In October, Mark Newell and Hannah Newell announced they were leaving Bampot because they did not want to enforce Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine passport mandate for restaurants and bars.
“We feel unfortunate that we are no longer the people to steer this ship,” the tea house and board games spot’s owners said in a statement announcing their move to Costa Rica. “These measures only serve to divide the public and families into a two-tiered society of medical haves and have-nots and we want no part of it.”
So when the opportunity to buy the cozy, bohemian-like Harbord lounge came up, Alex Moore took it.
Formerly a cook at Bampot, Moore “fell in love with the place instantly.” It became a second home, where he says he learned the ins and outs of the space, mastered all the 120 tea recipes, and eventually ended up temporarily managing the place at the end of 2014.
Bampot Tea played a huge role in his social life too, he says. He would introduce all of his friends here, have D&D nights, and he even emceed his friends’ marriage ceremony (who met at this space, thanks to him).
“There’s lots of memories tied up in this place, honestly,” he says.
As the new owner, he knows what he wants to do: Make the space more accessible and community-focused.
“This was always supposed to be a living room for people who didn’t have living rooms,” he says. “That’s what it should be.”
Starting with his employees, Moore pays them $22.50 an hour before tips. “I’m not going to be quiet about providing a liveable wage,” he says. “These are my ethics.”
Moore also notices that “there’s a lot of missed opportunities inside” that he hopes to fix over the next few months. The biggest of them being wheelchair accessibility, he says. While there is a wheelchair ramp outside, there isn’t one inside, nor are there wheelchair accessible bathrooms. Moore says he will fix that as he renovates the space.
“If this is a community hub, it should be for the community,” he says. “That includes anybody who needs accessibility services.”
On top of making the space accessible, Moore also wants the food to be accessible.
Currently, the Bampot menu offers healthy, vegetarian and vegan options, with mushroom stew, pear and brie sammich and beets and falafel salad priced $10 (you can also combine two mains for $10). To cater to the student crowd, Moore plans to start a lunch program that will include a sandwich, soup or a salad with a drink for less than $10.
The teas are still on the menu but now have a flat rate across the board at $6.75 per pot. Moore says the milk tea is now $8 per pot, 25 cents more than what it was before, as he now uses organic milk.
Third-wave coffee from Subtext will also be introduced to Bampot, something that Moore says is not very popular in the neighbourhood. Now somewhat of a coffee connoisseur himself, Moore has worked at numerous coffee spots in the city like Strange Love and Boxcar Social. During his quest of learning about coffee, he made connections with notable people in the local coffee scene, like Venice Morales-Vallega, who won second place in the 2020 Canadian Latte Art Competition and Siarhei Laurenau from Third Wave Coffee.
Wines and beers on tap will also be available from local breweries like Burdock and Blood Brothers.
Bampot will be more than a space for playing numerous board games. Community events will also be back, with a winter vendors market happening on December 11-12 and 18-19. Grassroots and feminist Rose Coloured Theatre will be hosting an event where they tell stories about people affected by misogyny. Sex T-Rex comedy group will also host an improv night. Music nights will also be in full swing in the near future, he says.
But one of the biggest questions that the public wants to know is what the situation is with the vaccine passport mandate at Bampot – especially considering the stance the previous owners took publicly.
For Moore, he supports showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination. “It’s antithetical to my beliefs,” he says of the previous ownership’s stance.
“As somebody who is on dialysis and had a lot of people close to me die because of the [COVID-19] pandemic because they are on dialysis… I strongly believe in getting the vaccine and making sure that you’re doing what you can for society,” he says.