong fast internet access (at a steep price), and great white noise.

Now that I live off campus and am a working professional, I still enjoy a good wireless cafe for those times that I’m blogging at T2F or Disadventure, or for when I’m finishing up my thesis work. However, when I’m in New West visiting Will and Briana (also T2F creators), there are no good wireless cafes to go to if you want to support local business.

Now some of you would argue this, citing Blenz at 6th and 6th (a Canadian franchise) which provides free wireless to customers but has no outlets available, and the six Starbucks locations all over the city, which provide wireless internet free for two hours with a valid starbucks card code. However – given this city’s many students, the popular coffee culture, and the increasing popularity and dependence on wireless internet devices, if a New West native like me is unable to identify a good, locally owned wireless internet cafe, I think there aren’t enough to meet the demand. Even the amazing former Yaletownish eatery in New West’s Uptown, The Orange Room, had no internet access for patrons.

Two wireless cafe-finding resources, notably Vancouver.wifimug.org (a user-generated index of wireless cafes in Greater Vancouver that has sadly fallen far out of date) and nodeDB.com show no updated listings of New West wireless cafes. If a student, person traveling on business, or any of the growing throng of Blackberry and iPhone users travelled through New West, they’d find no convenient, social place to connect – either to the internet or to other people. For those who are unfamiliar, let me let you in on the culture of wireless internet that seems to have changed our society: I believe that this lack of connection makes a lasting statement about our community to visitors and residents alike that we are stuck, isolated and unconnected. Sure, that might be dramatic, but New West is perpetually on the precipice of transformation from one-trick ‘historic town’ pony to a multi-dimensional, multi-generational dynamic city. So you say New Westminster is a historic little town which isn’t trying to be the next Silicon Valley – I say check out touristy and historic litle LaConner (with less than 1000 municipal citizens) where my parents live, provides wireless internet to downtown visitors and residents free of charge. The signal in the streets is strong enough to check your e-mail, but step into your favourite bookstore/cafe where they provide broadband wireless and power outlets so you can stop for a bite, a book, and a browse on the internet if you need it.

I greatly appreciate the cafes without plugs or wireless internet, so I can sit and chat with my friends and enjoy the time spent in a nice social environment. But I assure you, it’s not those cafes I keep an index of in my head – it’s the cafes with a strong wireless signal, at least one accessible power outlet, and a reasonable coffee environment that I remember. Since wireless internet became widely available (and as cheap as a one-time $90 wireless router and broadband access at $40/month), many have remarked how wireless internet has improved business for coffee shops and bookstores, even giving them an edge over the big-chain franchises like Starbucks and McDonalds, who charge for internet usage.

“For me, it’s about creating a coffeehouse experience that’s relevant to my customers,” says Jody Hall, who opened Verité Coffee in Madrona six month ago with free Wi-Fi in mind. She estimates that an average of 25 to 30 customers use the service daily. “In today’s culture, wireless is part of our daily lives. I want our coffeehouse to be a place people meet and gather, and if that’s something they need for their meeting, then I want to have that.”

(…)

“What it did for us initially was get the word out about us quickly,” says Michael Prins, owner of Herkimer Coffee, which opened with Wi-Fi available a year ago.

“I think it is a big draw,” says Anya Webb, owner of Fremont Coffee. She suspects she’s stealing at least a little bit of business from the Caffe Ladro across the street (where the Wi-Fi is not free). “It brings people in.”

(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Wi-fi’s on the (coffee) house, 01/07/04)

There is one main reason that many cafes provide only a signal and not appropriate seating or power outlets – they need or want to limit the number of people like me, who occupy seating for paying customers while using up the internet. However, I encourage the locally-owned coffee shops in New West to reconsider providing free internet access to patrons as part of their business model – both to present a connected, dynamic face to the customer, and also to give them a leg up on the big-chain opposition, making local business ultimately more successful. It’s completely fair game to restrict the signal to paying customers (as Blenz does) to ensure your signal brings the return it is supposed to. Another approach for small cafes is to post signage reserving some seating for non-computer customers during peak hours to ensure seating is available for the non-career internet users in the cafe.


Here’s my standard for a “good” wireless cafe:

– appropriate seating, including chairs and tables or bar-height chairs and counters

– a strong, uncomplicated wireless signal (password or not)

– 1-2 accessible power outlets.

Wireless Internet Cafes in New West:

Blenz Coffee: 6th and 6th (Uptown): Wireless signal; password protected for customers only; plenty of seating but no power outlets

Starbucks Coffee (Multiple Locations: Westminster Centre on 6th Street; E. Columbia & Sherbrooke; Columbia & 6th Ave*; McBride Blvd & 8th Ave. See also Burnaby Crossing, at 10th Ave & 6th Street) Limited/Pay Usage only. Westminster Centre, Royal Square have no power outlets; E.Columbia & Sherbrooke, 6th & Columbia have one or more outlets available. Columbia and 6th Ave’s internet has not been working for the last month. December 2008.

Sounds Promising (listings unverified):

– The Hide Out Cafe: 716 Carnarvon Street (Downtown). Cafe, deli, organic & internet access.

Other free wireless internet sources in New West:

The New Westminster Public Library (6th Avenue at 7th Street) Wireless Internet access is governed by the library’s Internet Access Policy, and is available throughout the building. A table is reserved for laptop users requiring cable internet access, with 4 ethernet cables and power outlets. Ten study carrels are also equipped with power outlets.

What do you think? Share with us your favourite places to chill out and plug in. What do you think about wi-fi users in public cafes? Help T2F assemble an up-to-date list of wireless cafes in New Westminster.

Here’s a map of wireless internet locations so far:


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Yes, it IS that bad – snow shoveling redux

Just about anything anyone can talk about now is the crazy snowfall that we’ve ad in the lower mainland this holiday season. The way it usually goes is this:

Native BC’r: Wow – isn’t this crazy? We NEVER get snow here! And if we do, it usually melts!

Former Ontarioan: Are you kidding? This isn’t snow. It’s nothing! You should see what we had back home! And hey at least we get more sun this way…
At this point I’m tired of talking about it – except for the fact that a holiday with about 14 solid days involving snow, wind and/or a heavy snowfall, I can’t believe that people still haven’t gotten the message: Shovelling your walk is NOT just about you.


Both our T2F maven Briana and our newest contributor Jenhave written about the snow removal issue that our recent weather has highlighted, as have several others. I was in full agreement with Jen and felt no need to add until I came face-to-pavement with the issue the other day. (An important thing to note at this point is that I use a wheelchair full-time.)

On December 27th I spent a few hours at Starbucks working on my thesis. The Starbucks on Columbia and 6th in New West, like most of the city, was still under the thick – and at that point, icy – blanket of snow covering roofs, walks and streets. At 3:45 my dad stopped by to ask if I needed a lift home (as my car was buried in snow on an unplowed side-street) and we agreed that since none of the stores on that block had shoveled their sidewalks (including starbucks) and snow had brought down an awning next door, I’d have to find my way to a quieter sidestreet in order to get into the car.

Dad left to get the car and I packed up and followed him a few minutes later. The store had cleared the walk (or the customers had with their feet) immediately in front of the door, not even as far as the chairs and tables reach in the summertime. I struggled to get over the initial edge of deep, slushy snow and managed to get about 2 feet in the direction I wanted, right in front of the fogged-up western window of the starbucks. I got stuck, and did my standard rock-back-and-forth trick – which also didn’t work. Nobody was in sight, and the window was too fogged up to flag someone in the store.

I took one more push to get me out of the rut and in one fell swoop, my wheels spun in the rut and my chair – through some force of momentum I have yet to investigate – flipped over. Ass over teakettle, as they say. I was really winded and lay there on my back in the snow realizing ironically that my head had landed in the only bit of sidewalk that wasn’t still covered in a cushion of slushy snow, and now I’d have a bump to show for it

I lay there for a bit, and then decided I had to find some help to get up. I swung myself over the edge of my overturned chair and sat up, trying to right my chair but getting stuck (again) in the icy slush. It figured that the only 5 minutes of the whole year in which nobody passed by that high-traffic corner was the day that I was in a heap in the snow! Just as I yelled for my dad who was emerging from the car down the street, a nice bystander about my age came out of the starbucks with her purchase and asked if I needed any help. With their help I popped myself back up into the chair and got a push out of the rut.

Normally, I’d go inside and let the staff now and ask for them to shovel immediately, but because we were off to a Christmas party, there was no time to do so. So the next day, I called the Starbucks and asked for the manager. I spoke at that point to one of the two Assistant Managers as there was no current manager at that location. The AM was polite, but unhelpful. I told her about my incident and how I hit my head on the sidewalk and asked if the snow had been removed. She acknowledged that it still wasn’t shoveled as they didn’t have anyone to do it. She apologized for the situation but made no apology to me nor an effort to make up for it or inquire as to whether I was okay.

In the end, it brought home just how important shoveling the sidewalk is – it’s not just about you, and the safety for your family. It’s about the safety of the people who traverse your little bit of the earth every day – people who, in turn, keep up their walks to keep you safe too. This little snowmageddon “golden rule” applies especially in the context of a business – what an incredibly negative message this sends when you care more about your inability to find someone to clear the (at this point, 5 day old) snow on your sidewalk than you do about the safety of your customers. It is simply not enough to say that it’s not in your job description or you physically can’t do it yourself (especially when you can pay someone to do it for you) when we are all aware of how dangerous the icy, post-snow accumulation can be. Tenancy is especially no excuse – according to the city, snow removal is the responsibility of landholders AND leaseholders.

PostScript: I have sent an e-mail to City Hall requesting that a Bylaw enforcement officer visit the Starbucks at Columbia and 6th. I encourage everyone to prompt their neighbours and shopowners to look after their sidewalk snow… and to do your part to look after your own little bit too!

Finally – a little tidbit from our friend at CityCaucus and his recent media appearance on CBC (also on CKNW radio):

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