‘It’s a sunny afternoon, sometime in the famously un-wintery month of February, when I find myself at one of the region’s newest – and quite possibly most aesthetically-pleasing – coffeeshops, Disko Coffee, chatting with owner Arman Duggal about the inspiration(s) behind his captivating vision-turned-reality. We’re discussing the idea of ‘third spaces’: places outside of home and workplace where you can relax on your own or mix with people other than family and co-workers. Places where you can pause to linger and reflect on how little time you actually spend in public truly aware of your surroundings, unhurried and unplugged. It was with that ‘third space’ in mind that Arman opened Disko in the heart of his own hometown of Galt. 

‘I have always been drawn to small cafés,’ Arman tells me as we sit together at a smart two-seater near the back of the cozy space. Behind me, light reflects off the coffee bar’s backsplash – a grid of sun-soaked soft rose, terracotta, and pearly off-white tiles. To my left, a wooden cabinet lined with the cutest vessels and a number of simple pen-and-ink sketches stands against a limewash wall. To my right, long rows of shelves are stocked with thick, beautiful magazines from across the globe. We’ll get to these in a bit. 

‘When I was growing up in Galt,’ Arman continues, ‘my parents used to drive the family to Guelph to hang out at Red Brick Café. Sunday mornings, Tuesday evenings – it didn’t matter. They just loved being around people – enjoying good coffee and good conversation. I remember those visits fondly,’ Arman tells me, ‘and really grew to love coffee culture during those times.’ Some years later, when Arman found himself living in Toronto, his love for the ‘third space’ of coffee shops did not dissipate. ‘I spent a lot of time at cafés then – either working for them or working at them, on my own marketing, branding, and photography projects.’ When I ask what he loves most about small cafés, Arman is quick to answer: ‘There’s no hustle and bustle. You can stay put and relax. You can have real interactions if that’s what you desire – or not.’ Gesturing to the half dozen small tables around us, a couple of them gathered near the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking City Hall, he declares: ‘Right now, this place is perfect for us.’ 

The calming space, with its limewash walls and smart maple furniture, is a reliable backdrop for the cafe’s most notable feature: magazines. Rows and rows of them. A small but eclectic army of brightly-coloured, bold-fonted soft covers fill the wall space between the door and the espresso machine. Art, to be devoured. 

The shelves hold an array of aesthetically pleasing and intriguingly niche magazines. I could get lost in the cornucopia of seductive covers promising vignettes of storied lives in Mexico City, Antwerp, and Istanbul. 

Architectural lookbooks and interior design digests. Deep-dive guides to design, culture, and travel in North Africa, Buenos Aires, wherever. Longstanding journals like Kinfolk, i-D, and Apartamento, plus younger publications like Parklife, Advanture, and Climbers. International streetwear glazes the covers of Men’s FUDGE and Popeye, a self-titled ‘magazine for city boys’. And there are dozens more (including a small pile of TOQUE Magazine – at home among all these beauties). 

‘I think it’s safe to say I have developed an appreciation for tactile things – for paper and pen,’ Arman tells me. And no wonder. He grew up working at Phidon Pens, an independent stationery shop owned by his parents that sits right next door. ‘My time at Phidon exposed me to the most beautiful papers from Japan, France, Italy,’ he tells me. ‘Over the years I have collected stacks of notebooks. Most remain empty. I love the paper, the binding, the possibility of someday filling them with prose.’ Arman’s love of paper is what eventually drove him to magazines – for their content, of course, but mostly for their layout design and photography, paper stock and binding. ‘There’s something so intentional, so deliberately beautiful, so intrinsically satisfying about a good magazine,’ Arman tells me. I don’t disagree. 

Prior to 2020 (when Arman helped create their first online shop), Phidon ran for over a decade as a solely in-person experience, and now Disko follows in its footsteps. Amidst the colour blocked shelves, the tidy curves of the table sets, the smooth enamel of petite coffee cups, Arman – his feet firmly planted in the bricks and mortar of this beguiling shop in downtown Galt – gives expression to his appreciation for tactile things. He fetches one of the pen-and-ink sketches from the cabinet – a simple black-and-white composition of stacks of magazines on a wooden chair – and runs the paper through his fingers. ‘I had a friend create these for me,’ he tells me, admiring the little cameo. I spot a stack of similar pieces on the bar – available to customers at no cost. Reminders of the café. And of simpler times when ‘screens’ were made of wonderful paper. 

The wooden sign board out front lays out the cafe’s offerings in plain text: coffee, news, magazines. The shop’s offerings begin with the usual suspects: lattes, americanos, cortados, and the like, plus a classic drip. The beans come from Stereo Coffee Roasters in the Toronto Junction, and Disko keeps it easy with just two blends: one espresso and one drip. Arman says it best: ‘Coffee should be simple, consistent, and good quality.’ 

Now, I hardly ever say ‘no’ to coffee, but today I’ve taken Arman’s suggestion and am contentedly sipping on a warming cup of chai. Arman makes the tea from scratch every morning and afternoon, just like he did growing up: grinding cardamom, peppercorn, and other spices by hand and boiling them in a big pot with ginger, black tea, raw sugar, and milk. Spicy and energetic aromas meet sweet, creamy warmth. I have had many chai lattes in my day, but I realize after taking my first sip that I have never had this before. If, like me, you have a chai history (or not), I suggest you try the real thing. 

Beyond coffee and tea the shop offers a simple selection of pastries that arrive fresh each morning from Roux Bakehouse, the bakery and specialty grocer in Kitchener’s Belmont Village. These treasures, displayed under the glass counter, include delectable croissants, cinnamon twists, danishes. No wrong decisions here. ‘The last few years have opened people’s eyes to what southwestern Ontario towns have to offer,’ Arman remarks while I enjoy the last sip of chai, ‘I have such a close connection to the community here, so it’s really meaningful to be part of the reason people come to downtown Galt.’ 

Disko Coffee: a downtown space where you’ll find good reason to pause and stay a while.