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Café culture in Burnaby Heights

While many people know the Heights neighbourhood has a strong Italian flair, they might not know just how seriously locals take their coffee - with a serious dose of fun, of course.

While many people know the Heights neighbourhood has a strong Italian flair, they might not know just how seriously locals take their coffee - with a serious dose of fun, of course.

The neighbourhood is essentially one big coffee klatch, with cafes dotting almost every block in the area. Between the many shops on Hastings Street in Burnaby, there are hubs of comfort and community tucked alongside.

Caffe Artigiano is now a staple in the area, having opened its doors at Hastings Street and Rosser Avenue five years ago.

The large café features a display case full of treats as well as its drink offerings.

Shawn Read, regional manager for the Caffe Artigiano chain, says the spot has done very well since opening.

"It's been a fantastic hit," he says. "It's a huge coffee culture there. It's got a great loyalty, and it's been a nice fixture for us, in terms of our brand and our clientele."

Now that the days are getting chillier and damper, more customers are getting their orders to stay and gathering at the many tables in the café, he says.

"The experience - definitely in the summer it's more of a to-go (culture)," Read says. "Our biggest times are weekend there. The weekends from here through to the end of March and April are more about the experience and they're (customers) in for the experience."

Since Burnaby Heights is a big soccer community, the café has a lot of families coming in before and after soccer practice as well, he adds.

East of Caffe Artigiano, on Hastings Street near Beta Avenue, a newer addition to the neighbourhood is the family-run Caffe Divano.

Owners Patrick and Lisa Beecroft opened the new location in July 2012 - they also have a location in Port Moody and the Cornerstone Café in Coquitlam.

"The culture in the Heights, with the strong Italian heritage prevalent, works for us because we have an Italian flair to what we do," Lisa says. "So that certainly has been appreciated by our customers."

Lisa is especially proud of the food offerings at the café, she says.

"The fact that everything is homemade by us, baked fresh every morning on site, is something that most coffee shops do not do," she explains. "I think that's something that people are looking for."

This fall, in addition to a variety of pumpkin-flavoured treats, the café is also offering customers the chance to flavour their drinks with essential oils instead of sugar, Lisa says.

Customers can choose to infuse their drinks with peppermint, wild orange or lavender.

Another new addition is Caffe Divano's new pastry chef.

"We're super excited to have her on board because she brings a nice touch to everything, and so she's going to be working on our Christmas stuff," Lisa says.

The café owners hope locals will remember to "buy local" and support family-owned places such as hers, she adds.

At the other end of the Heights is another popular spot - La Fontana Caffe, on Hastings Street near Boundary.

The café is one of the most established in the neighbourhood, having opened more than a decade ago in 2000.

The location is unique, in a building with a variety of staircases and some businesses seemingly hidden, according to La Fontana owner Gianfranco Latrofa.

But one of the best features is the large patio and fountain in front of his café, he adds.

"The location was very good and the Heights has a very good community," he says. "They take care of the neighbourhood quite well."

The café itself is quite unique as well, catering to a variety of clientele, he says.

"We have all the offices in our building, we have an Italian crowd that hangs out here in the afternoons," Latrofa says, adding that they also book events for the evenings, when the block is quiet, hosting a writers' group, a philosophy group and a nerd group.

"It's just like you're in Italy in the afternoon and then when we switch into our groups at night, it's a total different place," he says. "It's really cool to have such a contrast from day to night."

Latrofa moved to Burnaby from Winnipeg to open the café with his cousins, who previously owned a café in the area.

There is a wide variety of coffee shops in the area, he says, ranging from Starbucks to the Italian-style cafes.

Recently, Waves opened in the neighbourhood, while there are also staples such as Café Classico, with its menu including espresso drinks and Italian specialties.

There is a perfect sipping spot ideal for every individual in the Heights.