Café Zenoli is a gem hidden in plain sight

Living in Montreal offers students a unique learning experience, as the city is filled with a multitude of cultural and artistic opportunities. Yet, many Montrealers find themselves at the same well-known franchises, succumbing to the saturation of chain restaurants and coffee shops. For those looking for alternative places to have their daily dose of coffee, the family-owned Café Zenoli in downtown is a perfect spot. 

In 2017, Robert Chechile and Leonardo Calderone opened Café Zenoli at 250 rue Sherbrooke, a corner frequented by many pedestrians on their way to school or work. With an assortment of pastries, sandwiches, pizzas, calzones, and speciality breads, the café is particularly attractive to passersby looking for a casual meal or mid-day snack. Zenoli is a combination of the names of the café’s two signature pastries: Their cannoli—which was recently ranked among the best in the city—and their zeppole. The name reflects the owners’ Italian roots, love of food, and even greater love of feeding people. 

“It comes from my mom and her sisters,” Chechile said. “[The] first thing they would do is sit down and fix you something, […] so I always try to bring a bit of that hospitality here. I love making people try what we have. It’s a nice feeling, […] and the clients appreciate it. That’s the environment I try to build here with my clients and my staff.” 

The easygoing Zenoli staff only add to the experience of dining at the café. Unlike several downtown cafés, Zenoli employees do not insist on a minimum purchase to dine-in or a time limit per table. Students looking for a serene place to work are not forced to break their budget or rush their tasks. Regulars often return to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city and to spend an hour in a space with a sense of community, as the café offers a cozy space to sit and read, catch up on emails, or just chat with a friend. This comfortable and friendly dynamic among the staff is evident to their customers. 

“People come back to a place because of how you make them feel,” Chechile said. “[With] regular customers, […] you get to know them, and they tell you about their families and what’s happening [….] That’s the biggest difference between [being] a small business owner that is actually here and one of those franchises. It’s a whole community. If I’m in the back and I see a client I know, I have to come say ‘hi.’”

In addition to friendly service, Zenoli provides food to-go and catering services. The café also prides itself on its zero-waste policies, donating all leftover food to a local rehab center. The focus on hospitality and generosity extends not only to customers, but also the community.  

“My wife helps out. Her vacation time was spent here, and my partner’s wife’s too,” Chechile said. “It’s really a partnership. I’m not here to make millions of dollars, I just enjoy what I am doing, and a bonus is I get to see my kids so much more now too because they come in and give me a hand, […] and their friends come by too. It’s a little family we have here.” 

With their home-style Italian pastries, friendly staff, and hospitality, Zenoli makes for an optimal place to take a break from everyday stresses and enjoy the finer things in life: Coffee, food, and community. 

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