If you’re a tourist walking by Fixed on a sunny day, it’s not hard to tell the place is a local favourite. Sample their goods, and it’s not hard to tell why. As well, people should not overlook the “… and Baking” handle of their company name: their food is as good and fresh as their beloved coffee.
The people of St. John’s have voted Fixed Coffee and Baking the best café in town, as well as the best source for a coffee, cappuccino, or a latté. They also received honourable mention for best quick lunch in town. Pair that love with their innovative pop-up suppers, and even live music performances, as well as the fact they just opened an independent bookstore downstairs (something we’ve been going without for years), and it’s clear owners Greg Hewlett and Jon Howse gave a gift to downtown culture the day they opened their doors. They’ve not only met but exceeded the high standards of modern-day coffee house dwellers.
The duo met in high school, before parting ways to attend university. In 2010, they reunited at a time when they were both “fresh out of university, jobless, with resumes in hand, on Water Street.” They wound up employed by Rocket Bakery – another essential hub of local food-and-drink culture – and they knew, from looking around them, they could start their own operation.
Howse spent a decade working in cafés to help pay his way through school. “I realized that, while chasing academic dreams, I had received a world-class barista education at some of the best cafés in North America.” Like any natural born entrepreneur, it only made sense to do his own thing. “When I found out that Greg felt the same way about his career in coffee, we decided to start our own café and create good, decent paying jobs for ourselves and our friends.”
It’s certainly true the collective staff in the photo above have become a welcome addition to the personality and culture of downtown St. John’s. They are the friendly familiar faces (with impeccable tastes in music) who hook us up with some of the best food, drink, and idle conversation in town. Going to Fixed is like going to a friend’s living room. (They also serve great beers, and a nice selection of San Pellegrino). And their bagel sandwiches won “Best in Town” status.
Jon and Greg’s vision for how to brand themselves was pure, simple, and 20/20. “Our vision for Fixed was a café that cut no corners. A café where no price was too high for the world’s best coffee, or the world’s best espresso machine, or the most delicious sandwich we could imagine.” They even went so far as to build filters into their incoming plumbing.
“Our water goes through two filtration systems before it touches our coffee. We also have military-style cleaning protocols on our grinders and espresso machine. I take the equipment apart, clean the parts, replace o-rings and small moving parts, and then rebuild the machines, ALL THE TIME.”
As for their food, it’s a Montreal deli-style menu. They wanted “foodie food: high-quality food that could win the respect of chefs and critics. But we also wanted to strip away the snobbery that plaques the high-end coffee world. If you have questions, we’ll answer them, but we’ll only tell you about coffee science or the terroir of a certain coffee if you seem really, really interested.”
They attribute their success to having enough guts to “test our radical hypothesis that customers do really know a quality product when they see it.” Fixed pay far more for their high-grade coffee than most Canadian cafés. It cuts into their profit margins, but, the devotion of their coffee-loving clientele is priceless, and helps alleviate their lower profit per cup.
“Our customers deserve the best — our city deserves the best —and so we spend the extra dollar to get the best. As a business model this is extremely risky. We pay a lot for coffee, but we still only charge $2 for a cup.” Howse also feels that people in the food industry who are in charge of spending their company’s money “are too far removed from the customers walking in the door.” That’s certainly not the case at Fixed, where quite often it’s Greg ringing you in and Jon making your delicious prosciutto and olive tapenade sandwich.
As this issue of The Overcast hits stands, Jon Howse will be in Colombia, getting his hands dirty in various coffee farms that he buys his coffee from, via Anchored Coffee. “We’ll be looking for new farms to start long-term relationships with. We’ll be cupping (the industry word for tasting) lots to find out which has the highest scoring and most delicious coffee. Anchored Coffee will then pay a premium price for the highest scoring lots. It is this kind of one on one, respectful relationship with the coffee farmer that will produce trust and a sustainable, quality coffee industry.”