Salad and chai latte. Joelle Reiniger
The Nook Café
10153 97 Street (Treaty 6)
“Eat. Drink. Be Cozy.” That’s the official tagline for Boyle Street’s newest coffee and lunch destination, The Nook Café. Its unwritten declaration is: “Everyone belongs.”
Everything about this restaurant spells inclusion, beginning with the children’s play area. Furnished with a chalkboard, mini library, and toddler-sized kitchen, this little nook within The Nook sends a bold message that Edmonton’s Downtown East is not just a place to park for work – it’s a neighbourhood.
For co-owners Marnie Suitor and Lynsae Moon, no-holds-barred inclusion is a core value, which manifests itself in every aspect of their business model, down to the details. Take the washrooms, for instance. Both are gender neutral and labelled “whatever” with the cheeky postscript, “as long as you wash your hands.” They are also, of course, baby-friendly and wheelchair accessible. Also noteworthy is The Nook’s acknowledgement of Treaty 6 territory in the street address found on its website.
Then there is the menu. You’d never know it but the majority of the café offerings are vegan or can be made as such. Gluten allergy? Dairy intolerance? Need something egg, nut, and caffeine free? Not a problem. Moon, the daughter in this mother-daughter operation, has personal experience parenting children with restricted diets and can relate to anyone who struggles with dining out for that reason. Because absolutely everything The Nook sells is made in house, its menu can be adapted to create choices for everyone.
During a visit to the café with my blessedly omnivorous three-year-old, I ordered a salad, pastry, and decaf chai latte for us to share. Because The Nook’s grilled cheese sandwiches are so popular, its splendid salads can be overlooked, Moon told me. I took the bait and chose the Sundog salad with roasted chickpeas. This crispy medley of local ingredients from Sundog Organic Farm paired perfectly with a creamy red wine vinaigrette, which was served in a cute, shot glass-sized pitcher.
On the sweeter side of the spectrum, the rooibos chai latte was a lovely compliment to the apple cream cheese sheet pie. Adorned with delicate, pastry-crust flowers, this dessert came in a sharable portion size. Moon topped it with fresh cream that she had sweetened and whipped that morning. Sublime.
All together, these three items rang up an after-tax bill of $14.51 – not a big deal for the typical downtown customer, but out of reach for many members of the neighbourhood The Nook calls home. Moon and Suitor know this. They also know that to ignore income disparity in their business model would fly in the face of their rationale for launching a café at this site – a site where two very different neighbourhoods intersect and where comfort and community can help break down demographic barriers.
With this in mind, The Nook has adopted a “suspended coffee” program. For three dollars, customers can drop a button in a jar beside the cash register, which covers the cost of a coffee or tea and baked good. These tokens are then available for cash-strapped, would-be customers to redeem. Again, it comes down to inclusion. “Food is an essential and vital part of everyone’s existence,” Moon says. “This space should be accessible to everybody, regardless of diet and income.”
Joelle lives in Boyle Street.