There’s a whole lot of local in Gather Café and Taphouse, a recent addition to Whitehorse’s burgeoning culinary and bar scene. The small, bright eatery is founded on local designers, artists, builders, caterers, brewers, roasters and farmers. Owner John Ferguson likes to give them all credit. First on the list are his in-laws, Luann (Lu) Baker Johnson and Mel Johnson. Ferguson is married to their daughter, Shanta, and Gather is attached to their business, Lumel Studios. Since it opened in 2016, Lumel has been a friendly presence on the Whitehorse waterfront tramline. The Johnsons have always wanted the glass-blowing studio to be a welcome space for everyone.
It’s no wonder that Gather, which extends from Lumel, is based on the same philosophy. The café is a cheerful, inviting space filled with colour, warmth and funky furnishings made with locally-sourced materials.
“Happiness is paramount, everyone is a friend,” Baker Johnson says. “We’re trying to keep the same feel in both spaces.”
The shared vibe is enhanced by the seamless connection between the two businesses. While I was there, Lumel customers flowed in and out, checking out the café and admiring the long, maple table made by Jason Patreau of Nature’s Workshop.
The name “Gather” is also closely connected with the glass studio. I assumed the name referred to the purpose of the place, which is to provide folks with a place to gather and to share a small meal and drinks. But Ferguson explained the term is used in glass-blowing to refer to the process of gathering molten glass from the furnace. Gather’s logo consists of a watercolour image of a yellow and blue glass furnace and the heat it emanates.
Another interpretation of “gather” is the effort to “gather all things local” under one roof, Ferguson says. He walks the walk and is wearing a Yukon Built trucker hat. The entire space reflects the ethics the family brings to Gather, including “artists supporting artists,” using reclaimed materials, being sustainable and tapping into local talent wherever possible. This includes the glasswork of Baker Johnson, her husband Mel, and the entire Lumel crew, who created Gather’s glassware, tableware and even tap handles for the craft beer. The pieces bring pops of colour to the space and add a special touch to the Gather drinking and dining experience.
The café and tap house was designed by Mary Ellen Read of Northern Front Studio. The main construction was completed by Carmichael Contracting. Ferguson says he and the family “did the amateur building ourselves this summer.” He describes the construction as a “fun family project” that took place amidst a pandemic, the building of a home and the birth of a new Ferguson baby (a sibling to their toddler).
The bar, which is a quirky patchwork of wood and corrugated tin, was made by Ferguson and his wife, Shanta. The bar countertop features wood from the Motorways building that once stood on the same location as Lumel and Gather. The wood was acquired from Rustic North, as was the pine used to make the flights for beer. The shelves for knick-knacks and glasses are made from fir from Dredge #10 in Dawson. The walls are adorned with images created by Erin Holmes of Den Designs.
“It’s a mix of home and a mix of rustic … as if someone built a home bar,” Ferguson says, attributing the eclectic style to the creative minds of his wife and mother-in-law. They wanted to create a space where people could feel “happy and at home.”
While visiting with Ferguson and Johnson, I also met Gather’s chef, Daniela Sibaja (also sporting Yukon Built, in the form of a hoodie). Originally from Costa Rica, Sibaja has worked in a few local cookeries including a stint at the Air North flight kitchen. She left the kitchen to work as a flight attendant for the airline, but she missed cooking. At Gather, Sibaja promises to bring Yukoners some unique culinary experiences based on her Costa Rican background as well as her travels to places such as Chile and Argentina.
Sibaja is using local ingredients, including greens from Cold Acre. Ferguson has given her full rein to do whatever she wants. Some of the tapas-style menu items she mentions are vegetarian spring rolls, a kale salad with Caesar vegan dressing made from cashews, and fried plantains. Although Ferguson describes the kitchen as small, to Sibaja it’s a dream come true.
“This is not small, this is amazing,” she says. “They’re giving me a chance to show what I can do.”
As fortunate as Sibaja feels to have landed at Gather, Ferguson and Baker Johnson are equally excited to have her in the kitchen.
“We’re really lucky to have [Sibaja] on board,” says Baker Johnson. “We couldn’t have found a better person to fit this environment and to understand the spirit of this place.”
Sibaja’s menu will be supplemented with assorted fare from local favourites such as Alligator Catering, Yukon Ice Cream, Landed Bakehouse and Cucina Berna. With Sibaja taking care of things in the kitchen, Ferguson is tending bar. He worked for several years at one of Calgary’s top craft beer establishments and has a lot of knowledge when it comes to craft brews and cocktails. He has many friends in the local craft beer industry and is featuring products from Deep Dark Wood, Winterlong, Yukon Brewing and Solstice Ciderworks.
For folks who prefer wine, Yukon Wines are available. Ferguson also mixes cocktails with ingredients (including syrups) he’s made himself. Non-alcoholic options include Summit Kombucha and mocktails that Ferguson developed and tested on Shanta when she was pregnant. For coffee drinkers, there’s an espresso bar featuring beans from Firebean Coffee Roasters. Ferguson is keen to provide personal service behind the bar so that people feel at home. He also wants to celebrate and showcase Yukon food and drink.
“It’s really important for me to show people what this territory has to offer because it’s really amazing,” Ferguson says. “I think our culinary scene is up there with a lot of big cities right now and it’s going to grow.”
Gather Café and Taphouse and Lumel Studios are located on Keish Avenue near the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. Look for the cheerful blue and yellow corrugated steel building with a glass sun shining on the patio.