This McGill poli sci undergrad runs an Anti-cafe (and is opening another)

Update: The second location has officially opened, at the corner of St-Denis Street and Mont-Royal Avenue. 

Editor’s Note: Boris Leyfer is a political science undergrad at McGill who, after working at an Anticafe, decided to start his own: Insiders – Anticafe LocaL. His mission is to bring people from different backgrounds together in a community that allows for multidisciplinary conversation and for big ideas to flourish. All this while sipping on fairtrade coffee and munching on local pastries.

B21 research fellow Damian Arteca sat down with Boris to chat about his journey and his business.

Next time you’re looking for somewhere to study and the library is full, head over to Insiders.

If you’re a student or an entrepreneur, you’re likely spending dozens of hours in coffee shops. You grab coffees to fuel early mornings, you spend late nights capitalizing on public wi-fi, and you may even work at one to help fund your education or startup. It’s safe to say that the coffee shop is a staple of McGill life. But if you swing by the Insiders-Anticafe LocaL on Crescent, you’ll find that the concept of “coffee shop” is being disrupted in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Insiders does away with the basic elements of the coffee-shop customer experience: you’ll find no uniforms, no customer service counter, and most importantly, you’ll notice that you won’t be paying for your drinks and snacks, but rather for the time you spend there. Each hour costs a few dollars, and if you’re a student a whole day of studying will run you about 13 bucks- whether you’ve had one cup of tea or twenty. The innovative idea of an “Anti-Cafe” was invented in Russia by the writer Ivan Mitin, an intellectual and entrepreneur who revolutionized the idea of a coffee shop by monetizing time in the place of products.

An inside look at Insiders.

While this model may be viewed as a clever way to spice up the marketplace, it’s also in service of a wider ideal. The owner of Insiders is Boris Leyfer, a 20-year old McGill student in the political science stream. Boris was born in Russia but has lived all over the globe, where he’s picked up several languages and an appreciation for the diversity of human interaction.

“It gives me an interesting outlook on life in general…it helps me connect with people”, Boris states, reflecting on his international upbringing. In Insiders, he hopes to create an open social space that will breed the kinds of connections he’s experienced himself. Insiders is more about space and feeling than it is about marketability and efficiency, which is reflected in its interior design.

Boris (right) and Mario Cabrera (left) entered the “Portes ouvertes sur Saint-Denis” competition, where they won $15 000 towards funding their next location, which will be on St Denis.

Boris’ ethic of openness is tangible upon first entering Insiders. When opening his own Anticafe, Boris took the opportunity to design and build the interior from scratch. The traditional customer-service counter is nowhere to be seen, which leaves one feeling more like a guest at a friend’s house than a customer in a store. Several study spaces are divided by beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors, which reminded me of Google’s open-office concept, or the glass conference rooms in McGill’s cybertheque, allowing privacy without sacrificing room for play.

The space has attracted a plethora of artistic and cultural events: you’ll see paintings by local artists on the walls, and you’ll find a vast menu of stand-up, music, philosophy nights, or lectures being hosted on a weekly basis. You’ll also find people from all over the world- in my most recent visit, I encountered 2 gentlemen who’d only arrived in Canada a few weeks past, one from Pakistan and one from Argentina.

Boris describes Insiders as a “literary and cultural cafe”, and so far it looks like it’s well on its course to succeed in being conducive to openness, uniqueness and originality. This is where the “Anti-cafe” works. It removes the “shop” from “coffee shop” and replaces it with a liminal space. Not quite cafe, not quite arthouse, not quite workspace, but somehow all of them at once. It’s the sort of space that seems to represent the city it’s housed in, catering to culture, work, and learning among global peers.

Insiders attracts students, entrepreneurs, and people just seeking out interesting conversations.

Despite being a relatively young family business, Boris is planning on opening a second location on St. Denis after winning the “Concours Portes ouvertes sur Saint-Denis” award earlier this year.

If you want to learn more, head over to their facebook page (hint: liking the page gets you a discount) or walk over to 2067 Crescent.

Update: The second location has officially opened, at the corner of St-Denis Street and Mont-Royal Avenue.