Six years ago, Jessica McCarrel made her dream a reality and opened a small — very small — coffee shop in a 25-foot storage closet in the Beltline. Although tucked away, she aspired to cultivate a safe space that inspired social connection and societal change.
Fast forward and Kaffeeklatsch eventually outgrew its humble beginnings and has transformed into a vibrant social cafe on 1st Street. McCarrel took over the space that many may know as the ‘Bamboo Lounge’ of the former Drum ’n’ Monkey.
Although opening the new shop in the midst of the pandemic, she hasn’t let it slow her down. “In the cafe’s first year, I curated art, cultivated community, and collected accolades; all while navigating the uncertain and unpredictable aspects of opening a business during the pandemic. When the crisis has finally passed, or poses less of a threat, I intend to do much more,” McCarrel tells us — and we don’t doubt it.
We sat down with McCarrel to learn what inspired the name ‘Kaffeeklatsch’ and how she’s cultivating a special and inclusive community surrounded by coffee culture and art in Calgary.
What’s the story behind ‘Kaffeeklatsch?’
McCarrel: A ‘Kaffeeklatsch’ is a meeting between friends to exchange gossip over coffee. The term allegedly originated sometime around the 1900s, when German women would gather to drink coffee, eat cake, and chat.
Taking inspiration from this remarkable word, I created Kaffeeklatsch: a place where both the coffee and the conversation matter.
How did you get started?
McCarrel: I started Kaffeeklatsch in a 25-foot storage closet. In the six years since, I have grown it into a vibrant Beltline cafe that prioritizes community.
We’re dedicated to wonderful food and drink, but are also an art gallery, a music venue, a creative and collaborative space, and—most importantly—a place for all members of the public.
Kaffeeklatsch’s praxis of acceptance embodies my philosophy that a cafe can inspire social connections, which in turn can spark societal change.
Why did you choose the Beltline as your home for Kaffeeklatsch?
McCarrel: In the summer of 2020, we found the perfect additional home for a Kaffeeklatsch. A space located just a few blocks away from where I started back in 2014. This place, 1205 1st SW, has a rich history in the social fabric of Calgary. Prior to being occupied by its current owner, Tokyo Smoke, it was the Bamboo Lounge space of the Drum ’n’ Monkey.
This small stretch of street is overflowing with the history of Calgary’s nightlife, as well as having played a prominent role in its music and art scenes. In the 1980s, the northern tip of this street formed part of Electric Avenue, the most notorious stretch of nightclubs in Canada at that point in time. At the south end of the block, the huge Castle Pub sat throughout the 1990s and early 2000s like a foundation, carrying the weight of the numerous clubs on the strip, places like Venom and the Night Gallery.
It is in this neighbourhood, with its exciting cultural history and amazing small businesses, that Kaffeeklatsch can build a place for the community I know and live in.
How have you fared during the pandemic?
McCarrel: This year has surely seen some ups and downs for all of us. With the pandemic stretching on like a marathon and our memories tempting us with ruminations of life pre and before to loss and grief. It’s been tough emotionally, but professionally, this pandemic has been a gift. The lower rent and CERBA loan offered Kaffeeklatsch the financial ability to sign a lease on a storefront space allowing us to build and support communities in the way that we had previously dreamt of but hadn’t had the resources to achieve.
We began operating our Storefront space last November, right before the first provincial restrictions which began December 12. In the cafe’s first year, I curated art, cultivated community, and collected accolades; all while navigating the uncertain and unpredictable aspects of opening a business during the pandemic. When the crisis has finally passed, or poses less of a threat, I intend to do much more.
What makes your community special and how have they supported you?
McCarrel: Our community is special because they are diverse, intersectional, passionate groups of people who honour and support safe spaces, community-building, volunteering (Kontroller Klub is volunteer-based for example), and are truly talented and fascinating humans.
Our Cafe would not have been possible without the support and passion of our community. The Pansy Club, High Queerdness Lending Library, and the community pantry out front are all manifestations of this.
In your own words, how do you define ‘community?’
McCarrel: A common definition of community emerges as a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action.
I like to think of it as an enduring social capacity and practice with human togetherness and solidarity as a motivation.
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