Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 16 – Laura’s Coffee Shop

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

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Laura’s Coffee Shop. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Last summer I led a historical walking tour for the Vancouver Heritage Foundation called “Lower Mount Pleasant: industry, immigrants and institutions”. One of the stops on the tour was at Laura’s Coffee Shop – one of the last industrial coffee shops in the city.

Laura’s Coffee Shop is on the corner of W4th and Manitoba at 1945 Manitoba Street. It’s in a building that started as a house in 1905 which was later was converted into a commercial space (ca. 1926).

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Laura’s Cafe exterior & interior. Photos: C.Hagemoen

According to the 1905 City Directories, the first resident at 1943 Manitoba Street was Robert E. Thompson a storeman at Wood, Vallance and Leggatt, Ltd. (heavy and shelf hardware). In 1904, a building permit for a frame building was issued under his name for this property. Since the value of the building was only for $100, it is likely that this permit was for an outbuilding or a shed. Therefore, it is possible that the house was built after or before 1904. (There is a gap in the historic building permits for Vancouver from 1905-1908 – the records have been lost.) Thompson didn’t live there long, because the City Directory for the following year lists Walter Lofting, a butterman, the resident at 1943 Manitoba Street.

In 1926, new owner Thomas D. Knowles opens the Manitoba Confectionery at 1943 Manitoba St.  By 1927, Italian immigrants Domenico & Laura DeFilippo (sometimes spelled as DeFillipo) are now listed as living at 1943 Manitoba and son Samuel DeFilippo, a longshoreman, is listed at 1945 Manitoba. It looks like the recently expanded retail space (with living quarters) has now been given its own street address.

Domenico operated the corner grocery store here for almost 10 years before he died suddenly in 1936 (he collapsed while out walking with his wife near 4th and Ontario). Mrs. Laura DeFillipo took over at the helm at the corner store until her death in 1953.  Son Samuel (Sam or Sammy) then took over the family store business – he had been previously working as a taxi driver.  Sammy was also an avid bowler and he competed in many bowling tournaments in the 40s and 50s. He also ran Circle Bowling Alleys on Clark Drive at Kingsway which he opened in 1948 with partner Cyril Battistoni.

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Laura’s Cafe ca. 1978. Photo: COV Archives, CVA 786-23.10

In the 1960s, Sammy converted the grocery store into an industrial coffee shop and named it after his beloved mother Laura… what a good Italian son!  It has been serving breakfast and lunch to the workers in the area ever since.  Sam DeFilippo died in 1996.

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Classified ad for a waitress at Laura’ Cafe. Source:The Province July 3, 1965.

Laura’s Coffee Shop is one of the few “industrial coffee shops” left in the city. These popular-priced eateries could be found in industrial areas all around the city like lower Mount Pleasant. I can imagine workers from the Alsco Laundry building across the street frequenting Laura’s. These coffee shops would be open early (for pre-work breakfast) and all through the working day, Monday to Friday. They were reliable, local establishments where single workers, who may or may not have kitchen facilities at home nor the inclination to cook could go and get two good hot meals a day.

Grilled cheese, fries and coffee from Laura’s.

Today, Laura’s Coffee Shop is a family-run,  friendly place that is busy serving ‘greasy-spoon’ style meals to lower Mount Pleasant workers (now more tech-based and less factory-based) and beyond – they also deliver via Skip the Dishes! Laura’s is also open Saturdays.

As part of the Vancouver Courier’s Vancouver Special neighbourhood series, Heritage Vancouver’s Anthony Norfolk discusses the residential, commercial and industrial heritage of Lower Mount Pleasant, while sitting down at Laura’s Coffee Shop in this video from 2013.