Wednesday, July 27, 2011

City Perks Coffee Shop

Coralee Abbot and Mike Dahlen took possession of the City Perks coffee shop (two blocks north of City Hospital) in March 2007.

“We started it on a whim,” explains Coralee. “I love to entertain, so why not?” It has become hugely successful. The outdoor patio is a drawing card in the summer, and the freshly-baked food is a treat all year round.

Getting started
The first task was to upgrade the facility with new plumbing, new electrical and new furnishings. Once they opened their doors, Mike and Coralee learned very quickly that your business plan has to evolve in response to what the customers want.

“There were only three of us working at the beginning, and we got slammed,” says Coralee. “We hadn’t expected to serve lunch, but customers were looking for a lunch menu.” They stopped opening in the evenings and focussed on building up their morning and lunchtime traffic.

Responding to customers
Customers have continued to shape the coffee shop. Quiche and salad were on the menu from the start, but Coralee didn’t anticipate quiche being so popular. She’s now developed a repertoire of 32 different quiche recipes to keep it interesting.

The repertoire of muffins, cakes, scones, cheesecake and other delicious baked goodies is constantly changing. Coralee enjoys trying out new recipes and bakes something different every day, but certain recipes are so popular that Coralee has to keep making them or face very disappointed customers.

“People get so upset when the carrot cake isn’t available,” she says. “So I make it frequently, but I change it up with different types of icing – cinnamon cream cheese or white chocolate.” Another perennial favourite is banana torte with dulce de leche filling and peanut butter frosting.

“Our first baby”
Coralee and her husband Mike are both actively involved in running City Perks and refer to it as their “first baby.’ “It can be one or two in the morning, and Mike will be doing the books while I’m finishing a pie,” says Coralee. “But we always make time for fun and our boys.”

Coralee started out trying to do everything herself. It didn’t seem right to ask other people to do something if she wasn’t also doing it herself. But she is learning to share responsibility. The coffee shop is open on Sundays and holidays, but Coralee doesn’t have to be there. She can be at home spending time with her family.

Marilyn Dahlen, Mike’s mother, has been a key player from Day One. She’s on hand from Monday to Friday, does lots of baking, and has been instrumental in shaping the coffee shop.

Two years ago, Mike started up his own landscaping and excavating business (Raucous Excavating, 260-8500). It took off faster than they expected, so he has less time to spend at City Perks during the summer. But he’s still busy behind the scenes with grocery shopping, errands and bookkeeping, and he’ll be at the restaurant more often come winter.

“An amazing group of young people”
Coralee believes that choosing the right staff is extremely important and is delighted with her current group of 15.

She looks for passionate, creative people who will care about the food, interact with the customers, and give her feedback and ideas. “They can’t be too shy – they have to be outgoing,” she explains, “so I ask them whether they perform or check to see if they have a tattoo. I also ask them what they like to eat. I wouldn’t hire a burger and fries person.”

Coralee grew up in Herschel near Rosetown. Her first job was as an apprentice baker in Grande Prairie, and she soon became the pastry chef.

When City Perks first opened, Coralee and Marilyn were doing all the baking. Responsibility is slowly shifting. Tiffany is a professional cook, so she’s taking on more responsibility, while Katelyn and Nicole lend a hand with just about everything.

Small quantities of fresh food
City Perks has a very small kitchen and limited storage space, so they buy food in small quantities on a regular basis. And Coralee prides herself on only serving fresh food. She’s even reluctant to serve quiches that are left over from lunch to evening customers.

“It’s the scariest but most flattering thing ever when we run out of food,” she says.

When City Perks first opened, the choice of soups and sandwiches changed on a daily basis. But most people don’t come in more than once a week, so they now have a weekly menu with two soups (one is always vegetarian), five sandwiches and quiche with salad.

There are fresh muffins, scones, coffee cake and loaves on hand every day for the morning crowd. Or you can have a bowl of Coralee’s hearty oatmeal. “It’s chunk full of everything,” she says, “from goji berries and dried fruit, to flax hemp, coconut and nuts.”

There were four regular muffins at first; now there are eight tried and true recipes. “Thank goodness it’s not me making them,” says Coralee, “as I get tired of making the same thing.”

Future plans
City Perks is now open in the evening, and Coralee is planning to introduce some evening meals by winter. There will be chilli, soups and stews – comfort food for the cold weather. Coralee is also planning to introduce more vegetarian options, with different grains, such as quinoa.

In the future, they would like to be able to offer specialty ales and wines.

Coralee and Mike may have opened City Perks on a whim, but nowadays they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. “I get such a charge from coming in and hearing the buzz and the chatter,” says Coralee. “It feels so alive.”

City Perks is located at 801 7th Avenue North, and you can follow their daily specials on Facebook. The coffee shop is open Monday to Friday from 7 am to 10 pm, Saturdays from 8 am to 10 pm, and Sundays from 9 am to 5 pm.

1 comment:

michelle zimmer said...

Great story, Penny! I have only been in once for a coffee. I need to get back there again, soon!