Nestled within northern downtown, at the farthest reaches of the trolley line, lies a mystical multi-syllabic place known as Umbellula. Amid purple walls, towering ceilings and entrenched behind racks of thick juices and square muffins are Vanessa and Tracy, the noble keepers of the area’s newest libation vendor.
Smiles are as prolific as coffee grounds at Umbellula. Were not the walls, seating and employees already bedecked in purple, Umbellula would no doubt exude the colour purely by its overtures of near-impossible cheeriness.
There are many who associate coffee retailers with depressed, out-of-work bass players working through their hangover to assemble chicken wraps — but at Umbellula, nothing could be further from the truth.
From the minute the first muffin is baked, long before the sun comes up, owner Tracy Taporowski and assistant Vanessa Martin joke and interact with customers with an exuberance akin to the hosts of an early morning talk show.
Inside jokes and obscure references often escaped the interviewer’s understanding at Umbellula.
In a land where customer service is as scarce as salmon, it is still in ample supply at Umbellula.
“In Whitehorse, it’s hard to find employees and customers service is lacking in a lot of places. I think it’s important to treat anybody that comes up to the counter as an acquaintance of yours,” said Taporowski.
Umbellula’s organic, fresh foodstuffs are nutritious and good-tasting, but they also come prepackaged with ample stores of positive energy, says Taporowski.
“If you really enjoy what you do, then good energy goes into it … Vanessa and I both really like being here and that comes out into the food in my opinion,” said Taporowski.
“I believe that our bodies are nourished in a better way if there’s good energy going into the food,” she said.
Positive energy was a critical food additive when Taporowski worked as a camp cook for three seasons — a job she took after studying traditional Chinese medicines in Victoria.
“Out at camp, it’s particularly beneficial because you’ve got a bunch of people that are away from their wives, their girlfriends, their dogs, their kids — from all the things that they know,” said Taporowski.
“You’re nourishing and nurturing people through the food and through being an approachable person — that’s important out there,” she said.
By the way, Umbellula doesn’t have day-olds. They call them “yesterday’s beauties.”
It’s also the exclusive home of the Mougar.
“You can get it in a bagel or a wrap, with ham or without, and it comes with aged white cheddar, spinach, a cumin and red and green pepper omelette and an anjo chili garlic mayo,” said Taporowski.
It’s named after Umbellula customer and Martin’s cousin, also called “the Mougar.”
As the old adage goes, it takes an entire village to raise an organic, health-based coffee shop.
Minutes after Taporowski threw herself behind the universally accepted hare-brain scheme of establishing a coffee shop, legions of family and friends lined up to support her.
“You look at that wall over there and the paintings were done by Vanessa, the shelves were hung by a friend, the blackboard was built by myself and my other half, the wall by painted by Ken Hermanson, who’s part of the Gordon Tentrees band,” said Taporowski.
“Plants have been brought in by friends, pillow cases have brought in by friends, upholstery’s been done by friends, the benches have been built by my other half,” she said.
“Everything has all these hands in it,” she said.
Above the muffins and sandwich wraps are a row of obscure juice concoctions that change constantly at the Frankenstonian whim of their creators.
“Sometimes Tracy comes in and she’s like ‘We have to have ginger in the juice today,’” said Martin.
Impulsiveness is refreshingly prevalent at Umbellula.
“I’m pretty ‘wing-it,’” said Taporowski.
Juices, as well as soups and salads are often spur-of-the-moment creations.
For those who didn’t believe carrot, spinach or ginger could live together in a single juice, Umbellula has proved them wrong. Or how about mixed melon, mint and cucumber?
Even the cafe itself came into being at a moment of whimsy.
“The point of this was to do something that I’ve been talking about doing instead of just wondering about it forever — and wondering if it could have happened,” said Taporowski.
“It just kind of happened the way it was supposed to, as hokey as that sounds,” she said.
Massive picture windows face onto the raw beauty of the fast flowing Yukon River.
At Umbellula, coffee can be sipped in front of an amazing spectacle of eagles, ravens and Morgan the squirrel — the cafe’s unofficial mascot.
A gargantuan deck lets customers bask in the warmth of the Yukon summer, or imbibe hot chocolate while marvelling at the snow-capped majesty of nearby mountains.
The cafe lies at the very epicentre of Spook Creek station, an office complex housing such territorial heavy hitters as Northern Vision development.
Umbellula is an anchor to the constant activity and movement of the building.
Even though they sell the very caffeinated products that fuel the energy of office life, the goal at Umbellula is to be a calming influence. An anchor, if you will.
The name Umbellula itself refers to a type of sea pen, a creature that grows deep at bottom of the ocean, firmly grasping the sea floor to resist the many storms and surges of the open ocean.
“We see people coming and going all the time, what we do is snag them and make them chill out for five minutes,” said Taporowski.