Javaroma opening new location at Yellowknife Airport

Rami Kassem
Rami Kassem, Javaroma's proprietor alongside Fadil Memedi.
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The owners of Yellowknife’s Javaroma coffee shop say a new location will open at the city’s airport this summer.

Rami Kassem told Moose FM Javaroma could be open at the airport by July, after winning the tender to operate a kiosk inside the terminal.

Until now, a Quiznos franchise and vending machines have been the only options for travellers.

“We have been looking to open at the airport for almost three years,” Kassem told us. He signed the lease for the location on Monday.

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“We did a survey – we didn’t tell them it was Javaroma. The question was if you’d like to see specialty coffee at the airport, and 99 percent of the answers were ‘yes’.

“They put a kiosk out for tender and we got the highest marks. Hopefully we’re looking for the beginning of July, if everything is on time.”

The kiosk will sell food and drinks ranging from bagels, sandwiches and croissants through to smoothies, lattes and cappuccinos.

‘We don’t want to close because of food trucks’

Kassem revealed his plans while asking Yellowknife’s city councillors to protect the business he co-owns from local food trucks.

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The Palestinian says his downtown cafe is struggling to survive alongside an increasing number of food trucks in the area.

“The first food truck, we were fine,” he said. “When the second came, close to the [nearby] Greenstone Building, it made a big difference to us – like, $500 a day.

Javaroma
Yellowknife’s Javaroma cafe.

“Then the third one came and parked by Scotiabank, in the same area, and it went to $1,000 a day. You’re looking at $20,000 a month, at least, in difference.

“The food trucks could go anywhere and everywhere there’s business – they choose where to make their business, it’s not as costly for them as us.

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“We’re looking for support. Lots of restaurants close for their own reasons. We don’t want to be closing because of food trucks, as long as we can work with them and find designated areas for them.”

City council is on the verge of enacting a by-law to restrict the number of food trucks to two per block around downtown Franklin Avenue.

Kassem doesn’t believe that will solve his problem, but he stressed he felt councillors were listening and were taking steps to help.

“They understand what’s happening – and I understand they are between two fires,” he said, referring to pressure from food vendors looking to reach a downtown market.

“We’re glad we are moving on after four or five years of talking and struggling. This [by-law] is the first step. This is good for us but we’re looking for a permanent solution. Nothing happens in a day, I know it takes time, and this is a start.

“We’re working like slaves right now to cover our expenses. We’re looking for protection from the city because we need to survive.”

‘I want fair access to the downtown core’

Nalini Naidoo, speaking on behalf of the city, said she was happy that this year’s by-law represents “a compromise for year one” between food trucks and restaurants – primarily Javaroma.

While 17 food vendors hold licences in the city, in practice, only five are believed to have designs on operating downtown.

Murray Jones, who runs the Curbside Treats and Eats truck, told councillors that he and fellow vendors “understand three [trucks] near a business is too much”.

“There was a general agreement and comfort in two per street,” he added.

Jennifer Vornbrock, who operates Yellowknife’s new Fresh Squeeze food truck, said: “I get it, My husband owns Diamante Restaurant and I know what it’s like to have the brick and mortar.

“I get what Javaroma is saying and don’t agree we should ever park in front of a restaurant. But I do want to have fair access to the downtown core and that’s what I’m asking for.”

While Kassem is asking for help to preserve Javaroma, his ambitions extend far beyond survival.

“We want to see a Javaroma franchise everywhere in Canada, and we’ve been looking for locations for the past three or four years,” he told us.

“Lately, we almost signed a lease in the Centre Square Mall lower level, but at the last second it didn’t happen.

“When you need to expand, you need protection. If we don’t have protection, nobody will expand or think of the future.”

 

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