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Mark Rendell

Restaurant Roundup: Coffee Options Widen, Food Truck Season Approaches

Two new cafes set to open in downtown YK, while Javaroma goes on a food truck offensive

By now, you’ve probably noticed the chalkboard-style Fat Fox signs on the side of the old Gold Range Diner.  But with the café scheduled to open later next month, I’m sure you, like the rest of us, are wondering what’s shaping up behind the wooden blinds covering the windows.

EDGE managed to get a sneak peak inside the venerable old building. It looks pretty darn good.

Gone are the low ceilings, the booths and the old-grease miasma that pervaded the diner. Instead, they've constructed a stylish mélange of homemade tables crafted out of salvaged wood, bookshelves, comfy couches, an impressive wooden bar and a homey mix of chairs and lamps from the diverse emporium known as YK Trader. The decoration is eclectic, a little rough around the edges but built with fine craftsmanship and attention to detail.

“Everything in here is made from reclaimed wood,” says owner Jeremy Flatt.

In other words, it’s shaping up to be a bohemian-chic place for YK’s young and creative to kick back with a coffee and a book, meet a friend for a board game or see some live music. Although it looks very different from the diner, it has maintained some of the quirk, character and YK history – slanting floors, for one thing – that made the old diner a unique spot. 

The people behind the Fat Fox – Flatt, volunteering friends and employees – have put a lot of thought and sweat equity into creating a much-needed "third space" – not home, not work, but still thoroughly comfortable – in the heart of the city's downtown. If it works, it will be a considerable, entrepreneurial, rebuke to the 50/50 lot across the street.

We can’t report yet on the food situation; they’re ordering the first batch of ingredients soon and are still waiting on cutlery and dishes. All the main appliances in the kitchen, though, are hooked up and ready to go, says Flatt.

The Fat Fox’s unofficial kick-off will be on April 15th, when they’re hosting a private party for It Gets Better Yellowknife. Flatt hopes to have the café open to the public the following week.

 Birchwood Coffee Company

The Fat Fox isn’t the only locale trying to kick-start a trendy coffee scene in Yellowknife. One block over on 49 St., a new café called Birchwood Coffee Company will be opening in the old Stantec building, beside the Kilt and Castle.

The Aboriginal-owned coffee shop is still months away from opening its doors, but father-daughter duo Jawah Bercier and Patrick Scott have taken over the lease, emptied out the space and are preparing for renovations. In the YK mode du jour, they’re aiming for “a rustic vibe,” says Bercier. “All of our tables are going to be made of birchwood.”

Seating will be a mix of “comfortable chairs as well as high chairs, and regular tables,” and on the victuals side they’ll be serving things like “Bannock & Eggers” and crepe specials, says Bercier. They’re buying an espresso machine and are hoping to focus on quality coffee, with beans shipped up from Vancouver’s JJ Bean.

It’s Bercier’s first café, although she’s worked in the coffee business for eight or nine years in Yellowknife and Vancouver. What about Poppa Scott? “This is a new thing for him. He’s calling it his retirement project.”

Javaroma vs Food Trucks

Meanwhile, on the established end of YK’s coffee spectrum, coffee institution Javaroma is once again gearing up for battle with Yellowknife’s food trucks.

Since 2012, co-owner Rami Kassem has been asking City Hall to regulate where and when food trucks can park, so they don't take customers away from his business. A compromise was struck last year, with the City prohibiting food truck parking on the block of 52nd Street, and limiting the number of food trucks along Franklin Ave to one per block.

“2015 was the best year for us business-wise. Regulating food trucks as one per block increased our sales by more than 10 percent compared to 2014,” Kassem told City Council during a presentation Tuesday evening.

This year however, the City updated its regulations (they’re reviewed by staff every year) to remove the one-food-truck-per-block limit and the prohibitions around Javaroma.

Kassem, for his part, isn’t pleased: “If the city wants us to sell our businesses and move from here, we will do it. We have no future here, or we will sell our businesses and make food trucks ... [or] park our cars [where the food trucks usually park] and raise our voice in a different way.”

As he explained: “If any food vendor opens a restaurant anywhere beside Javaroma and pays rent, taxes, water, employees, he’s very welcome and it’s fair competition. Then we have no say and we won’t complain.”

From City admin’s perspective, it was unfair to continue giving special treatment to Javaroma, and not to other brick-and-mortar restaurants downtown. “In 2016 we wanted to ensure everyone was treated fairly and equitably,” explains Nalini Naidoo, the City’s director of Communications and Economic Development.  

Either way, the new regulations may yet change. The prospect of allowing as many food trucks per block as there are parking meters caused some concern amongst councillors, and they asked to discuss the issue again at an upcoming meeting.

With two other coffee options opening downtown, however, competition from food trucks may prove be the least of Javaroma’s concerns.