Who doesn’t like a good café?
Not only are they cozy spaces where you can enjoy a good cup of tea and a croissant, but you can also meet some truly awesome people there.
In my second year, when U of T was beginning to return to in-person learning, I would always camp out at Ned’s Café at Victoria College to get my work done. There, I would meet tons of new people and really feel a sense of community that I didn’t feel when learning online. So when I returned to a fully in-person experience this year, I set out to survey the café culture here at U of T.
My first stop was my beloved Ned’s Café at my home college of Vic. After some serious legwork, I managed to get in touch with Sally Szuster, the head of the Communications Board at Vic. She kindly put me in touch with Lyndon Nobre, Vic’s director of ancillary services and business operations, who answered my questions concerning Ned’s.
Nobre remarked, much like I found in my second year, that “Ned’s Café is an inviting, bright space where you can watch campus life through the expansive windows providing panoramic views of the streetscape.” Nobre also agrees with me that “the fireplace [at Ned’s] gives the space warmth and a home-like feeling.”
On making improvements to an already fairly nice space, Nobre thinks that “[expanding] the space to accommodate even more people” would help Ned’s Café grow.
The next café I visited was the Innis Café. Located at the heart of Innis College, it is very well situated to serve the students of U of T due to the area’s high volume of foot traffic.
I met with Damon Shahidi, the owner and operator of the Innis Café, a family business that has been operating for 22 years. Shahidi noted that the Innis Café is “a very friendly environment” that makes some students feel at home, even if home is actually far away.
The food there is also incredible. Shahidi said that its “grilled almond sandwich is very popular” as well as its “chicken dishes.” I can attest that their jerked chicken is very good, the perfect combination of kick and juiciness.
When asked how students primarily use the space, Shahidi remarked that students do a “bit of both” studying and hanging out. He added that the summer season is always busy, with this last summer being especially so. “We’ve had at least one event or up to two events every week.” This was incredibly refreshing for him since the café had been closed for two years due to the pandemic.
Diabolos’ Coffee Bar
Continuing my café exploration journey, I reached out to Achint Singh, the manager of University College’s Diabolos’ Coffee Bar. Diabolos’ has been closed for the past two years, so I couldn’t visit in person, but Singh was more than happy to tell me about the space. “Diabolos’ is quite unlike any other café at U of T or any other place for that matter.” It is located in the Junior Common Room of University College, which, according to Singh, is the college’s nerve centre of activity.
Singh hasn’t been able to see what students are ordering since the pandemic started, but he attested that “the classic americanos and cappuccinos have always been a diehard staple of Diabolos’ regulars.” Regarding who the regulars of Diabolos’ are, it seems to be largely a student demographic due to the café’s location. But Singh notes that now, “not many first- and second-year students are aware of Diabolos’ and all it has to offer” due to its shutdown during the pandemic. Hopefully, that’ll change this year with the transition to in person.
My final stop was the Buttery, the café at Trinity College. Much like at Victoria College, I managed to get into contact with Young-Mee Um, the director of communications and public affairs at Trinity College. She put me in contact with Ramata Tarawally, the director of community wellness in the Office of the Dean of Students and co-chair of Trinity’s Student Food Advisory Committee, and Richard Shuai, Trinity College’s student food ambassador.
Shuai exclaimed to me over email that “The Buttery is busy!” and I can attest to that, as it was fairly busy when I first went to secure an interview. Shuai continued by writing that “students usually go to the Buttery to study or hang [out] with friends.” What probably contributes to the appeal of the Buttery is how quiet it is. Unlike Ned’s, the Buttery doesn’t play any music. The large tables in the space also provide a good spot to study.
Tarawally remarked that the location of the Buttery “is great, [since it’s] on the north end of the U of T campus near St. George and Museum station.”
So there it is, a snapshot of some of the great cafés here at UTSG. Now that we are back in person, I believe that the cafés will provide a great starting point for rebuilding a sense of community after the pandemic. Even if you aren’t too keen on joining clubs or student organizations, lounging in a café provides a low-stakes way of feeling connected to U of T. Hopefully this article will inspire you to get out there and experience the fine café culture we have!