Jim Townley, president of Fresh Cup Roastery Cafe in Central Saanich, has faith — faith in the return of the coffee house culture he has helped foster since opening his business over two decades ago.
“We like meeting friends for coffee,” he said, sitting at a table made from wood collected in Port Renfrew. “It’s almost like you give yourself permission to just relax for a couple of hours.”
Having coffee, he said, is not just about consuming a hot, stimulating beverage. “It’s about communication.”
The COVID-19 pandemic radically altered this and Townley expects that it will take some time for individuals to re-discover the joys of sharing the same mental and physical space with others over a cup of java.
But he has already seen evidence of this re-emerging culture. In fact, he has already bet on it by investing some $80,000 into renovating his Central Saanich location in the 1900-block of Mount Newton Cross Road in the heart of Saanichton.
The business also operates two more locations on the Lower Mainland.
One of Central Saanich’s historic hubs, the area finds itself in the midst of a transformation toward greater density and commercial activity and Townley’s significant investment is the latest evolution in the business’ history that started 22 years ago.
“For us, the story was more complex,” he said. “It wasn’t just about delivering a fresher cup of coffee. It was also looking at the sustainability of roasting.”
The latest evolution has seen the business expand into space previously occupied by a neighbouring chiropractor, who moved her business into her own home. This has allowed Fresh Cup to create two things: a more spacious seating space for customers and to expand its coffee and food production spaces.
Townley also plans to re-introduce live music, among other events, and re-open the location at Victoria International Airport, which was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic soon after opening.
While rather specific, Townley’s story also speaks to larger issues facing the hospitality industry emerging into a post-pandemic world.
For one, Townley made his decision to expand late last year when British Columbia was experiencing yet another major wave, prior to the loosening of the restrictions. In other words, Townley made a major bet without having all of the necessary information, a process par for the course for countless entrepreneurs around the province.
“There was a lot of anxiety,” he said. “The renovation was far more money than we thought it would be.”
Assisted by provincial recovery money, Townley closed the shop for a month in January to undertake the renovations.
Like so many other entrepreneurs, Townley found the task of tracking down trades was far from easy (not to mention expensive) and many of the renovations were of the do-it-yourself variety with staff lending hands along the way.
“They really saw the upside value of pitching in and helping,” he said. “All of the staff at some level were involved. It was a true team effort … Staff is your biggest asset.”
Townley, who advocates for a living wage, is also worried about the availability of affordable housing, a familiar barrier to finding more staff. That, along with the rising costs of transportation and resources causing an “inflationary storm” that is limiting household budgets, has him wondering how the hospitality industry will evolve.
“It’s going to be important for consumers to re-adjust their understanding of what the price of a cup of coffee is,” he said. “The question is, if you are not a business that sells a product that is frequently consumed, how are you going to survive?”
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