For locals, The Bean Counter Cafe is the place where the barista greets them by name. For visitors, it’s the place you want to be known by name. If you’re in search of a warm cup of tea, strong cup of coffee, and freshly baked pastries, then this is your kind of place.
(As usual, this story is brought to you by both Scout and Anna. Scout does the researching while Anna does the writing. The full baffling backstory can be found here.)
Comfort & connection
We first visited the Bean Counter Cafe two weeks ago on a particularly snowy December day. It was our first time in Picton and we parked along Main Street downtown. We didn’t have much of a plan for the day, but we knew a cafe was in our future. When it’s snowy, cafes are always in our future.
We stumbled upon The Bean Counter Cafe much like we’ve stumbled upon friendship: unexpectedly. Scout and I didn’t conduct unnecessary research or speculate how the coffee might taste. We took one look at that historic red building and stepped inside because it looks like a place you can trust.
As we stomped our snow boots on the entryway rug, the barista greeted us with a sincere smile. She offered to take our coats and answer any questions we might have as we read the menu. As we scanned and wished we could order everything, we finally settled on a sandwich and tea because we missed London. Or maybe we just love sandwiches and tea is medicinal in the winter. Or maybe the options overwhelmed us. Whatever the reason, we ordered, chose an unsuspecting recliner in the corner, and grabbed a copy of County Magazine.
Coffee & conversation
When our tea and sandwich arrived, we glanced up from our reading and noticed something of a phenomenon. Everyone in the cafe was engaged in a conversation. We don’t mean that everyone in the cafe was having a conversation. We mean that everyone in The Bean Counter Cafe was engaged in one, collective conversation.
From behind the counter, the barista laughed with the smartly dressed woman sitting opposite beside the brightly colored painting. The smartly dressed women sitting opposite beside the brightly colored painting made a comment to the elderly couple across the room. The elderly couple across the room greeted the cheery baker when she appeared around the corner. Then, with a sudden burst of energy, a fourth customer walked through the door and joined the conversation. And on and on it went in a conversational circle as everyone sipped, laughed, and ordered more coffee. No one was on their phone. No one looked annoyed or rushed. It was just as a cafe should be, but rarely ever is: completely comfortable.
When our tea and sandwich arrived, we glanced up from reading and noticed something of a phenomenon. Everyone in the cafe was engaged in a conversation.
Scout absolutely loved it and told me that he absolutely had to meet the owner. After all, this is Scout’s favorite part of traveling, writing, and life in general: meeting the people behind the places.
The people behind the place
A week after our first visit, Scout and I headed back to Picton to meet the couple behind The Bean Counter Cafe. When we first reached out to The Bean Counter Cafe the week prior, we learned that Debbie and Art Tremblay not only own the cafe, but also the shop next door: Nourish the Soul. When Scout and I heard this, we smiled. We’d already visited Nourish the Soul once before and chatted with Debbie. It’s funny how you meet people and never suspect your paths will cross again.
When we met Debbie for the second time, we met at her second store, Nourish the Soul. This wellness shop that the Tremblays once used as a stand alone bakery, sits directly beside The Bean Counter Cafe. Debbie must be an overachiever because she runs both shops with what appears to be considerable calm.
As we stepped inside Nourish the Soul, Debbie greeted us warmly. Even though she planned to close up shop in 30 minutes, she took the time to answer our many questions. First, she described how she and her husband, Art, discovered The Bean Counter Cafe eight years ago when they vacationed in Picton. From the moment Debbie saw that historic red building, she loved it. After a long corporate career, Debbie planned to open a tea shop and this building had everything she hoped for in a shop.
In search of an inspiring space, Debbie and Art searched Picton real estate listings. They were shocked when they saw the first listing: The Bean Counter Cafe. Debbie recognized this as a sign and, without any prior restaurant experience, the Tremblays took a leap of faith and bought the cafe as well as the adjoining shop space.
As we talked, Debbie laughed and admitted that she didn’t even know what a macchiato was before she bought the cafe. The first time a customer ordered one, she guessed and topped it with whip cream. She remembered their confused expression as she assured them this was just The Bean Counter Cafe’s version of a macchiato. Apparently, the customer accepted the explanation and Debbie didn’t let what she didn’t know stop her from running a successful small business. Instead, she asked questions, learned drink recipes, and focused on the most important element for every restaurant: the customer experience.
As we talked, Debbie laughed and admitted that she didn’t even know what a macchiato was before she bought the cafe. The first time a customer ordered one, she guessed and topped it with whip cream.
Take another branch
When Debbie says she and her bakers put love into everything they cook, she’s means it. Debbie said she “rolls love into her pastries”. While that might sound like a cliche, it’s not a cliche for Debbie. Each element in the cafe is purposeful and when you step inside, you feel it.
As we talked, I noticed branches on the ceiling overhead. Debbie noticed and smiled. She described dragging the branches from the woods and giving them a new life in her shop. We asked what inspired this idea and Debbie said she loves the symbolism of trees. “When you look back on your life, you don’t want to regret not doing things. When things don’t go the way you expect, the path never ends,” she said. “Take another branch. Branches will keep growing as you keep going.” Debbie laughed as she said this and followed up with, “I rhymed! That was pretty good!”
In many ways, this is exactly what Debbie did with The Bean Counter Cafe. When she and Art purchased the cafe, they kept the original name and sign. They’re friends with the first owner, Ben, and still buy all of their locally roasted organic coffee from him. The transition from old to new ownership was so seamless that, up until a couple years ago, few people realized the cafe had been sold. In a competitive world, this is a remarkable rarity. But we aren’t surprised. When you meet Debbie, you won’t be surprised either.
“When you look back on your life, you don’t want to regret not doing things. When things don’t go the way you expect, the path never ends,” she said. “Take another branch. Branches will keep growing as you keep going.”
The best lemon blueberry scone in North America
After an intriguing afternoon conversation with Debbie, Scout and I had some thinking to do and walked next door to The Bean Counter Cafe. We ordered a pot of the black currant rooibose tea and a freshly baked lemon blueberry scone. After our first bite, we paused and it wasn’t just for dramatic effect. We literally paused and took a moment to appreciate the scone we’d just bitten into.
This was no ordinary scone. Was it the light texture accompanied by a subtle crunch? Or possibly the way the tart lemons cut the sweetness of the blueberries? Or maybe the distinct egg flavor reminiscent of custard? We don’t want to brag (okay… we do), but we just found the best blueberry scone in North America.
Before you disagree and suggest that we’re unqualified to make such a determination, you should know that we both accept and reject your rebuttal. It’s true that we haven’t tried every blueberry scone in North America. But we’ve eaten approximately 50 blueberry scones from approximately 30 bakeries. Based on this rather sizable and potentially incriminating sample size, we can assure you that this is the best of them all.
Why locals stay & visitors wish they could
Picton is known for its pristine beaches, idyllic storefronts, and friendly charm. Locals and visitors enjoy dozens of gorgeous boutiques and memorable meals. With so many beautiful shops and cafes lining the streets, why do locals consistently name The Bean Counter Cafe among their favorites? Scout and I can’t help but think it has something to do with the way The Bean Counter Cafe creates an ambiance you never want to leave.
Plus, they bake the best blueberry scone in North America. So that helps too…
Scout hopes you guessed this already, but he has to tell you for good measure: The Bean Counter Cafe ranks #5 on Scout’s Foreboding Five-Point Scale. Grab your people (and rabbits) and form a line outside this door because it’s definitely…