How the cappuccino 'craze' hit Vancouver in 1993

More and more places were interested in making cappuccinos for customers when a single cafe could do $1 million of business in a single year.

2,000 cups of coffee a day were selling at 1 downtown intersection

Vancouver caught up in a craze for cappuccino

31 years ago
Duration 3:06
Cappuccino goes far beyond the "Italian section" on Commercial Drive in 1993.

With a coffee shop on every block, just about any downtown corner in Canada can accommodate a craving for cappuccino.

But it wasn't always that way, as a 1993 report from the CBC business program Venture showed. 

And Vancouver was at the vanguard.

"There has always been cappuccino on Commercial Drive, the Italian part of Vancouver," began Robert Scully, the show's host. But cappuccino wasn't limited to the Italian district anymore.

'Making coffee history'

downtown street
According to the Globe and Mail, Starbucks opened a location on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive in 1993 after this report aired. (Venture/CBC Archives)

One espresso machine distributor, Remo Bresciani, was doing his best to bring cappuccino to a wider clientele.

And one downtown corner was an exemplar of what Scully called Vancouver's coffee "craze." 

"Today, this intersection of Robson Street is making coffee history," he said as the camera showed a Starbucks outlet.

According to the Starbucks Canada website, the first Canadian location opened in Vancouver in 1987.

More and more 'coffee bars'

smiling man holding an espresso cup
For a long time, espresso-based drinks like cappuccino were typically available only in the Italian cafes of Vancouver’s Commercial Drive. (Venture/CBC Archives)

The intersection in question sold "well over 2,000 cups a day" and more "coffee bars" were sprouting up on other corners, too.

Bresciani's business, meanwhile, wasn't making the coffee. It was selling the machines that made the coffee.

The program followed the distributor as he called on some of the places that bought the espresso machines from him.

"It's a good profit margin," said Peter Horwood, manager of a waterfront restaurant called Bridges. "It pays for the machine very quickly."

Something 'special' for customers

Man seated in front of cappuccino machine
The restaurant Peter Horwood managed charged $2.75 for a cappuccino, or about $5 in 2024. (Venture/CBC Archives)

Bresciani's cappuccino machines weren't limited to restaurants, either.

Art dealer Robert Heffel found that giving customers a cappuccino was beneficial for his gallery operation.

"I think it makes our clients feel special," he said. "If we can give them something where they stay that extra five minutes … perhaps they might buy something."

A purveyor of designer clothing was similarly attuned to the benefits of supplying his customers with cappuccino.

"A really good cup of coffee — it's one of the pleasures in life," said Alberto Leone. "And why shouldn't it be in a fashion store?"

"Fashion is one of the pleasures in life."

Man handing cup on a saucer to a woman
Gallery owner Robert Heffel found that offering customers a cappuccino meant they stayed “an extra five minutes” in his business. (Venture/CBC Archives)

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