Home and Away: Our Time in Cafes

A longstanding tradition of coffee-houses as meeting places to drink caffeine, and discuss the subtleties of life, began more than half a millennia ago in the Ottoman Empire (more or less the current Middle East). These evolved into the lively French cafes where bourgeoisie and the upper-classes would sit, play board games and enjoy freedom of speech. Today coffee is a staple of our culture. More people drink it than don’t. There are so many styles and flavours that you could dedicate your life to them. Some people do.

Cafes have evolved and our conversations have changed but the general atmosphere of a coffeehouse seems to be the same as it was 500 years ago. They are gathering houses of morning commuters, the meeting place of new couples, and the energy injected atmosphere that many students choose as their study area.  Some are primarily beverage driven, others serve food as well.

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Simple or elaborate.

It just so happened that Christiane and I both began working in cafes around the same time. We just worked in two different places, on two different continents. What began as a school project for Christie turned into her first ownership opportunity. The job in a busy short order cafe that I found in small-town Australia turned from a month-long fill in job into an almost year-long stay that I enjoyed every minute of.

The self-inflicted practicum turned ownership roller-coaster was a huge learning curve for Christie. The cafe (which is still there although none of us work there anymore) is located in the warehouse of one of the most profitable businesses in the province. It was when Christie began to move away from the food and cooking side of the hospitality business and really got into customer service and management.

She began by implementing the changes that were most important to her. All take-out containers were replaced with reusable or compostable materials. Take-out menus were no longer printed, instead there was a permanent in-house menu and daily specials that were posted online as well as in the cafe. When Christie partnered with a long time worker of the cafe and bought a portion of it she had even more control over certain aspects. Instead of giving herself a raise she worked out buying medical and dental plans for her staff.

Finding work for her siblings was something that Christie had done before. It was her initial hiring at a steakhouse in Steveston that got both her sister Alicia, and myself, jobs there later on. When I left the steakhouse to go traveling they were both already out the door. Alicia had moved between a few jobs before Christie got her a job at the cafe as well. This was a turning point for both of them as Christie watched her baby sister grow and flourish in her new role. Eventually both my sister and I would come to work there as well.

Family business. My sister Catherine, Christie and her sister Alicia. Working hard, looking pretty.

Meanwhile, after spending a few months lying around on beautiful beaches, I was ready to find a job in Australia. I tried rather hard to find one in Byron Bay, a very busy backpacker town. It was lucky that I didn’t get one because that was what drew me back to Yamba. I had been there for only two days but it impressed me so much I contacted them about any job opportunities.

Turns out I was in luck, one of their apprentices was leaving for Sydney, so they had an opening. I arrived there with no idea what to expect, and was overjoyed with what I found. The owners of the hostel there make the experience worthwhile for every backpacker that comes through the doors. When you start working for, and with them, you really feel like you belong to their extended family. The food was tasty and mostly short-order. Some days were slow and boring, others we were run off our feet.

Caught in the act, taking a water break. Shane, one of the owners of the cafe, taking a rare life break to do some work 😉

I learned just how much I already knew, and also how much I still had to discover. I baked fresh goods for the display cabinet and learned how to roll sushi. I got (lovingly) bullied for using Canadian slang until I picked up some Aussie lingo. I was fifteen minutes late for work because I went surfing and nobody cared. Except for wishing they’d been out with me.

When I said goodbye to Yamba I left the cafe world behind, at least as an employee, for a few years. It wasn’t until I came home from traveling and desperately needed some work that Christie offered me some hours. Suddenly I was back, working with her and Alicia, listening to voices talking in my own accent around me. It was surreal, but a great time.

I would say that it was then that Christie and I became best friends.  So, when we heard an offer for a summer-long catering job, it was almost impossible to say no. The only sour note of Christie’s time there was the ending of her partnership. Sometimes even working with someone for three years doesn’t prepare you for when they turn on you. Despite that we went on to have an amazing summer doing our first job as the Kitchen Party Cafe. a summer that cemented my decision to stay in the hospitality business.  But that is another story…

Just the two of us, embarking on our new journey!

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