When Gonzales Coffee owner Doug Pelton and manager Sam Benson opened last November at a former Starbucks, they hoped to satisfy the frequent need for a coffee shop in Fairfield Plaza.
After Starbucks closed its doors in early 2020 during the COVID-19 business slowdown, Pelton – founder of both Keating Pizza (1989) and Priologic Software Inc. (2003) – decided to unite with Benson, a former Cafe Fantastico employee.
“The biggest sentiment we’ve had from customers is [probably] ‘thank goodness you guys have opened up and replaced Starbucks, the plaza needed a coffee shop,’” Benson said.
“Starbucks left a huge hole in where people meet in the community,” said Pelton, adding the next closest commercial areas are Cook Street Village and Oak Bay Avenue. He said the community and outdoor aspects of the plaza attracted him.
“One of the things that I think we benefited from during the [pandemic] was having a pile of experienced people lying around that needed jobs and needed something positive to spend their time doing,” said Benson.
“It was pretty cool to see (them) come out of their shells after being in lockdown for a while and get to start doing something that was rewarding.”
Gonzales Coffee makes its own muffins in store using extra butter and offers a gluten-free apple spice option for those with dietary restrictions. It partners with Drumroaster Coffee, whose beans Benson described as more “exotic” because of the roastery’s remote location in Cobble Hill, sells Island Farms ice cream and gives treats to dog owners. Customers may encounter resident crow Edgar or neighbourhood peacock Walter while visiting.
Benson noted that many plaza goers and employees still do not know about Gonzales Coffee, but said they have established good relationships already with operators and staff of adjacent businesses in the plaza.
Despite the anticipated challenges of COVID-19, Benson said they’ve managed to grow the business and that maintaining safety protocols has been considerably easy for such a small store. He also stressed how appreciative staff were toward how well Pelton has treated them.
Benson hoped to hire more staff and increase product variety and store hours as the pandemic subsides. Pelton noted that, during the store’s complete redesign phase, future customers would slip notes under the door asking them to open as early as 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.
“If people want to be made to feel special and included and accepted by the staff that they’re interacting with, this is the place for them,” Benson said.
For more information and store hours, visit facebook.com/gonzalescoffee/.
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