He’s responsible for one of the coolest places on campus, but what does the manager of Café Alt love the most about his city?
Alex Maltby was born in Ottawa but grew up in a small town a few hours away. In his last years of high school, he moved to the city and has been falling in love with it ever since.
“It’s like a city with a small-town vibe,” he says. “It is really attractive. I went to Toronto a couple of weeks ago, and it’s fun, there’s things to do everywhere, but every time I leave Toronto I’m like, ‘Oh, I need to get back to Ottawa where things make sense.”
Maltby started working at Café Alt in 2008—it’s first year of business—and found that although it was retail work, which he describes as “horrible,” the atmosphere was different from other chain cafés.
“You’re doing all the things that a person at Starbucks would, but it’s not run by a giant corporation so it becomes this thing where people become more creative. It’s just changing all the time,” he says.
In a few years, he became the assistant manager and took the opportunity to make the place his own. Now, the sociology graduate is running the joint.
“I’ve never taken a business course in my entire life,” he says. “I feel allergic to math most of the time. Once I graduated and became the manager, I felt like it was a post-university education.”
Maltby now has the fundamental skills to operate a restaurant. He’s put a whole new menu together, has purchased new equipment, and handles staffing.
“Every September I open the restaurant, it’s exhausting and super stressful, but it’s fun,” he says.
So where does a budding entrepreneur with a lust for big cities and a true love of community go when he’s not in manager mode? The Fulcrum sat down with Alex Maltby at the Manx and spoke with him about his ultimate version of Ottawa.
The Fulcrum: Where’s your favourite place to eat your favourite meal of the day in Ottawa?
Alex Maltby: My favourite meal is brunch because I really like breakfast food, but ironically I’m not much of a morning person so I don’t wake up early enough to eat breakfast at an appropriate time. Funnily enough, the Manx has an excellent breakfast. Café Alt is OK as well. I’m very neighbourhood-oriented, so when I live in a place, I don’t leave it very often. Supply and Demand in Westboro is a new restaurant and they have some excellent food.
What is it about the Manx that you like so much?
I just love the aesthetic of it, the coziness, the copper tables; it’s the best place to grab a beer on a snowy winter day.
Where’s your favourite place to hang out for an afternoon?
On an ideal day, I think about going to museums. Actually, one of my favourite places to hang out in the city, and not a lot of people know about it, is the Arboretum in the Observatory on Carling Avenue. It is the one of if not the most beautiful places for just being in nature in Ottawa. It’s this huge sprawling place, there’s farmland, there’s all these different species of trees, and it’s a really fantastic place to go for a jog or ride your bike, and it’s huge, so it’s almost like a Central Park in Ottawa.
So who would you take there? If you wanted to make someone fall in love with the city, would that be where you take them or is there somewhere else?
I don’t know if the Arboretum really exemplifies Ottawa. It’s more of a hidden gem. If I were to characterize Ottawa with a place, I don’t know if that would necessarily be it. It’s more of a form of escapism, not a form of embracing the culture of Ottawa. I think to make someone fall in love with Ottawa you really have to take them to a lot of little places, scattered. You know, it’s hard to point to one monument and be like, “This is Ottawa.”
What’s your favourite tourist trap?
That’s hard because I try to stay away from them. Speaking of places to just take someone to make them fall in love with Ottawa, if you keep following the canal past the Chateau Laurier and it starts turning and heading west and you have the Chateau Laurier there, just between Ottawa and Gatineau, that, just standing by the edge of the water there, is incredible. You feel like you’re somewhere in Europe. I think that’s kind of touristy as well, because there’s the locks. That would have to be my favourite, although it’s not really a tourist trap, it’s just a pretty bit of landscape. Actually, the cats of parliament, though I don’t think they have it anymore. There was this weird cat thing behind parliament because there are all these feral cats. I heard that they took that away recently, I think because slowly the cats were being displaced by racoons and you would go there and just see racoons running around. But when there were cats, it was pretty great.
If you could, for some reason, never come back to Ottawa, what would you miss the most about it?
I’m going to have to be cheesy and go with the community. Ottawa is very neighbourhood-oriented. I’m sure this happens in Toronto as well, where you walk down the street of your home neighbourhood and you run into lots of people you know, but because of Ottawa’s size, it kind of forces people to really work at and foster their own sense of community here and I really like that. So if I were never to come back, that’s one thing that I would continue to long for.