By Hannah Johnson | @hannahsjohnson
Chez l’Editeur: A Literary Cafe in MontrealIf you visit Chez l’Éditeur, a coffee shop in the up-and-coming Montreal neighborhood of Villeray, you might see a well-known literary writer sitting at table talking with her editor. Or hard at work writing her next book.
While you look for a seat during the crowded lunch and afternoon hours, you might catch a glimpse through the swinging kitchen doors of a local chef testing recipes for his next cookbook.
When Fortin’s publishing company, Québec Amérique, began looking for new office space in 2014, she decided to include a café in the renovation plans.
“I had this crazy dream of having a storefront as well as a café,” Fortin told Publishing Perspectives, “and I had this particular look in mind, inspired by Toby’s Estate Flatiron café in Manhattan—bright, with books and flowers everywhere.”
Chez l’Éditeur opened in February 2017 and serves as the main entrance to the Québec Amérique offices, as well as a coffee shop and event space.
Expectations for the café were modest at first, Fortin told us. She wanted to cover her costs on this “multi-function space where we would display all our books and where our employees would eat, have meetings, greet authors…[and] have many book launches and events.”
A Space for Book Launches and Cultural Events
Having a space for book launches and literary events for the local community was one of Fortin’s primary motivations for building the café.
“For so many people, publishing is a very mysterious and closed dimension,” she said, “and we thought it was a shame that there weren’t more exchanges. As publishers, we do not have so many occasions to interact with the public.”
Shortly after Chez l’Éditeur opened, “our press agency organized a media day,” said Fortin. “Many of our authors were invited to have a coffee with Montreal media.” The event earned Chez l’Éditeur national television coverage, and word about the new coffee shop began to spread.
Fortin said the publishing house offers to organize book launches in the café for all its authors. “We sell the books and well-priced wine and snacks, the authors don’t have too much to worry about, their friends and family discover the place, and it’s open to our regular customers. It’s a win-win-win situation.”
The list of regular events and meetings that take place in the café is also growing. “We welcome book clubs, creative writing workshops, and we’re about to launch a monthly storytelling morning for families,” Fortin told us.
And every Wednesday, an academic group called Thèsez-vous? organizes a thesis-writing workshop for graduate students at the café. “We have been partners almost since the opening,” said Fortin. “They’re an important part of our clientele.”
Chez l’Éditeur has also hosted film shoots, podcast recording sessions, movie screenings, poetry nights, and book launches.
Fortin regularly rents out the conference room inside the café. “All sorts of meetings happen here,” she said, from political meetings to female entrepreneur sessions and TV show brainstorming.
On the professional side, Fortin said, Chez l’Éditeur has hosted “groups of foreign publishers and booksellers during various fellowships, to introduce them to our production, and hosted a New Season Breakfast for Quebec booksellers so they’d come and get first peek” at Québec Amérique’s forthcoming titles.
A New Business for Québec Amérique
When asked how Chez l’Éditeur has changed the office atmosphere at Québec Amérique, Fortin said, “There is definitely some fresh energy.”
Although energy is one thing that Fortin and the team at Québec Amérique seem to have plenty of.
In addition to the café, Québec Amérique has undertaken a number of new projects and businesses in the last several years.
In 2014, the company bought another publishing house, Cardinal, which publishes cookbooks and titles on health and wellness. In 2015, Québec Amérique launched a distribution company, Nomade Diffusion, as a joint venture with another French-Canadian publisher, Leméac. And in 2016, Fortin became president of Canada FBM2020, the organization behind Canada’s upcoming Guest of Honor program at the 2020 Frankfurter Buchmesse, as announced by Publishing Perspectives.
Québec Amérique is very much a family publishing house. The company was founded by Caroline’s father, Jacque Fortin, in 1974. The walls of the café feature art photography by Caroline’s brother, photographer François Fortin. Family photos are on display near the office entrance. And Caroline’s husband, Tony, also works at the publishing house.
In addition to the trade publishing arm of Québec Amérique—which publishes fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books—the company also operates QA International, launched by Jacques Fortin in 1989 following the worldwide success of The Visual Dictionary. QA International publishes visual and image-based reference books and multimedia content.
As for the café business, Fortin said, “After 15 months of operation, we’re profitable.”
It’s been a new experience for the publishing house to operate a coffee shop that’s open to the public. “Running a café is a very day-to-day activity,” said Fortin. “When you change the price of your cappuccino, you’ll see right away what effect it has on your clientele and sales. This is not something we’re used to in publishing, and it can become quite addictive to check every other hour if we sold the new salad we have on offer.”
But Chez l’Éditeur isn’t just about the bottom line. “Considering all the exposure and advantage (in-house events) it give us, it’s more than profitable,” Fortin said.
Plans are underway to expand the offerings at Chez l’Éditeur. “There are more events we’d like to organize,” Fortin said, “like our own book club, conferences with our authors, and more book-related workshops.”
And, she said, “We were approached by a partner to use our concept, so we’re planning to open another coffee shop with them very soon.”