Block 1912 is a locally owned café that sits in the heart of historic Whyte Ave. Jorel Pipen, one of the café’s co-owners, purchased the space with his family in 2006.
“We bought it from relatives of ours … and they opened it in 1992. So technically we say it’s been in the family for the entire 26 years since its inception, but we didn’t start it, we just bought it. And then a couple years ago we renovated it and we kept elevating it and keeping it relevant,” says Pipen.
The renovation in 2016 sparked some major changes for the café, but the welcoming atmosphere remains the same. When Ivan Beljan of Beljan Development took over as the landlord of Block 1912, the outside of the building was renovated. Pipen says it was the external renovations pushed them to revitalize Block 1912’s internal look.
“We actually had a gentleman that worked for us that studied set design at Julliard in New York. He was one of our managers and there’s a very big art scene and district in this area with playhouses and movies theatres and everything like that … so we approached this gentleman who used to work for us because he had the experience of working in the café so he knew how the line was supposed to work but also he had the arts background.”
“The reason we did these risers is the amphitheatre bold, so not everyone is sitting at the same level. So with me owning it for 12 years and running the front and everything, and him, the two of us worked together on plans of building it and we had contractors but a lot of our staff helped out on demolishing and painting and stuff like that,” Pipen says.
The distinct space is filled with an eclectic mix of mismatched furniture, interesting art, and beautiful brick walls. The brick walls are the originals from the early 20th century building — from which the café gets its name — and the high ceilings and airy space is something that can’t be found in many other cafés in the city.
“We’ve been around for 26 years, we’re a 3,000 square foot cafe with over 100 seats — not including the patio.
We’re one of the few places that makes absolutely everything in house still. The mismatched furniture is definitely something we’re known for, and there’s a lot of quirky little things like the napkin notes in the drawers that people leave,” says Pipen.
The café is also a great place for people with dietary restrictions to patron. Block 1912 started offering gluten-free menu items over eight years ago, before catering to those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease was as common. They also offer vegan items, in particular, different gelato for everyone. The staff pays particular attention to ensure the food isn’t contaminated (to the best of their ability).
“It’s one of the reasons we have gelato, cake, coffee, alcohol, (and) sandwiches. We wanted people to come in and not feel alienated from the offerings, that anyone could come in and find something that was suitable for them that they’d like, even if they didn’t know the place or got dragged in by their girlfriend or mom or something like that,” Pipen says.
With all that’s offered, the space is a great place for students to come study. Pipen himself is a MacEwan University graduate, and says he would often spend hours studying in the café when his family first purchased it. There are plenty of seats for people to sit, and the atmosphere lends itself to group work, and hanging out while studying, “because if you wanted to study alone at a table you would just stay home,” says Pipen.
“We definitely welcome students, and we have a lot … (during) exam seasons we get really busy. A lot of the times when students get a break they’ll study here in exam seasons and have gelato and desserts and everything. And I think they’ve done studies (that show) if you’re eating high carb high fat things while studying, it’s not good for your body weight but it’s good for mental abilities.”
The tiramisu at Block 1912 is one of the most commonly available desserts, and it can almost be eaten as a meal of its own! The dessert is filled with coffee liqueur, mascarpone cheese, and fluffy lady fingers. It’s definitely worth the calories.
The lavender fog at Block 1912 is creamy, aromatic, and a great alternative to a typical coffee. For those who like London fogs, take the floral up a notch from bergamot and indulge in this velvety warm drink.
10361 82 Ave
Daily from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Photography by Lydia Fleming.