A dead downtown surprises Café Franco’s staff

Deana Laforge thought Café Franco would be hopping during the Canada Winter Games. “Instead, it’s dead,” said the owner of…

Deana Laforge thought Café Franco would be hopping during the Canada Winter Games.

“Instead, it’s dead,” said the owner of Fireweed catering.

In preparation for the Games, Laforge made 280 tourtieres, french-baked beans and “quiche until it came out the ears.”

And most of it is still in the freezer.

“I’m going to come out of this $5,000 in debt,” she said.

Laforge was hired to supply Café Franco with savoury French cuisine for the duration of the bistro’s two-week run.

“Here, have some soup,” she said, placing a bowl of delicious mushroom bisque on one of the colourful tables.

Although it was relatively empty, Café Franco felt cozy.

Fresh paint, fake plants and local artwork gave the converted Legion hall a homey tone, bolstered by couches and magazines at the back of the room.

“With French and northern food, music and art, the intent was to create a relaxed, ‘chilled’ area to layback and relax during the Games,” said Association franco-yukonnaise communication co-ordinator Marianne Theoret-Poupart.

“And we wanted to let people know about the French community in the North.”

Behind a classy, red counter, Association franco-yukonnaise cultural agent Paulette Comeau was making steaming lattes for a talkative table in the corner.

“We open early, so people can get their coffee and head to work,” said Comeau.

“But not many people take it to go, lots just stay.”

Café Franco has seen more locals than Games visitors, and most are amazed by the changes to the room.

“We got rid of the bingo style, turned off the fluorescent lights and added more things to the walls,” said Theoret-Poupart.

“And this made a big change.”

Time and again, locals have asked if the French association plans to keep the café running.

But it is only for the Games, said Theoret-Poupart, who is not ruling out future possibilities.

To get all the tables and couches, Theoret-Poupart stripped Association franco-yukonnaise bare. The cappuccino machine is on loan from Zola Dore, and the baristas are all volunteers.

“This was more of an experiment, a testing ground for the new building,” she said.

The French association wanted the space to act as an “open window” on the francophone community in the North — a cultural showcase.

 And for many who’ve frequented the cafe, it’s been just that.

“People who come, try and speak the French they know,” said Theoret-Poupart.

Five kids from team Nunavut stopped in, and one was fluent in French, added Comeau.

And about a week ago, more than 20 parents from team Quebec stopped by to get a little taste of home.

The next day, the group ended up playing broomball with a bunch of French association volunteers.

“So we’re getting some visitors,” said Comeau.

The Café sees about 30 customers a day, and can get at least twice that on a good day.

But Theoret-Poupart was expecting a lot more.

“Everyone I’ve talked to in town is surprised — everyone was expecting more people,” she said.

“Now, if you drive downtown, it feels empty.”

The host society originally predicted an increase of 7,000 people, and now it’s cut that number in half, she said.

Café Franco opens at 7 a.m. to serve decadent breakfasts, including spiced eggs with elk sausage wrapped in phyllo pastry and crepes. And the cafe doesn’t close until 6 p.m., offering full lunches and dinners.

“We wanted people who work locally to have a chance to come by and relax after work,” said Theoret-Poupart.

On one wall, a bunch of colourful children’s drawings brightens up the room, done for the café by the kindergarten class at Ecole Emilie-Tremblay.

A booth in the corner is stacked with pamphlets on the francophone health network, and another is stocked with French guides to the Yukon.

It’s a community showcase, said Theoret-Poupart.

 On Wednesday, the café is hosting an improvisation night starting at 6:30 p.m., and on Thursday Les EssentiElles is holding a benefit dinner that involves rolling some sushi.

Friday, things finish off with Les Souliers dansants, performed by a group of Grade 3 and 4 students from Emilie-Tremblay.

The French association is also running its sugar shack at Atco Place during the Games.

Café Franco is at 306 Alexander, in the old Legion building.