n the corner of Commercial Drive and 4th, a microcosm of East Vancouver sensibility is at play. The tattooed and tote bag-clutching customers of Prado Cafe amble about benches outside, light blue espresso cups in one hand and dog leashes in the other. Through the large windows, a bustling scene of first dates, lone second-hand book readers, and how-have-you-been catch-ups unfold inside amid the scent of fresh coffee and baked pastries.
Prado’s Commercial spot, the cafe’s original location, has become a fixture of its signature neighbourhood’s character—from being the backdrop of an iconic Seasons of East Van photograph, to acting as a gathering place for artists, musicians, and families. This specific locality is something owner Sammy Piccolo envisioned from the start, and has repeated with each new Prado branch across the Lower Mainland.
“My vision for Prado was to be a place of connection for people in the heart of the Drive,” he says, adding that nothing has changed as the brand has expanded, whether it’s the groups of Simon Fraser University students studying at Prado’s Hastings Street spot, or the cottage-like vibe at their latest Southlands location in Tsawwassen.
In the Vancouver coffee scene, Piccolo is something of a legend. He and his brothers opened Caffe Artigiano back in 1999, and five years later, reconvened to co-found 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters—one of the most ubiquitous brews across the city today. Behind the counter, he is a world-class barista, competing and achieving finalist status in Canadian and international competitions.
In the early 2000s, Prado—then only a singular Commercial Drive haunt—was one of 49th Parallel’s first clients. “He always respected Prado when it was a single shop,” says Andrea Piccolo, Sammy’s wife and Prado’s operational manager. So, in 2011, he acquired it. All Prado locations still serve 49th Parallel, of course; for sweets, there are baked-in-house pastries, including some original recipes—such as the famous Cookie With No Name. The treat is Prado’s most popular food item, blending oats, almonds, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and marshmallows.
“The cookie is a Prado original that I couldn’t find a name for. Other food items are childhood homemade recipes from team members,” Piccolo says. “Sourcing local is something we try to do.”
The cafe’s Southlands expansion in 2020 was a step further in terms of their commitment to locality. The development—an emerging agricultural neighbourhood—is deeply ingrained in sustainable farming operations, and the businesses that operate there are similarly engaged. Access to nature, farm-to-table practices, and pedestrian-forward planning are core tenets of its values.
“The Southlands development was simply an exciting opportunity to be involved in a neighbourhood from the very beginning,” Piccolo says. “Prado is all about connection and community, and the design for this neighbourhood and its connection to farming and food seemed like a natural fit for us.”
The plan is to create a specialized food offering that highlights local ingredients from Southlands. “We would like to get much more connected to the farm and seasonal items for our menu,” says Piccollo. But like all other Prado locations, the Southlands one is, above all, a definitive community joint. “Prado Southlands is a meeting place for the neighbourhood to come and enjoy each other,” says Andrea. “We don’t take our customers for granted—especially after the last few years, and even more so now, that they choose to spend their money on coffee. That is a really important moment in people’s days, and we just want to make it an entire experience.”