Warren and Bonnie Thiessen came all the way from Saskatchewan to open their Mocha Grande Brew coffee shop in downtown Parksville.

Couple goes big with small coffee shop

BUSINESS PROFILE: Saskatchewan transplants open Mocha Grande Brew in downtown Parksville

Warren and Bonnie Thiessen have effectively escaped from Saskatchewan. And the breakout was fuelled by java.

The Thiessens are the owners of the new Mocha Grande Brew, the deceptively named coffee shop located in the triangle of boutique businesses between Morison Avenue and Highway 19A in downtown Parksville.

The shop, which opened last Monday after more than two months of renovation, is in the spot formerly occupied by MadBee Cafe. Warren, a former farmer, trucker and heavy equipment operator in northern Saskatchewan and Regina, credits Bonnie with the naming of the new shop.

“I had that name in my head for years; I don’t know why,” said Bonnie, a retired teacher who spent 30 years in the Saskatchewan school system. “It just fit. I love chocolate, so it’s Mocha. And Grande is big, so, chocolate and coffee — go big or go home.”

On the other hand, the shop itself is small, and that’s just the way the first-time owners wanted it.

The couple had been considering owning a coffee shop for four or five years, said Warren.

“We looked in Saskatchewan; there was absolutely nothing,” he said.

“But we wanted out of Saskatchewan, too,” Bonnie added with a laugh.

Mocha Grande Brew offers the traditional complement of medium or dark roast coffee, as well as the specialty coffees that have come to dominate the industry. But with just seven tables and seating for 22 in the cozy, narrow space, dining offerings will be kept simple and quick.

“We didn’t want anything overly big,” said Warren. “Some areas you see where it’s so big, and they do all the cooking and everything else, it’s so much.”

“We have fresh baking, deli sandwiches and soup, something people can grab on a half-hour lunch,” Bonnie added. “We’re trying to fill that niche of a straight-up coffee shop — not a cafe, not a restaurant.”

Warren, 50, and Bonnie, 58, said they had been mulling a move to Vancouver Island for some time, and fell in love with the Parksville Qualicum Beach area while touring the region during a visit with Warren’s brother in Victoria earlier this year.

As the couple wrapped up their visit the two dreams of a coffee shop and a move to the Island finally came together in an unforeseen fashion. They had been searching real estate listings and online classifieds for a suitable small business, without success, until one last check online the day of their scheduled departure back to the prairies.

“We were feeling really sorry for ourselves, looking over the harbour and looking on our phone for real estate and bam! Up it came,” Bonnie said of the MadBee Cafe listing. “We figured it was just meant to be.”

The two returned home and, Warren said, “put the wheels in motion” to sell their house and make the move to Parksville.

Their Regina home actually sold quickly, but they ran into a snag in trying to find an affordable home on the mid-Island.

“The housing market was so hot here back in June,” said Warren. “One day we had scheduled 13 houses to look at with our realtor. But by the time we got to our Real Estate agent at nine in the morning, there were two left. The others all had offers.”

At one point, Bonnie said, she began calling local campgrounds, thinking the couple might have to get a fifth-wheel trailer and live in that.

“But the campgrounds were all full. With Saskatchewan people,” she added with a laugh.

After exploring Nanaimo, Port Alberni and the Comox Valley area, the two finally ended up in Campbell River, from which they commute to run their new shop each Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“It’s really not that far,” said Warren, whose family ran a 10,000-acre farm in northern Saskatchewan that boasted 6,000 head of cattle and 2,000 more of bison.

Spending six days a week in Parksville, they said, makes them look at this as their home town. And they’re loving it.

“We were here in time for the sand sculpting (festival),” said Bonnie. “That was gorgeous, and the beaches are gorgeous. It was, ‘OK, we’re not going back.’”

While located in the former MadBee Cafe building, former regulars there may not recognize the new digs. The Thiessens took over the business

Aug. 1, and promptly stripped the building out, from floor to ceiling. Hiring out only the painting, electrical and plumbing, the two remodelled completely while repurposing many of the appliances and the main bar.

One big change is the removal of cabinets that blocked the window view to Highway 19A and beyond, to the beach.

“We just love the location,” Warren said. “You can sit down here and look out at the water. And we’ve got a patio for the summer and a breezeway where we can put more tables when the weather turns better.”

And when that weather turns, expect the addition of an ice cream component to the business, Warren said.

To see what Mocha Grande Brew offers now, pop in at #5-155 Morison Ave., call 306-302-9055 or email: tjw3@hotmail.ca.

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