Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Citizen Cafe & Bakery: Everyone is Included

Coffee shops are community gathering places and, as Saskatoon grows, it’s heartening to see new coffee shops opening their doors, inviting people to come in.

Nikita and Brittany Brown are sisters in law who started dreaming about opening a coffee shop together 7 years ago when they worked at PickNic’s. Later, both of them worked at Caffe Sola, and they say that the owner, Sarah, was a huge inspiration to them.

 So were their parents. Brittany’s father always said that he wanted to open a coffee shop, so Brittany feels that she has inherited and is following through on his dream. As a child, Nikita remembers going out to coffee shops with her mother. “I liked the atmosphere,” Nikita says, “and I wanted to make it my own.”

A place where everyone is included 
As Nikita and Brittany discussed their dream coffee shop, one key concept emerged. This would be a coffee shop that was accessible to everyone. In the end, the name would say it all. This was the Citizen Café & Bakery.

Nikita and Brittany were fortunate to find a large space to rent beside Dance Street on 23rd Street (across from Wall Street). There is a play area for children; a lounge area; a large table for group meetings; and a front area with tables, chairs and bench seating below the windows on the east and south sides of the building (Never fear! There is air conditioning and the windows are tinted). The coffee shop is wheelchair accessible with large washrooms and change tables for young families. There is even a small parking lot in front of the building. There is wifi and every table has an electrical outlet.

“We took everything we liked or had felt was missing in other coffee shops,” Nikita says.

A family affair 
Citizen Café’s building has seen many different occupants over the years, from a Rent a Wreck and a radiator shop to a dry cleaner’s and gym. Renovations were extensive, but fortunately Nikita and Brittany could count on their families for support. Nikita’s husband did all the carpentry; Brittany’s mother delivered the succulent centre pieces, and their grandmother helped sweep floors.

The bar, benches and some walls are lined with lovely aged wood. I was particularly taken by the black striped poplar benches. Nice work by Jacob Semko.

Vegan and gluten-free options 
The menu is as inclusive as the building. Brittany is the baker, and she says that there will be vegan and gluten-free options for all items.

Brittany herself is a vegetarian, and she wanted to make sure that the vegetarian/vegan sandwiches and paninis weren’t boring. They sound anything but, and I was getting hungry listening to Brittany and Nikita describe the different options. There will be a Panini with caramelized mushrooms and onions, aged cheddar and sun-dried tomato cream cheese; a Greek Panini that combines roasted and fresh vegetables for texture, drizzled with an almond-honey dressing; and a vegan sandwich with roasted sweet potato and red pepper, black bean spread, spinach, red onion, and cashew nut cheese.

Brittany is self trained with many different sources of inspiration. She baked with a friend’s grandmother in Germany and learned how to make yeast cakes, which she plans to serve in the mornings. “My friend’s grandmother gave me her cast-iron bundt pans, so the cakes have really crusty edges and are fluffy inside,” Brittany says. “They’re perfect for dipping into your coffee.”

The café will be sourcing its bread from Pleasant Hill Bakery, while Brittany and some of the other staff members who bake will be responsible for the baking. The focus will be on American-style baking – cupcakes, tarts, bars, and cakes.

Front of house 
Nikita will be responsible for front of house and says that the café will be open from 7 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday, and from 10 to 4 on Saturdays. Eventually they may expand into the evening, but not just yet.

There will be a simple menu featuring soups, salads and sandwiches. They plan to make as much as possible from scratch, including the sauces, spreads and dressings. They will be serving Bean North coffee from the Yukon and tea from the Social Coffee & Tea Company in Ontario.

The menu will emphasize local, seasonal ingredients. Brittany is looking forward to growing a garden with herbs, lettuce and tomatoes on the building’s flat roof.

Wholesale baking 
Citizen is truly a café and bakery. The facility has a large kitchen and pantry as well as basement storage, and Brittany hopes to eventually distribute her vegan and allergen-free baking to restaurants and coffee shops around the city.

Nikita and Brittany also hope to set up roof-top patio seating one day, and they plan to eventually obtain a liquor license and be open in the evenings.

Young entrepreneurs 
Brittany and Nikita are excited to be part of a wave of young entrepreneurs who are opening businesses in Saskatoon and making it their own. “I feel really privileged be opening up at such a great time for Saskatoon, especially in this area,” Brittany says. 

Citizen Café & Bakery
#18 – 23rd Street East Saskatoon, SK S7K 1N4

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