Drew Johnson, the Owner of Bows Coffee Roasters, has a new venture: Torch Song—a cafe, record shop, book store and restaurant. We caught up with Johnson to learn more about the unique shop.

- What was the idea behind having books, records, coffee, and food all in one place?

All four are my primary interests, and the business model was formed through COVID. Nobody knew what regulations would stick, so we minimized seating; we only put in 8 seats, and it’s good to have a multi-revenue stream coming through the cafe.

Similarly to what we do with coffee, we want to sell things we can speak to. So we don’t have records that we don’t care for in the same way that we don’t have coffees on our menu that we don’t know anything about or don’t enjoy.

- How is the selection curated?

We have books relevant to the political moment and some used books from thrift store finds and garage sales.

The manager Christian and I are both into records; he does the shopping for the more contemporary stuff that I don’t know about, and I shop for the older jazz, soul, and funk.

For the food, we do all in-house baking; everything is from scratch. We try to keep the price point down; it’s a little snacky, and we like to rotate the menu regularly enough so it doesn’t get boring but also stable enough so people can find their favourite thing.

- Can you share more about the atmosphere you want to create?

It’s a cozy space. The music is probably at a higher-than-average volume, but the sound system is thought-out, so it’s not abrasive. 

Culturally we want to do something vibrant with a good vibe; we want people talking.

- What are some of the challenges that come with opening a cafe?

Because Torch Song is a unique place, you take the chance that people don’t like the same things you do. But Bows coffee has never been something for everyone. We are pretty specific about what we do and have loyal customers and followers. And it is similar to the cafe; we want to have fantastic music and books, and we just hope people recognize it. With no huge advertising budget, people just have to stumble upon us.

- What do you currently have playing at the cafe?

A Brazilian band called Azymuth, it’s a collection of their demos from 1973-1975.

June 28, 2023 — Zara Snitman

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