It’s been a little while and, I have to admit, I’ve had my first ever writer’s block.
It wasn’t so much WHAT to say, because heaven knows, I can talk about coffee ’til I’m purple. It was more HOW to say what I needed to say; so bear with me, while I mumble, stumble and bump my way through this one.
Since beginning this column, I’ve had lots of people say they love to read it and learn about coffee, etc. When I go on a rant, as in my last missive, the comment I get is, “My, you were a bit grumpy …” This is where I got stuck.
From the 20+ years I have been in and around the coffee industry, my brain is filled with all these great tips, treats and tricks about one of the best-loved plants on this planet. However this plant, like us, does not exist in isolation. There is a myriad of factors that affect its daily survival, some of them are unpleasant to think about.
Before my analogy gets too far out there, let me bring it home. If you were hoping to be spoon-fed information about how to make coffee, there are plenty of sites on the Internet. If you want to read a Pollyanna column where everything is nice and nothing is controversial or unpleasant, read a Family Circus cartoon.
When I got into the coffee business in Whitehorse, my intent was not only to build a business based on the best quality coffee, but also to build one of the things that go with coffee best: community.
It goes back to the history of the coffee house and its roots in being a gathering place for community.
Coffee is intricately tied to the arts, in history and present day and the artist in me found a space to hold for other artistic people during the growth of the Midnight Sun Coffee Roastery on Black Street and the building of Zola’s Café Doré in the Hougen Centre.
In the creation of those places, one of the special things I have been most proud to represent is the bridge between business and the arts.
Business has always been a patron to the arts; from commissioning a painting by Rembrandt of some businessman, to large corporations like Northwestel partnering with Arts presenters, to small businesses donating their time, space and money.
Every single time that money has supported arts, it has been a personal decision to spend money out of pocket. Whether it is motivated by philanthropy, vanity or tax breaks, it is always a choice to make beauty over money.
What on earth does that have to do with me, you ask? Without a reliable patronage of customers, most businesses do not have the money to spend on beauty.
“Ah Ha,” you say. “But they cost more than the chain store down the street! They are just price gouging and I need to save money!”
Is it possible to price match a store with the cost advantages of centralized production and distribution? You bet! And most stores will have to in order to survive.
But because the independent pays more to produce what you are buying, the profit margins are smaller and, guess what? That’s right! There is less money to donate within the community.
And no business can survive on no profit, so the more pieces (ie, customer base) the pie (ie, cafés in Whitehorse) gets divided up, the smaller they get and, eventually, everyone starves except those that have a centralized cache of goodies.
So the next time you are exercising your right to buy, think about whether or not it matters to you that we have independent businesses willing to invest in the community?
Or do we want a deal now and are willing to end up in a culture of franchises such as Wal-Marts and Starbucks with no choice, no arts, no one to write columns about coffee tips, just a few quarters in your pocket that will get you out of plastic-town for a break (you’re gonna need it).
Oh, and by the way, I’m not grumpy, just really … real.
Some days are better than others.
Zola Doré is the owner/roaster of Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters in Whitehorse. Comments and questions about coffee are welcome. Or you and your friends can join her in a coffee-tasting session. Find out more at www.yukoncoffee.com.