In February 2017, the 24-hour Second Cup on rue Milton and Avenue du Parc boarded its walls and announced its permanent closure. For 12 years, it served as more than just a coffee shop. With a high percentage of McGill students living in the Milton-Parc community, the cafe was a cozy study space during exam season, where students flooded tables with notes and laptops during late hours.
McGill students were shocked by the closing of Second Cup, with many voicing concerns on social media. Their primary worry was about losing a late night study space, as the Second Cup was one of the few coffee shops open for 24 hours.
“Wow that was an institution,” commented Reddit user holistic_water_bottl. “Where am I gonna go now when I need to finish a term paper the night before[?]”
According to Jack Ahmed, former owner of the Second Cup, the main reason that the store closed down was due to issues with licensing.
“There were disagreements [with corporate] that didn’t have anything to do with this location,” Ahmed said. “I used to own several Second Cups. [Basically], they gave me a high bill for renovations, which was not agreed upon [….] So, I said, ‘I can’t do this,’ [….] One by one, my [Second Cups] came up for renewal, and they didn’t renew me. [The Milton-Parc one] was the last Second Cup [left], and they didn’t renew me.”
In the end, however, Ahmed is much happier. He believes he now has the freedom to pursue a business model that aligns with his interests. Shortly after hearing the news from corporate, he decided to open a new store in the place of the old Second Cup, a self-described ‘urban cafeteria’ named Milton B.
“I’ve been in business for the last 30 years,” Ahmed said. “Now, I can go ahead and do what I’ve always been dreaming about, creating my own brand.”
Since Ahmed has been running the Second Cup on Milton for the last 12 years, he cites his familiarity with the Milton-Parc community in helping him develop his idea for the 24 hour café. For Ahmed, his interests in ecology and sustainability are shaping Milton B’s business model and brand.
“I’m trying to cater to the community [and also express my love for the environment],” he said. “What better way to represent the [neighbourhood] than the actual name? [.…] The ‘B’ in Milton B stands for the bumble bee, [which are] incredibly important [in terms of the environment].”
Basing his model on sustainability practices, Ahmed plans to buy local food. Rather than buying milk from Natrel or Quebon, both of which are large conglomerates, Ahmed says he intends to purchase milk from small dairy farms in the Eastern Townships. Additionally, Ahmed now has the opportunity to expand his menu options and give customers a space to grab a coffee or study while providing fresh, locally sourced food.
“The food from Second Cup was coming in packaged from outside,” he explained. “We are going to prepare everything on hand, [although] not from scratch. [I] call [Milton B] an ‘urban cafeteria’ because [there will be] a lot more food options.”
Though Ahmed admits that he would have kept the Second Cup had the corporation renewed his franchising license, he is still incredibly happy with the work he has done on Milton B.
“A franchise model is very rigid,” Ahmed said. “There’s no flexibility in what you can do. But [closing down and starting again] has allowed me to use my creativity and express myself.