Here’s something you might not have known about Slave Lake’s gourmet coffee shop, otherwise known as The Fix: when it comes to flavour options, it has more than Starbucks.
So says proprietor Georgie Gauthier, who got into the specialty coffee business in early 2016 at the downtown location. Having spoken to her then about her expectations, The Leader decided last week to pop by and find out how ‘coffee culture’ has developed in Slave Lake in the meantime.
On one hand, “it’s been really well received,” says Gauthier. On the other hand, “we’ve never managed to catch the morning crowd. “We’re no threat to the other coffee places.”
One pleasing aspect of the business that Gauthier didn’t anticipate is how it answers a definite need for certain people new in town or visiting.
“Especially people who have moved from a larger centre,” she says. “They are looking for it. They’ll come in and say, ‘Thank God!’
Another odd and surprising thing to Gauthier is how relentlessly unaware many local people seem to be. She says she’s still meeting people (some just recently at an event she catered) who are unaware The Fix even exists and seem surprised that it does.
But “word of mouth has been super for us,” she says. “Once they try it, they most likely become repeat customers.”
And what is it exactly that they are trying?
“Chai tea latté is hugely popular,” says Gauthier. “It’s just a tea. It’s really concentrated, really flavourful.”
And on the coffee side?
“Our flavoured lattés are very popular, especially pumpkin at this time of year.”
Lattés are espresso coffees with steamed milk added. The flavouring is on top of that, and as noted above, The Fix has a lot of options in the flavour line.
‘Espresso’ is a concentrated shot of coffee that comes out of the espresso machine, after hot water has been forced through freshly ground (and tamped) coffee. And not just any old coffee beans.
“They’re special,” says Gauthier, demonstrating. She punches a button for a measure of fresh grind, and out it comes, smelling fabulous. Then she tamps it with a special tamping device, which will buzz if she tamps too hard.
“If you pack it too hard the water won’t go through,” she says.
Then she attaches the scoop thingamajig with the coffee in it to the espresso machine, puts a cup (or two, if it’s a double shot), hits another button and the coffee pours into the cup. It can be taken straight as an espresso, or poured into a bigger cup to have other things added to it – including almond milk, if that’s your preference. The milk is also steamed and aerated at another station on the machine, the foam being added to the top of it.
“On a good day we do about 200 shots of espresso,” says Gauthier. “The guys we buy our beans from (in the city) do about 1,500.”
A lot of the customers are regulars. Seeing other customers for the first time, Gauthier often asks them where they are from and learns interesting things.
“Out of town people find us quicker than local people,” she says. “Because they are looking for us. People have made a habit if they travel to out of finding that little hole-in-the-wall place.”
Sometimes, they may drag a local person (friend or relative) in, which – oddly enough again – is how some Slave Lake residents have found out they have a specialty coffee shop in their own back yard.
“It’s kind of funny,” Gauthier says.
Fix baristas doing their thing behind the counter.