I catch Heike Graf between the lunch rush hour at the Caribou Crossing Coffee and picking up her five year old daughter from school.
“It was busy today,” Graf, the owner of the coffee shop in Carcross, says while wiping the counter and putting a tray of fresh pizza on the display. The smell of warm cheese and basil fills the air.
It is early May and the tourist season hasn’t started yet, but her business is doing pretty well, she tells me.
“The café has become a place for locals. That was what I always wanted,” Graf says. “And kids always get something special when they come in.”
The single mom opened her business in 2012.
“When I was pregnant, I thought about all the moms in Vancouver getting a coffee while pulling a stroller and going for a walk. But in the remote area where I lived, there was no coffee shop. I dreamed of a place where young mothers could meet and drink coffee,” she tells me.
Back in 2010 she was asked by Whitehorse architect Antonio Zedda if she could imagine herself running a coffee shop in Carcross. And she could.
“You need a certain kind of stubbornness for this business and also persistence,” she says.
However, it was her mom who was her inspiration for creating a space where people feel at home.
“I learned the love for hospitality, for baking and good coffee from her.”
Graf, originally from Germany, came to the Yukon 10 years ago as a visitor and stayed to work in the tourist industry.
But she always loved food. She discovered a passion for food in Italy. Graf spent the summers of her childhood in there, surrounded by the Italian approach to eating and coffee.
“I care about good coffee a lot. The espresso has to be perfect. It is a coffee shop, so the first thing I care about is excellent coffee.”
That is what she trains her six baristas in the first place: how to make a good cup of coffee. She guides her team to judge the espresso as it is being made.
“We watch the coffee, how it runs out of the espresso machine.”
The crew is international: they come from Mexico, Italy, Germany and the Yukon. Everything in the coffee shop is homemade, from the cupcakes to the pizza. She has even started to bake bread. Her signature creation is the German Style Apple Pie.
“It is a recipe from my mother,” Graf says. “My mom helped me a lot. She was here many times to help me with my daughter Suna and the business. Without my mother I would have never been so successful.”
In the summer she is busy serving tourists.
“The challenge was to make a business when there are no tourists. It took some time, but now she is proud to be part of the community. And just as she dreamed it, young mothers gather at her café to drink coffee and chat.