What strikes me now from when I first met Anthony Benda is his single-minded, maniacally unwavering focus on coffee, making it and sharing it with some nice folks. I met him in a non-fiction writing workshop in my fourth year at Concordia and while most of the rest of us were trying really hard to pawn off our quirky awkwardness as aleatoric and massive geniusâ€”our grossly boring hang-ups as the attractive, eccentric byproducts of artistic sensitivitiesâ€”Anthony was sustaining a down-to-earth and matter-of-fact hard-on for the fruits reaped by running precisely hot and flowing water through ground up and groomed coffee beans. While I was obnoxiously going on at length about The Empire Strikes Back as the ultimate blame-daddy scenario, the fodder for the Breakfast Club schism we have yet to see the end of, Anthony shared his straightforward and deceptively wise thoughts on coffee, his experiences at the Canadian Barista Championship and his intention to open what would ultimately become Café Myriade (1432 Rue Mackay).
Anthony seemed a puzzling and refreshing anomaly at the time and, for those of us still here in Montréal over three years later, he still is. Where Montréal’s many art communities sometimes seem more like cheap-pilsener rhetoric and hearsay than reliable realities, Benda’s Café Myriade consistently and insistently ensures its contribution to the communities it believes in and sees itself as part of. The way Anthony sees it, one of the things the café can be is another willing resource for supporting students, causes and local artists. Whether it be Cupcake Camp Montréal, for which it provides coffee and barista services each year, or local art projects and events, Anthony sees Myriade as a friend looking to share. The whole thing is merely an exchange, says Benda: “I hate to advertise and I hate being advertised to, and I feel that if I can give back to the community, to local artists, to my staff, than I get people saying nice things about our café and giving us a good name. Local comedy project the Liar Liar Show is a perfect example.”
The brainchild of Three-Legged Chair Productions, founded by Sasha Manoli in association with comic and Myriade barista Christopher Betts, the Liar Liar Show, one of the latest additions to Montréal’s comedy scene, is one of the many projects Anthony and Café Myriade are committed to supporting. The show’s next installment is coming up on the 24th of March at Le Belmont and, while Anthony already volunteered his shop as a point of sale for tickets the first time around, this time he’s also giving away, at the café’s own expense, a free 5-dollar gift certificate with each ticket sold. “This really won’t cost us that much” he says, “and in return we get to support one of our people and one of the cool local things we’d like to keep around. You know, we have artists, students and writers, among others, working hereâ€”people like you and Betts and Manoliâ€”people trying to do really interesting things. And I see a little something here I can do to help them out. So I do. And it tends to pay off.”
Talking to Betts and Manoli outside Myriade, I am inclined to agree. Being nice is looking better than this native Montrealer would’ve believed possible. When Myriade first opened and I was too dirt poor for the smoky junk they call coffee at Timmy Ho’s, Anthony, who was barely an acquaintance at the time, kept me caffeinated on his dime. Now, both Chris and Sasha have nothing but nice things to say about the café and Anthony’s shop is consistently too full to sit down in. Regardless of what the local barfly thespians might have you believe, people remember nice things other people do for them. I will not forget the free coffee and how good it was. Anthony Benda will not forget the kind words we have all said about him, café Myriade and their coffee. The Liar Liar folks won’t forget the help people like Anthony volunteered. This is the crap they used to write songs about in the 60s, minus the crushed velvet, and those of us in the know are getting used to how right it feels.
David Bradford is a guest writer on ForgetTheBox.net if you want to see more of his content leave him a comment below.
Photos by Liz Clayton