There was a time when coffee aficionados lamented the presence of coffee chain giant Starbucks on seemingly every other block. But, in early 2021, news surfaced that Starbucks would be closing up to 300 locations in Canada while focusing on drive-through locations and delivery in response to pandemic challenges. Some Edmontonians found themselves nostalgic over the closures of favourite Starbucks locations, though many saw this as an opportunity to redirect business to local coffee shops — including many new locations that opened during the pandemic.
After more than five years exploring his interest in coffee, Levi Wolthuis finally opened Candid Coffee Roasters in June 2021. While the start of the pandemic caused him to temporarily pause thinking about opening his own roastery and cafe, by October of 2020 Levi and Rachel, his wife and business partner, realized there was never going to be a perfect time to pursue his passion. “We didn’t want to put our life on hold,” Rachel says. “We figured that coffee can bring people together even in the worst of times.”
The two selected a location on 75th Street south of Argyll Road in order to be able to afford a large enough space where they could house both a roastery and cafe. “We are in an odd location, but we have our morning regulars of people who work in the area or commute to work,” Levi says. Though the industrial area is best suited to driving, Levi and Rachel didn’t want to follow in Starbucks’ footsteps and cater to pick-up only customers. Instead, they created a welcoming cafe space with a second-floor loft that resembles a cozy living room, and serve their own blends of in-house roasted coffee and espresso. “It’s clear that Starbucks is making a transition from being a true cafe where people meet and congregate to being a fast, efficient place to get coffee,” Levi says.
“We are going for slow pours, relationships with our customers, and encouraging people to stay awhile,” Rachel says. “We are doing what they are getting rid of.”
Having a cafe space for people to gather is also integral to co-owner Brandy Brozny’s vision for Square 1 Coffee. “A huge part of the cafe experience is being able to sit and enjoy your coffee,” Brozny says. When an opportunity came up to open a second location in the new West Block development in Glenora, Brozny and her husband and business partner, Jonathon, were thrilled to expand their business into the neighbourhood. “We get asked a lot to open more locations, and Glenora has a really strong community vibe, very similar to what we have at the Aspen Gardens location.”
With changing health restrictions in mind, Brozny decided to furnish the Glenora location with only five tables instead of 14 — and has operated with this reduced seating capacity since opening in July 2020. While the Aspen Gardens location once served drinks in ceramic mugs for those dining in, both locations now use single-use paper cups only. These necessary changes haven’t affected Brozny’s perspective of Square 1 as a community space or contributor to the local coffee community.
“What Starbucks does really well is give customers a consistent experience — no matter where in the world you go, you’ll have the same drink in a familiar space,” Brozny says. “But the support for local coffee shops and craft coffee shows that people don’t need cookie-cutter spaces or the exact same drink every time, they just need their coffee and their experience to be consistently good. If you go to Transcend or to Credo or to our place it’s not going to be exactly the same, but your drink will be really well crafted and intentional. I’m thankful people have discovered and supported that.”
The owners of Woodrack Café, Kristy Arnholtz and Melissa Campbell, opened two new locations, in Kingsway Mall and in Old Strathcona, during the pandemic. After having to vacate the space they shared with Lyon restaurant when it closed, they wanted to keep their flagship location in Old Strathcona. “We didn’t want to have to move far and lose the community we had formed in this area,” Arnholtz says. “When we started looking for a new building, this space in the Old Dominion Building just felt right.” Though there have been a number of Starbucks closures in the neighbourhood — including one inside the now-also-closed Chapters and one on the corner of 104th Street and Whyte Avenue — Arnholtz saw the closures as a “huge opportunity for local coffee shops to thrive, and to broaden people’s horizons and help them discover really good local places.”
Arnholtz and Campbell also launched a Moon Phase coffee line, and an ecommerce store to cater to the at-home coffee crowd. When actress Katherine Heigl received a bag of the coffee as a gift and posted about it on Instagram, the team quickly expanded the ecommerce store to offer shipping to the United States. “We were so excited, and we had a lot of people asking us how to buy our coffee.”
A new Starbucks location recently opened across from Candid — but Levi and Rachel aren’t worried. “We see our stores as two different things,” Levi says. “There are people who prefer to support local and who are looking for more of an experience with unique and exciting coffees, and that’s what they’ll find at a local cafe.”
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This article appears in the March 2022 issue of Edify