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Ch-ch-ch-chaaaanges….

This was very nearly an extremely sad post. But it isn’t!

I was genuinely a few days away from having to close up Dr. Coffee’s Cafe for good, which was heartbreaking. As always, it came down to money, and I hate that. Money always spoils everything!!! In simple terms, the cafe wasn’t making enough of it. It was deathly quiet over the winter (but probably would have been fatal then if we’d had a “normal” Saskatchewan winter actually), but I tried to stay confident, and it did eventually start to pick up again. But not fast enough for me.

Baby Theia turned one year old last week. That in itself is incredible, but most significantly for the cafe, it spells the end of my very generous maternity leave. Right now, my fellow Mums are all facing the horrible prospect of having to go back to work, and all scrabbling around frantically trying to find childcare for one-year-old infants. This is no easy feat. It is also incredibly expensive. If I “went back to work” properly in the cafe, I would not only have to pay myself a living wage, my salary would have to be enough to cover childcare costs as well – and the business just couldn’t afford it. It only just covered the low wage I pay the part-time baristas (though I prided myself on paying above minimum wage, it wasn’t much above!). Without affordable daycare, I couldn’t work any more. Theia is now walking and it wouldn’t be fair or practical for anyone if I took her to work with me. Her coming with me was fine when she was a newborn because she just slept through most of it, but nowadays she’d be climbing the walls quite literally. So, me returning to full time cafe work was not an option. Neither did I seriously consider the idea of finding another high-paying job elsewhere to support the cafe – even if I found one (unlikely), it would mean I had no time to run the business which is entirely self-defeating. All was looking very, very gloomy indeed and it feels SO UNFAIR.

I tried to sell the business, but that was nearly impossible with so little profits. I did have several meetings with a guy who initially sounded really positive. He put in a reasonable offer thhat I would have accepted, and it got to the point where he was 3 days away from taking the keys and opening up by himself – but then he just stopped talking to me. No response to emails or phone calls,didn’t show up for a meeting, nothing. Then I got a random message from him, asking about my dog…? Obviously sent to the wrong person, but interestingly, it said “Sent from my iphone, Brandon MB” on the bottom of the email. So he wasn’t even in the province any more. Terry Gillespie, you are a timewasting arsehole.

I think I was fairly close to a nervous breakdown by that point, but mercifully my parents were here to look after me and we had a mini holiday in Calgary and I got to ignore it all for a few days. And when I got back…
Don’t you just love those random late night conversations with strangers? A while back we hosted a wedding reception in the cafe for one of our regulars, and afterwards while rather tipsy she declared that she and new husband wanted to get into business and *obviously* I should be their business mentor…. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but when I sent out the sad little “We’re closing” email, she jumped on it and said she could help. They aren’t in a position to buy the business unfortunately, but we managed to figure out an arrangement whereby they are taking over running the place for 6 months with the option to buy in the new year. So I am still the owner and I’m effectively training the others, but it’s way less demanding time-wise and emotionally! She’s renamed it Noni’s after her daughter (and really, Dr. Coffee’s doesn’t make much sense without me!), and the place has a bit of a new look – that I love because if anything, it is even MORE colourful now. There’s also an expanded menu, and even a bike rack in there! I think we share a vision for the place which (so far) we’ve been able to communicate to each other very well indeed, and that is incredibly reassuring given how crushing the idea of closing was to me. I really am incredibly lucky sometimes.

So, thanks to an amazing saviour at the final hour, all is wonderful again. Go visit Noni’s!!

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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Back in the business of Beans

Recently I have been hugely busy, as we finally have the Wheelie Good Coffee cart off the ground! Erm, not literally. Well, OK there was one incident… anyway, in case you missed my recent post, dear reader, Wheelie Good Coffee is my latest venture: a little cart from which I serve pour over coffees, hooked up to the back of my bike. Originally it was supposed to be attached to the trike, but the trike hitch is still a work-in-progress so for now I am wobbling along on just two wheels with Carl’s help. The aforementioned “off the ground” incident occurred when I overloaded the cart and hit a bump, and then managed to ping the back of wheel of the bike, and myself up in the air and into the curb. Oww.

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But these minor teething issues aside, all is going phenomenally well. After a wild and windy launch at the Cathedral Village Arts Festival, I am now serving coffee on the Regina Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and as many Wednesdays as the day job will allow. Sadly the market is only on twice a week, and only during the summer, otherwise I’d be out there every day and would quit the day job, but sadly 8 hours a week cannot pay the bills. Fun, busy, successful, confidence boosting Saturdays make coming in to the office on Mondays even worse than usual though. I am not a corporate person. I felt this to be true even before I started this job, but 8 months there has proved it beyond all shadow of a doubt. I loved my university departments, but that is about as close to an office job as I ever want to get.

At risk of jinxing things though, the cart is going so well, it inspires me to believe that I am really on to something and could really turn it in to a full time business – given time and hard work. The hard work is not the issue – I am doing this because I enjoy it. Having done something similar before, I know my limits and I’ve learned from my mistakes and experiences with the coffee Ape van and Doctor Coffees Cafe. I am not perhaps approaching this so blindly. The time is an issue though, because I am so impatient!

The response to the coffee cart has been such a massive contrast to everything I experienced in Darlington – in the best possible way. Given the circumstances, I still believe I did bloody well in Darlington – but as I said at the time, the little I managed to achieve there, was done despite Darlington council, despite the unhelpfulness and disinterest of the local market officers, and despite the horrible location itself. This time round, the wonders of a new home on a new continent have provided me with amazing amount of support and encouragement and ideas and constructive feedback even before my lovely Carl had built the cart!

I cannot thank the Farmers Market crew enough – their support has been invaluable and the market is exceptionally well run and successful. It is also very well attended, and I am rushed off my feet every week, to the point where I don’t even get time to drink my own coffee!! Every week more people visit saying “hey, I follow you on Twitter” or “ooo yay! Coffee on the market!” Or compliment me on the set up (which I redirect to Carl) or the quality of the coffee. On top of that, I am even getting a lot of help from friends at other local businesses – from recommendations for events that could use coffee, to me borrowing a licensed kitchen area with big sinks to sterilize my water tanks in properly from a neighbouring business, to Roca Jacks roasting the coffee and Cuppa T’s selling me tea wholesale. It’s just wonderful, and encouraging enough to make the whole entrepreneurial start-up journey that much less precarious!

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But this is not just a business blog! What of the coffee, I hear ye cry?
Well, most of it looks like this:
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I make pourover coffee, that is, pouring hot water very slowly over a coffee dripper lined with filter paper and filled with the best freshly ground coffee, until it drips through a fills the cup underneath. It is far more elaborate and time consuming than making normal drip or percolated coffee, but it makes a much fresher, cleaner cup. Its single serve (though I have four drippers to do four drinks at a time), and because I make it in front of the customers, there’s no issue of keeping it stewing on a hot plate for ages. It’s about as fresh as you can get outside! Also, i get to wave a large, long spouted coffee pot around and make the coffee grounds ‘bloom’ and create steam so it all looks a bit like a mad chemistry experiment. For what is coffee without a bit of magic and theatre?

The beans themselves come from Roca Jacks. This makes me very happy indeed. I tried, but I couldn’t manage to rescue the Roca Jacks coffee shop. However, Bill now appears on our doorstep bearing coffee every few weeks, and our house smells deliciously of freshly roasted gooodness all the time. Better yet, I’m going to start retailing the beans in my online store as well, along with all the paraphenalia you need (drippers, coffee socks, mugs etc) to make Wheelie Good Coffee at home!

A lot of work awaits me yet, but my coffee-flavoured future looks like a bright happy one from here. Cheers!
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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Pedalling Coffee Since 2014

Happy New Year Coffee Lovers!!

My new year’s resolution (pledged, 25th Jan… yeah, yeah…don’t judge me!) is to keep up with this blog a lot more this year. Last year was hectic and relatively uncoffee-filled, which was a sad state of affairs. It has been ten whole months since I last worked in a coffee shop, 8 months since I had my little PhD graduation ceremony, and over a year since my book came out. Unsurprisingly, this has meant fewer coffee related activities to write about on here!

Currently, I am existing as the inverse of most social science graduates – instead of being vastly over-qualified but having to work in a coffee shop through lack of jobs in their field of study, I am highly qualified to work in coffee shops, yet I have to work an entry level job in something completely unrelated to my field. It boils down to money. You cannot work in a coffee shop and pay for child care, it just doesn’t make sense. Sadly, that seems to be true the world over!

All this is about to change though, for me at least. I haven’t suddenly been able to make a living from coffee again, and I’m not about to give up the day job. But I have been dreaming up a coffee side project, and I am extremely excited about it!

What do you get if you give a coffee geek a tricycle?

wheeliefulllogoThe plan, in simple terms, is this:

Build a coffee cart on a trailer, attach it to my trike, and serve coffee outdoors in downtown Regina, on the Farmers’ Market and at all the manymany festivals here over the summer.

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Technical plans. Proof again that I really can’t draw.

 

I am hoping this can be fitted around my work: the market is on weekends, and the festivals tend to coincide with public holidays anyway. Given recent Extreme Temperatures, suddenly my warm office looks much more inviting than standing out in the park on a bike over the winter too!

I am applying for the appropriate licenses and permits for street vending at the moment, but assuming all goes well, I intend to position myself on Victoria plaza and Scarth Street, the pedestrian area where nearly all downtown office workers have to pass through to get to the Hill Towers, SGI, Government offices or the large banks, and also access to the Cornwall shopping mall, providing a steady stream of passersby.

Of course, there are other coffee shops downtown, but as yet, nothing outdoor or mobile. As I have found through being a downtown office worker for the past few months, it is virtually impossible to dash out and get NICE coffee from one of these coffee shops in your 20 minute coffee break from work – queues and barista-ing takes way too long unless you happen to work next door. Our office block is just that bit too far away. But if there was a coffee trike parked outside it…..

Recent, sad developments in the coffee world on my doorstep (better explained on my other blog) led to a long and involved conversation on Twitter, bemoaning the lack of good, convenient coffee downtown. When I ventured the idea of Wheelie Good Coffee on there, my twitter stream went completely mad and I got put in Twitter jail for the first time ever! (That is, it blocks you temporarily for sending over 100 tweets in an hour – I wish I’d got a screen shot!). There are a lot of local folk who would be very supportive of this venture I think.

It will take a while to get organised, but the market doesn’t go back outdoors until May, so May seems a reasonable start date to aim for. Until then, it’s permit applications, business plans, a mentorship with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (a wonderful organisation that includes me both as being an honourary Canadian, AND still “youth” – which made me feel great!), helping my lovely Carl actually build the thing, coffee blend designing… oh, and the day job.

Here’s Twyla the Trike – the engine of my new business!

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WATCH THIS SPACE!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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