Stopgap Coffee has set up shop in the John T. Ross Residence, a historic home in the Oliver neighbourhood that gives the café's owners a chance to "nestle within a community."
Caleb and Stephanie Kan had dreamed of opening a coffee shop for seven years, but it never seemed like the right time. The pandemic helped the duo slow down and prioritize creating a spot where people could gather.
"Over the years it's changed and evolved and really shaped itself into opening a coffee shop to engage with community, to connect with people, and for people to connect with each other," said Caleb, who used to work at Brown Butter Café. "Coffee is a meeting point."
The one-and-a-half-storey brick residence at 111 Street and 97 Avenue was built around 1909 and designated as a municipal historic resource in 2007. It was smaller than many of its neighbours, but "still designed to reflect the wealth of the neighbourhood," says the Alberta Register of Historic Places.
The building was temporarily moved onto the street in 2014 by Edgar Development to make way for the Hendrix building. Along the way, the 113-year-old structure was refinished and returned to its former glory.
The Kans were initially hoping to buy the house when its previous owner put it up for sale, Caleb said, but it was snapped up by a local business. So when an opportunity to lease the first floor came up, they knew they couldn't say no.
"It's pretty cool to be part of the history of this house. I think that's really a draw to being here, but also to meet the community around it and to hear their stories," he said.
Visitors can walk around the main floor to check out the residence and some of the elements that have been preserved. In the coffee shop, the Kans aimed to honour the home's original character.
"We really just wanted to make it feel like someone's coming into our living room, so that's how we designed the place — to make it homey and cozy," Caleb said.
There's a lot to be said for starting a business in a historic home, but it has its challenges, said Sarah Melli. While the Stopgap Coffee owners didn't take on the restoration of the John T. Ross Residence themselves, Melli and her partner bought and restored the Barto Residence to house a brick-and-mortar location for Vintage Fork.
She had hoped to open in May, but there's still work to be done on the house, so she's now shooting for the fall.
"As much as we thought it would be easy ... things are never as easy as you think," she told Taproot.
Melli is chronicling the development of Vintage Fork's new home in an email series called The Barto Residence – Spilling the Tea. In the first instalment, she writes about the risks and rewards of buying a historic house instead of leasing commercial real estate for a restaurant.
The trick is to buy a house that is part of the city's inventory of historic resources but not yet designated for protection. You can then apply for the designation, which brings with it custom rezoning, Melli said.
"If your proposal doesn't pass, now you're probably just stuck with a nightmare of a house that you can't possibly afford to fix or do anything with," she wrote. "But if your proposal passes and your house gets to become designated, you're sitting on a golden opportunity. And a mountain of work ahead of you, with many other hurdles ahead."
Still, she's happy that her risk is working out, albeit with a few delays. "We're fortunate that city council seems to be prioritizing this kind of thing for revitalization of neighbourhoods," she said.
"For my partner and I, we had no regrets whatsoever, but we kind of, sort of knew what we were getting into."
In the meantime, she's continuing to run Vintage Fork's online tea shop and building community around her idea. On April 26, she's hosting Enhance: Uplift your life with tea & creativity, an event at the Parkdale/Cromdale Community Hall. And she's looking for volunteers to help her design the garden at the Barto Residence.