Fernwood Coffee Company: local café becomes community hub

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Community member creates a place for people to connect, enjoy the atmosphere and build relationships

Ben Cram built upon the legacy of The Parsonage Café, a existing coffee shop in the community, to create a meeting place and local hub in Fernwood.

New start, same passion 

Ben worked as an executive chef in Victoria for years. While he enjoyed his job in the hospitality and food service sectors, “working late nights was not very conducive to raising a kid,” Ben explains.

At the time, Ben and his wife had a 12-month old son and wanted to adjust their schedules to raise a family.

“We used to go the café all the time and were sitting at the Parsonage one day. The owner at that time came by as we were joking about getting new jobs and she said, ‘you should buy this place,’” Ben says.

“We all kind of laughed, but she was serious. Then, we actually started considering it and our new careers took off from there,” he says.

The couple purchased the café in 2007 and Fernwood Coffee Company took shape.

“When we launched Fernwood Coffee Company, we wanted something to differentiate the coffee company side from the café side of things.”

Now, staff members roast the coffee in what was once a bicycle courier call centre and serve coffee and food in the former Parsonage Café.

International and local connections

While Fernwood Coffee sources coffee beans from warmer climates, all other aspects of their business are Vancouver Island local.

“We buy coffee from any and all growing regions. … The sources are a combination of imports and we have direct relationships with farmers,” Ben says. Before COVID-19, he visited and handpicked coffee beans with growers and farm workers.

When asked about a favourite Fernwood Coffee product, Ben thoughtfully paused for a couple seconds but then confidently answered, “any natural-process Ethiopian coffee.” Ethiopian natural or “unwashed” coffees are known for their berry and fruit-like flavours.

Overall, “local is everything” for Fernwood Coffee Company, Ben says. 

“Other than the fact that we source coffee beans from around the world because they don’t grow here, we tailor everything to be as local as possible,” he says. For example, two years ago the business started ordering office supplies from Monk Office, a Victoria-based company, instead of from big-box stores. 

“We source local whenever we can. We order produce and meat from local businesses. And we receive the benefit of that because other businesses come to us because we are local and they want to do the same thing,” Ben says. Fernwood Coffee is part of a collaborative and tight-knit business network and community, he adds.

Community comfort

Ben and Fernwood Coffee’s 25 employees always make their customers feel welcome and at home. The business engages with customers through coffee and community. 

“Doing what we’ve done in the café over the last 15 years, we’ve definitely become a hub for the Fernwood neighbourhood, beyond the commercial aspect of our business,” Ben says.

“When people are fundraising, we try to help. When the power is out, for some fluky reason the power is always on in the café and people flock here. When we were able to open our doors (pre-COVID), people would come here to get warm. We have grown into that safe space.”

Ben is grateful to be a cornerstone in the community and to raise his family in a vibrant area where they live, work and play.

“I love the vibe of Fernwood. It’s like a small town within a city. We raise our kids around the corner from the café and I always felt like if the kids ever wandered out the door and got lost, they’d soon run into people they know,” Ben says. 

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