Zola’s is gone, but roasting lives on

‘There’s a misconception that Starbucks has put me out of business,” said Zola’s Café Dore owner Zola Dore.

‘There’s a misconception that Starbucks has put me out of business,” said Zola’s Café Dore owner Zola Dore.

Friday, her Main Street café closes for good.

Dore, who also owns both locations of Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters, says that a new Starbucks can often help local coffee businesses.

Starbucks serves as a gateway to specialty coffee.

Once consumers have tried their first latte in the “safe” atmosphere of a Starbucks, they are emboldened to start buying lattes at the smaller neighbourhood coffee house, said Dore.

Larger market forces, rather than a corporate giant, brought down the café, she added.

Zola’s had met with initial success but, primarily as a result of an unstable labour market, the cafe had become too time consuming.

“In the current labour market, to make a place profitable, you have to be an owner-operator, and my choice is to own and operate the roasting side of things … I can’t pull myself into two and be in two places and make something profitable,” said Dore.

Attempts to sell fell flat, prompting the two-week-old decision to close.

Rent at the Hougen Centre was not an issue.

“I know (the Hougens) get a bad rap, but I had a great relationship with them and they did their best to make it work for me.”

The loss of Zola’s will allow Dore to focus more closely on her passion for roasting.

Within iCycle Sport on Quartz Road, Zola runs a full-scale roasting facility that prepares beans for the Midnight Sun coffee houses as well as for the retail and export market.

Midnight Sun currently exports to BC, Alberta, Alaska, Ontario and even Austria and Australia.

Many overseas buyers are former Yukoners who need their “fix” of Midnight Sun coffee.

“I’ve really tried to drink other coffee … since I’m now on the other side of the country, but I just can’t,” reads one customer review on the Midnight Sun website.

“All I ever wanted to do was roast a quality product, and I believe that when you do that, you get a following,” said Dore.

Zola’s had taken a step away from the “slapped together look” of the original Midnight Sun, which burned down in 2005.

The Main Street café was downright chic.

“I was never comfortable with (that) downtown, because I’m more the original shambly, slapped-together place … more easygoing.”

Dore was introduced to roasting at Vancouver’s The Coffee Roaster.

Eleven years ago, she came up to Whitehorse and opened the city’s first roastery.

“My goal was to offer something fresh. Before, (coffee) would be at least three days old as it came up on a truck,” she said.

Dore is very committed to the craft.

“Roasting is a trade, it’s a skill. It’s something that you can learn the mechanics of in a couple months, but it takes years to become an artisan at it,” she said.