The Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters’ profile has lowered somewhat, but the business is still thriving.
“We really want people to know we’re still here,” said owner Katya McQueen.
Tucked away in an industrial warehouse on Quartz Rd. with only a small sign at the side of the building, the roasters would be hard to miss if not for the smell.
“A lot of people walk in and say, “Oh God. I thought you guys left years ago,’” she said.
“I think that’s sort of the problem they just can’t figure out where we’ve gone too.
“We’re inside the bike shop.”
They share the building with Icycle Sport.
While it may seem like an odd pairing, there is another coffee roaster in New Zealand that also shares its space with a bike shop, said McQueen.
“I’d say it’s pretty complementary as far as business go,” she said. “We have the athletic types in Whitehorse come to get their bikes fixed, and then pop over to us for their vice.
“It’s a bit ironic.”
Midnight Sun wasn’t always sharing space with a bike shop.
When McQueen arrived in Whitehorse five years ago, there were three locations around the city that sold both coffee and food.
Owned and operated by Zola Dare, the business ran into financial trouble in 2005 when the cafe on Black St. – the busiest of Midnight Sun’s locations – burned to the ground.
It was really bad timing because they had just signed a lease with a large industrial kitchen, said McQueen.
When she moved to the Yukon from Toronto to manage one of the cafes she wasn’t planning to buy the business.
“Zola wasn’t able to pull her business out of the red ink, so there was a very real possibility that there would be no Midnight Sun at all,” said McQueen. “I didn’t want to see it go, so I decided that I would put on the big girl pants.”
Some of the decor has changed, but the fundamentals of the business remain the same.
“We pretty much held on to all the good things about Midnight Sun, which in my opinion is the coffee,” said McQueen. “We continue to roast our coffee the way we were trained by Zola.
“We really haven’t messed with it. If it’s not broken don’t fix it.”
They roast five days a week in small batches of up to 20 kilos at a time.
It’s a process that McQueen said gives her much more control and consistency over the roast.
“It’s the best way. It’s old school,” she said. “You’re roasting with your ears and your eyes, not a computer.”
That attention to detail has kept the people coming back.
“We’ve managed to hold on to our customer base,” said McQueen. “We may not be in the greatest location but they still manage to find us.”
In the morning, when they get busy, the line up gets so long that McQueen has to bring people behind the counter and sit them on bags of beans to wait for their order.
Even with the price of coffee soaring McQueen hasn’t seen a slump in business.
“It’s one of the beautiful things about selling a legal drug,” she said.
There has also been big jump in their online retail sales in the last few months, much of it driven by orders from the United States.
“I’ve tried to track a few of them because I’m so curious why people are buying it from New Mexico,” she said. “Quite a bit of it has been word of mouth, which for coffee is odd.
“I’ve heard lots about good coffee too, but I have to go and taste it first.”
McQueen would like to expand to include a cafe again but the space the operation is now in won’t really accommodate those ambitions.
Whether they expand or not, they are going to have to move regardless; their building was sold to Toyota this year.
McQueen still has a five years left on her lease, so she has some time before the warehouse is razed and turned into a car dealership.
With commercial space in short supply having a little time is a good thing, as the roasting poses a challenge as far as zoning is concerned.
But McQueen is optimistic.
“We’re living in a very remote area with 11 coffee shops,” she said. “Whitehorse likes to drink coffee.”
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