A new cafe, shop and events space in Strathcona acts as a catalyst for connection in the community.
Strathcona is Vancouver’s oldest residential neighbourhood. If you ask the residents, they’ll tell you it still feels like a hidden gem—where historic homes, idyllic parks and a diverse culture create a flavour unlike anything else in the city. Strathcona is also in the midst of a transformation; the unique character of this neighbourhood is attracting a new wave of entrepreneurs keen to make a positive impact on the community, while preserving its character and roots.
Nestled in one of our properties at 868 East Hastings, The Garden does just that. Partners Anna McMillan, Rheanna Miller and Kirsten Kennedy created a place for Strathcona locals—and people from all over Vancouver—to gather, caffeinate and connect over a shared meal. McMillan has been dreaming of her community-focused cafe since childhood. “It’s part retail store and part cafe,” she says. “We have a full commercial kitchen where we prepare everything we serve from scratch. Upstairs, we have open space that we use for workshops, events or classes. We really wanted it to be flexible and something that could evolve over time with the community. We want people to be able to use the space in different ways.”
The design for The Garden plays with the line between indoor and outdoor, growth and decay. McMillan opted for a richer, darker, more natural feeling aesthetic, utilizing the the concrete block walls and concrete floors in the space. “When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother in her garden, and I had these dreams about the space being this idyllic setting where you feel really grounded and at peace,” she says.
In order to bring The Garden to life, McMillan knew she needed to find the right space in the right community. “It really fell into my lap serendipitously,” she says. “I was at a presentation at Low Tide, and they were talking about their vision for Strathcona. Someone happened to ask about 868 Hastings. Low Tide showed a few pictures and explained how the building had been vacant. They were searching for a unique, multifaceted tenant—and a light bulb went off in my head. It felt like a perfect fit,” she explains.
Strathcona also felt like a match because it’s still developing. There are very few spaces where people can come together over food. McMillan felt like she could do something unique in this neighbourhood—and have it evolve naturally with the community.
“My goal is that people feel a sense of calm, but also feel inspired, connected and excited to share the space with a friend. I really want it to be a catalyst for connection around shared values and things that excite people,” she says.
Connecting with the community in different ways is a big goal for The Garden, and McMillan has already created ties with her neighbours. “We have a really incredible neighbour across the street called The Writers’ Exchange, who are also tenants of Low Tide. They do literacy programming for under-resourced kids. We’ve been giving them our day-old baking to help feed the kids during their after school programs,” she explains. There are also big plans for the events space upstairs. “We’re working on some ideas with Ray Cam and a group called Wee Optimists, which is a mindfulness and meditation program for children. We want to connect with creative or community programs and be able to support them,” says McMillan.
Downstairs, the retail space sits alongside the cafe and highlights local artists and makers. McMillan and her team hope to support other entrepreneurs—especially women and local businesses.
And even though they’ve just opened, McMillan has big plans for the future. “We want to create more events and touch points for people in the community to come together. We’d like to be a community hub. In the future, we’d love open additional locations that can then create a network of communities that can support each other—be it through the products we carry or community initiatives and programs.”
The Garden is open Tuesday through Friday, between 8am and 5pm and Saturday/Sunday from 9am – 4pm. Stop by to sip a coffee, sample a fresh bowl or strike up a conversation with someone new.