Spotlight: Queen Bean Cafe
Most people who have worked or resided in the historic district of Queen Street in downtown Niagara Falls have been to the Queen Bean Café at least once. It’s a convenient place to grab a decent cup of coffee, but over the past year, anyone who’s been paying attention would agree that this inconspicuous coffee shop has undergone some major changes.
In June of 2019, the words “Imagine” and “Believe” appeared in large, bold letters at the top of an otherwise indistinct building that resides in the corner lot of Ontario and Queen Street. Three months later, the interior also underwent a significant facelift. Local artist Robin Lightwalker painted a mural of Niagara Falls, creating a cascading effect over the full wall of built-in shelves lined with Niagara souvenirs and memorabilia. Colorful paintings and small signs with succinct but positive messages adorned each of the three remaining walls. There was also a dramatic shift in the menu, now featuring made-to-order signature sandwiches, chicken wings, and their famous cheesecake stuffed waffle.
Queen Bean is a moderately-sized café that consists of seven built-in booths and three small tables, but it’s the café’s new owner, Cheryl Vanditelli, that has managed to turn this once likeable but ordinary coffee shop into a Niagara Falls’ community hotspot.
Who is Cheryl Vanditelli?
Cheryl and her husband Robert moved to Niagara Falls five years ago. Initially they had sought out Niagara as a vacation destination where they had planned to secure an easily accessible weekend home. However, they quickly fell in love with the city and decided to make it their permanent residence.
Robert was employed with Modatek, a division of Magma International, and Cheryl was enjoying her 25-year career working for Scotiabank. Soon they began to invest in real estate and now own several properties in the Niagara region.
Owning a café was never on the horizon for them. Neither Robert nor Cheryl had any experience working in the food service industry. Says Cheryl, “I knew nothing about running a café. I understood numbers and business development, and I understood people. That was it.”
In March 2017, after several years of struggling with anxiety and depression, Cheryl went to her doctor’s office and broke down crying. Her anxiety had become so severe she was having body tremors. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t sleep. The mental pain, physical fatigue and debilitating depression had made her suicidal. The doctor told her she was suffering from ‘burn-out’.
“Burn out is a real thing”, states Cheryl. “My mind couldn’t process anything; my cognitive skills were non-existent. My mind used to be able to retain loads of information, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Cheryl continues, “It’s heartbreaking when people don’t understand depression. People would say to me, ‘Just stop feeling sad’. Hey, if I knew how to do that, I would! I don’t wake up in the morning saying, ‘I want to be depressed today, that sounds like a fun day!’” (laughs)
In June 2019 at the age of 54, and after a 30-year long career in finance, Cheryl didn’t know what her next step would be. Then one day, her husband Robert, who was a regular patron at the Queen Bean, asked her, “Did you ever think of owning the Queen Bean Café?” Phil Ritchie of Keefer Developments and Queen Bean’s previous owner had put the cafe up for sale.
“It literally fell into our lap”, says Cheryl. “Neither of us knew how to run a café, but we took a leap of faith. Within a few days, we put in an offer and it was accepted. I feel so grateful to Phil [Ritchie] for giving us this opportunity, it was a life-changing transition for me.”
“The Corner of Imagine and Believe”:
There are traces of Cheryl’s positive outlook on life and love of her community on display in every facet of the cafe. From the sign above the door that reads, “Community Lives Here” and the inspiring quotes on the wall, right down to their branded hashtag, #WeBrewCommunity, this is a space intentionally designed to welcome both locals and tourists alike to enjoy, not just a cup of coffee, but a shared experience. She has struck a cohesive balance between showcasing Niagara as a tourist destination, while also remaining community oriented.
When asked about the sign on the wall that reads, “I’m prepared to succeed”, Cheryl stated, “It was either full steam ahead with the cafe or I didn’t know what I was going to do. If I was not given this opportunity to own the Queen Bean, I honestly don’t know where I would be.”
“I believe your attitude has so much to do with where you land in life. I believe this was my path, to end my banking career and do something else. My passion was never banking, it has always been people.”
Although she concedes she still has days when she struggles with her mental health, Cheryl seems to have embraced her challenges as part of her personal journey. “Not every day is sunshine and roses”, she says, “but I know if I can get through everything that’s brought me here, there’s got to be a greater purpose for my life. I don’t know what that purpose is yet, but I know [Queen Bean] is part of it. And I know this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Want to visit the Queen Bean Cafe? Check out their fresh coffee, local beer and signature sandwiches at 4388 Queen St. Queen Bean is a participating restaurant during Queen Street’s “Restaurant Week” August 1st-10th, 2020.