Opening a new kind of coffee shop during COVID-19

In business, taking big ideas and turning them into reality requires support and certainty.

That’s why The City of Calgary focuses on reducing barriers, including time and cost, to help business owners achieve success.

Timing was everything when Calgarian Paul Constance wanted to open a new kind of downtown lobby coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lil E Coffee Cafe is operated by employees with developmental and intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome and autism. The idea to build awareness and acceptance while providing training and work experience to employees is attracting attention, says Constance, whose three-year-old daughter has Down syndrome.

“It’s been overwhelming. The feedback has been incredible, especially from people who don’t have anyone in their circle that doesn’t have Down syndrome how excited and moved by it they were,” said Constance.

The City’s business-friendly approach is just what the local non-profit needed. The timing was tight to get approvals and inspections to open for business inside Aspen Properties’ recently renovated Sun Life Plaza on Fourth Avenue S.W., now called The Ampersand.

“There’s always last minute things, a few hiccups you don’t know to expect. We’re grateful at how The City took a business approach to it, saying, ‘How can we make this work?’ rather than, ‘Come back in a week.’ We had all our grand opening stuff ready to go, we only had a few days to make this work. I was concerned it wouldn’t work, especially with COVID-19 and restrictions. That’s why we’re thankful and grateful for The City of Calgary in terms of how they embraced it, how they pivoted and used video conferencing, allowing us to send pictures so they could pre-screen it. As a non-profit corporation, you’re running pretty tight so any extra costs aren’t welcome.”

Constance encourages people thinking of opening a new business, even during the pandemic, to learn more about how The City can help. And, he says, have faith in yourself.

“If you’ve been thinking about doing something, now’s the time to pivot. The world’s not built for people who feel like doing something, it’s for people who do something. So take that chance and if you have your passion behind it, people will support it. They want to see other people be successful and do good things. We live in a very magical city and province. We are entrepreneurs, we are people who like to take risks and do things and we’re very supportive of others especially when it comes to charity work. We should be grateful and thankful we live in this city. We have people around us who are helping us. Take the leap of faith - I think there’s nothing worse than living life with regret versus trying something with failure. At least you tried.”

The City is supporting businesses in many ways through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. “We are focused on cutting red tape and reducing processes to help businesses survive and continue to operate successfully,” says Natasha Qereshniku, Strategic Consultant with Business and Local Economy at The City of Calgary. “We also have our online business hub where we have centralized all the information a business needs to work with us to start and open a business. The hub has an online chat, where our planning service experts are ready to work with businesses to answer detailed and technical questions to support businesses in pivoting their operations.”

If you’re thinking of opening a new business, we’re here to help. Visit to find the information you need to navigate permits, licensing, inspections, operations and more.