A friendly neighbour once told us, during times of turmoil, there's value in looking for the helpers. It could be argued that an even worthier pursuit would be to actually be one of those helpers yourself.

Marta Pozniakowski, a RE/MAX real estate broker from Etobicoke, has found the opportunity to do just that -- in her own creative and caffeinated way -- amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


Pozniakowski's prior, on-a-whim purchase of a laundromat (which had stood at 392 Brown's Line for more than four decades) made endeavouring on the adventure of 2020 a little bit more hopeful.

"Two years ago there was this old laundromat available for sale; it was the cheapest property in Etobicoke at the time," she says. "I'm thinking: Damn, that's an opportunity. I don't know what I'm going to do with a laundromat, but I want that property."

Little did the real estate broker know, a year later when all things "normal" was thrown into the fire, the address' ideal use would present itself.

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With a background in film -- and years of experience working with the organization that hosts the annual Polish Film Festival -- Pozniakowski enjoys spending time with people in lively environments.

Her hope, she says, was that she could eventually create a hub that would be conducive to gatherings like these; such a space would allow the continuation of busy workdays to exist alongside moments of connection with others.

As such, Pozniakowski transformed the laundromat, initially, into an office space for her real estate brokerage. It occurred to her later, however, that to incorporate a café into the front of the space would bring her desires for "nice vibes," "community," and opportunities for increased connection to full fruition.

Espresso Bar Namaste, as the coffee shop is affectionately named, opened in October.

Espresso Bar Naomi Hiltz Photography

While the idea of adding a café to the brokerage seemed to come up somewhat suddenly for her at the time, Pozniakowski says she realized, in retrospect, the plan might have been in the back of her mind all along.

In 2019, the realtor created a "vision board" for herself, wherein she posted an image of a brokerage and, to the left of that, an image of a café. After getting the design down on paper, Pozniakowski says she pretty much forgot about it.

It wasn't until she returned to the board months later -- after she opened her shop -- and she saw those two images next to one another, she realized the goal had long been in her subconscious.

"I'm a huge advocate now of vision boards, and I told my kids to do vision boards... we're all doing vision boards nowadays," she says. "I don't know what it is, but somehow it's working. I can't explain it."

Espresso Bar Naomi Hiltz Photography

While it makes sense one may get a business idea in the midst of a pandemic -- a little extra free-time available for daydreaming, anyone? -- actually launching a new, small-owned endeavour during times such as these is a different beast.

Pozniakowski says initially, she was hesitant, wondering if she should wait to open because of the impacts of COVID-19. But she says she received encouragement from her coffee supplier, who asked her: "what are you waiting for?"

"We just opened the door," she said. And now, a few months in, Espresso Bar Namaste has a "steady flow of clients who come every day."

Still, opening in the midst of times like these is trying, and modes of operation have had to shift in order to accommodate for restrictions and customer needs.

"We were open for inside dining for just one day," Pozniakowski says, explaining how the café now operates through Uber Eats -- Ritual and DoorDash may be added later on -- as well as through a call-ahead system; customers phone the brokerage to place orders for pickup.

Espresso Bar Naomi Hiltz Photography

And it isn't just COVID that's thrown the café's opening some curveballs. Pozniakowski reports that during her first month of opening the shop had a break-in. She says she arrived early in the morning to find someone had smashed the front window and stolen the till (read: the cash inside it, too).

A situation like this could be devastating for any small-business owner -- never mind a new one -- but Pozniakowski's recount of the tale doesn't linger on the negative; instead, she quickly emphasizes how much community support helped her through the experience.

She recalls the contractor working next door offering to help clean up the glass after police attended the scene, and the way customers came through despite the chaos, still supporting the café with morning coffee purchases.

It's this shift toward a gratitude mindset -- alongside the café's name: Espresso Bar Namasté -- that begs the question: how might mindfulness or spirituality play a role in Pozniakowski's life? Namasté, after all, is a Hindi (Sanskrit) term that means, in essence, one bowing to [the divine in] another.

Marta Pozniakowski Marta Pozniakowski/Facebook

"Spirituality is very important to me," Pozniakowski says, noting that she practices yoga and meditates often.

After working for years in more corporate, fast-paced, competitive environments, Pozniakowski describes her mental health being impacted, and says she realized it was possible to slow down, move with more intention, and embrace community while still finding success in her field.

She recalls her vision board again, this time to recite a quote: "From competition to collaboration," she says. "I really took [that] into my heart." And it seems Pozniakowski's desire for collaboration, and for community, is being reflected back to her through the neighbourhood's response to Espresso Bar Namaste.

The realtor says the Etobicoke community has been welcoming, and seem happy to have an accessible hub where they can indulge in their caffeine fix, locally-sourced teas and chocolates, and fresh cookies made by Pozniakowski's friend.

(All this, while they might just learn their dream home has been newly-listed, too.)

Espresso Bar Naomi Hiltz Photography

Looking ahead, Pozniakowski says she's continuing to work toward another goal's completion: getting a Business Improvement Area (BIA) launched for Brown's Line. While she says there are 85 BIAs across Toronto, there are none along Brown's Line, and she's been working toward changing that since last year.

To get a BIA set up in the area, she hopes, will help to support business owners and landlords along the strip.

"We can't change the outside world, we can just change what we feel and what is around us, and be useful and helpful to the people who surround us," Pozniakowski says. "That's kind of my way of dealing with the situation."