The most popular door leading into Board Stiff is the one that opens from Bent Spoon Café.
“We encourage people to carry coffees in,” says co-owner of Board Stiff, Craig Hougen.
“That reflects the idea of ‘come in, get a coffee, do the tour’,” adds his wife, the other co-owner, Mary-Jane Warshawski.
With 20,000 square feet of retail space for sporting goods spread out in Coast Mountain Sports, SportsLodge, Sportslife and Board Stiff, it is a big “tour” with lots of opportunity to browse.
Coffee and sporting goods: it is an idea the couple came up with in 1991 – even before Chapters put coffee bars in its bookstores – when they had a Coast Mountain Sports in Kitsilano.
“We had noticed a lot of our customers came in with coffees from Capers,” said Warshawski of the nearby organic-food store.
They never did put a coffee bar in their own store, but the new complex of sporting goods stores on Main Street, on the ground floor of the Hougen Centre, started to look like it would be a good idea for Whitehorse.
“When Zola’s [Café Doré] closed, it disappointed a lot of people,” says Warshawski. “Up to six weeks later, people still shook the door handles.”
And they noticed that sales dropped at Sportslife for a period of time.
“It is important,” says Hougen. “It’s a service to our customers. We need to do this, even if it just breaks even, we have to do it.
“But, we know that to offer good quality coffee, we can’t do it ourselves.”
They needed a partner.
“Hot, hot, hot,” yells out Jason Seguin, as he storms into Bent Spoon Café.
Only the baristas know, however, that Seguin is actually happy.
“I can feel the warmth coming right through the tray! These just came out of the oven!”
Seguin, the owner of Bent Spoon Café, had just been to Alpine Bakery where he picked up the fresh baked goods to sell to his customers that day.
“There are cinnamon buns in here,” he says to me. “They look soooo good.”
Quality food is in Seguin’s blood. His uncle started up the English Bay Gourmet Cookie Dough company, built on his grandmother’s recipe.
His father was a caterer and Seguin, himself, was a caterer while in university.
Here in Whitehorse, his love for good food was such that he built up the suspension on his van so that he could bring back even more rare foods from his trips to Edmonton and Vancouver.
“I go for organic when I can,” he says of his business today, after putting the baked goods safely away. “But I go for fine-tasting foods mostly.”
That’s why, he says, he buys Alpine Bakery bread for his sandwiches.
“Hey, you have to give credit where credit is due.”
That is why, too, he says, he buys his coffee from Bean North Coffee Roasting Company.
Craig Hougen walks to the shelving that contains an eclectic assortment of canned and bottled and bagged foods, lifts up a jar of Casa Rinaldi’s Tradizionale Sugo al Basilico and places it on the table between us: “This is just tomato paste,” he says. “But it tastes like no other tomato you can get up here.”
He walks back to the shelving and picks up a package of spaghetti noodles and brings them in for close inspection: “See the burrs, this pasta has a texture that holds the spaghetti sauce to it. You don’t need to add anything else to it. It’s the best.”
Warshawski gets my attention: “I’m laughing at how Craig can get so excited about Jason’s business.”
She pauses for a moment. “We have a lot of respect for his business.”
That, right there, is why this partnership between the sporting goods store owners and the coffee shop owner works: respect.
“The North Face jackets we sell are good quality and that is our reputation,” says Warshawski.
“Jason makes good coffee and that contributes to both of our reputations.”
“And,” Seguin contributes, “people who appreciate fine outdoor equipment also appreciate fine coffee.
Hougen and Warshawski says the partnership made perfect sense when they were convinced of Seguin’s experience and, “he has passion.”
Discussing the best way to prepare coffee at home, without expensive equipment, the idea of French presses was thrown out.
“We sell those,” says Warshawski.
“You should get those over here,” says Seguin.
“Like, as in gift baskets?” Warshawski asks, then, remembering we were actually in the middle of an interview, she apologizes: “We do this all the time.”
In the Bent Spoon Café, the business owners tend to reside in the right side of their brains.
“Isn’t that what a coffee shop does?” asks Warshawski.
Fortunately, a coffee shop embedded with sporting goods stores offers many possibilities for brainstorming sessions.
“Let’s say Jason comes up with an amazing muffin,” says Warshawski. “We could say, ‘Wow, this is an amazing muffin’ and then we’ll come up with five coupons for muffins for the first five customers.”
Warshawski remembers a recent afternoon when a 12-customer lineup suddenly appeared at Coast Mountain Sports. The customers could see they were doing the best they could, but extra service requires something extra: “I gave each of them a coffee card just for waiting. Their reaction was, ‘Wow!'”
But there must be at least one downside to the blending of coffee and sporting goods. How about customers spilling coffee on the products.
“When was the last time you spilled a coffee,” Hougen shrugs. “Adults don’t spill coffee.”
“Besides,” adds Warshawski, “our outdoor gear is washable.”
PHOTO: Rick Massie