Stella rises in the dark pre-dawn, goes downstairs from her cozy apartment above the shop and mixes up muffins and scones in the small, gleaming kitchen. She brews herself a single shot Americano (espresso and hot water) and sits down to read the newspaper while she waits for the baking to be done; Stella likes to be up on the topics of the day, and several of her regular customers have come to expect some kind of opinion from her. At 6:45 she grinds the coffee beans and presses the start button for the strong, medium-roasted brews preferred by her 7:00 a.m. regulars. She sets out the thermal urns of cream and milk on the glass-topped antique dresser, refills the sugar boxes and makes sure the counters and tabletops are spotless. At exactly 7:00 she unlocks the door and turns on the front lights to invite the early risers in, greeting each one by name – if she knows it.
Artwork and photographs – no mass produced commercial coffee kitsch here – hang on the walls of Stella’s. Instead of local radio, she plays CD’s carefully chosen for their background quality, so they are mainly collections of quiet jazz and folk, and some classical guitar and piano. Stella’s has a small raised area surrounded by windows with a view of the street, usually set with two small tables for two, and where, once a week she stays open late and invites a musician to give a concert. Stella’s is not a big shop, and is one of three businesses occupying a building old enough to have twelve foot ceilings and deep-silled windows. The tables are close together and there is only one area with deep armchairs gathered around a small table set out with newspapers, good quality magazines, and a few large books purchased from the second hand bookshop next door and with titles like Great Russian Architecture – interesting to look at but too heavy and big to ‘borrow.’ Stella’s is a cozy place and the locals seem to like it.
Two employees, Savannah and Kevin come in at 9 a.m. to help Stella prepare for the lunch rush – her soups and grilled sandwiches are legend. In the afternoons Stella offers a selection of cakes made by a local home bakery – banana, carrot, deep chocolate – and besides coffee there is a selection of teas, including African Honeybush, a favourite of hers and of several of her female customers. At 4:00 p.m. Stella bids farewell to the last of her clientele, flips the open sign to closed, and locks the door while she and her employees debrief in a friendly way about the day’s customers. With Savannah and Kevin’s help she cleans the coffee machines, the counters, floors and the kitchen surfaces. Finally, Stella lets her employees out and closes the shop, climbs the stairs to her apartment, lets out a sigh of satisfaction and puts her feet up.
A word from Rebecca: Stella’s is sort of a distilled version of all the coffee shops I have frequented over the last 40 years, from the lunch counter at Woolworth’s with it’s chrome and vinyl stools where I sat drinking juice with my mother, to the Snowdrift Cafe in Kimberley, British Columbia where I took my little boys for hot chocolate and the huge, delicious, soft oatmeal cookies (made by the cafe owners’ Italian mother) with the Grappa soaked raisin pressed into the middle.
I have always loved coffee shops. When I was 20 I had a job at Stanley Baker’s cafe in my hometown. When I met my husband while attending UBC in Vancouver, we frequented several: The Bread Garden and Benny’s Bagels in the Kitsilano area where he lived at the time, Cheesecake etc. downtown, and various authentic Italian places in the East side where I lived with my sister and her husband. When my husband and I moved to Eastern British Columbia I looked for and soon found a place in Cranbrook with good coffee, company and conversation.
When my husband was transferred to Courtenay on Vancouver Island I frequented a place no longer in business called Edible Island, with organic everything and salads paid for by weight. My husband and I tried to raise our four children well enough so they could at least behave decently in a coffee shop. So far, both our grown-up boys have trained as baristas, so that says something about that.
Where I live now I generally gather once a week to sort out the problems of the world (and to laugh at ourselves in our attempt) with a group of local characters at a converted century old house with a garden and a fish pond by the outdoor patio. The coffee here is not the best, but the selection of teas is excellent and served in large, thin white cups and saucers, and the lemon scones are good…but not quite as good as Stella’s.
I have often fantasized about owning a coffee shop, but for practical reasons as well as financial ones, I never have. Stella’s Virtual Cafe is an idea which occurred to me one day when I was making dinner. I talked it over with my daughter, Emma, who came on board immediately as the photographer/website designer, so now we are open for business! We plan to provide recipes for you to try in your own ‘cafe’, share amusing stories about our fictional clientele, and just give our readers a warm and welcoming place to visit. We hope you enjoy Stella’s and become one of her cherished regulars!
Rebecca and Emma