Proud owner of Whistler's newest coffee shop, Chris Ankeny knows a thing or two about brewing up the perfect cup of joe.
The coffee connoisseur has been immersed in the delicate craft for the past five years at his Mount Currie Coffee Co. store in Pemberton and has just recently opened up his second café on Main Street in Whistler. After months of renovations and scraping the mould out of the old Quiznos location, in mid-December Ankeny opened up what he describes as Whistler's local spot for coffee and quality food.
"Our aim is to serve the best coffee possible," said Ankeny. "Being a small independent you can strive for that quality, but big chains like Starbucks or Blenz are forced to produce the same consistency across all stores. That focus on consistency takes away from the quality, and as a result they produce a very average cup of coffee.
"If you pay $5 for coffee you should really be getting something amazing, not just a mediocre product."
Ankeny has also kept the health-conscious customer in mind. All of his food is made fresh in-store, it's not shipped to Whistler in plastic wrap from who knows where. He and his culinary team use local ingredients such as Pemberton beef, which is roasted in-house, and all of their sandwich meat is hormone- and nitrate-free. They provide vegetarian and vegan options, as well as gluten-free muffins.
Coexisting with other coffee giant companies had not always been top priority for Ankeny. Growing up, he had always enjoyed a good home brew but his love for coffee was cultivated in his mid-20s while traveling through Guatemala and Costa Rica.
While exploring, he and his friends met coffee farmers who were interested in learning more about their adventures and invited them to camp a night on their coffee plantations. It was the exchanging of stories that first fascinated Ankeny about the process of growing, harvesting, roasting and brewing the perfect cup of coffee. He was interested in the journey the bean took to get from a remote equatorial location into a warm mug thousands of kilometres away. If coffee beans could talk
Formerly a professional photographer, Ankeny arrived in Pemberton eight years ago in search of backcountry pow and a career change. Despite not having an ounce of experience behind the espresso machine, Ankeny began searching for the ideal location to set up his own coffee company.
"I really just wanted a good coffee shop with killer breakfast burritos," confessed Ankeny. "Every mountain resort I visited had a lively local coffee shop that did really well. So I educated myself. I had never worked in coffee so I connected with Intelligentsia Coffee and the guys at Forty Ninth Parallel in Vancouver to understand the basics.
"It's since been five years but there is still so much to learn."
It's no secret that commercial rent prices in Whistler aren't cheap, so Ankeny was biding his time over the past few years, waiting for the right space to pop up with an affordable price tag. As it turns out, the old Quiznos location sat vacant on the market for over a year and eventually the rent price dropped.
"All of a sudden the numbers made sense for my budget, so I went all in," said Ankeny. "The fact that our neighbours at Splitz Grill are really popular with locals, as well as Pasta Lupino, and Dups, is an example of how there are already established and successful business in the area. That really encouraged me so I took the leap and moved in."
Ankeny is not a roaster himself. At the moment he sources all of his coffee from Intelligentsia Coffee and Forty Ninth Parallel in Vancouver.
"It would be a dream come true to start roasting my own coffee someday and personally source farmers, but that is a whole other business and requires a significant amount of resources and money", said Ankeny. "We're taking one step at a time. Right now I want to make sure I'm matching the quality that the guys at Forty Ninth Parallel and Intelligencia are sourcing and roasting."
In 1971, Starbucks began to teach North Americans the language of upscale coffee. In the process, they would set up shop next to a "grungy" indie coffee shop and poach their clients. Today Ankeny is hoping coffee culture has come full circle and he intends to carve out a spot in Whistler for himself, picking off a few customers from the corporate giants along the way.