Across the street from a pawn shop and a new Somalian restaurant, just down the block from a bar called The Green Frog, painter Glen Ronald’s studio, and a salon specializing in braids and extensions, sits The Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse. Located on 118th Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta, this space is the flagship project for a neighborhood revitalization effort in progress now for more than a decade. At a time when trendy cafes are often early signs of gentrification, The Carrot signals the opposite type of movement in the Alberta Avenue area—one that prioritizes community integration and maintaining diversity. The cafe’s ethos is neatly summed up by the canvas hanging above the bar, with a huge orange carrot and a quotation from the artist Paul Cézanne: “The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.”
A rotating staff of over 50 volunteer baristas serves up Intelligentsia Coffee pulled from a three-group La Marzocco Linea Classic or simply brewed in an automatic drip machine. Despite the casual nature of the position (many volunteers put in only a few hours every month), every one of them is trained to tamp, level, and steam milk to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and some even master latte art. In addition to coffee, chai, hot chocolate, and Mighty Leaf Tea, customers can try sandwiches and pastries from several local companies, including Passion de France, a halal bakery just a few blocks down 118th Avenue (aka Alberta Avenue), whose owner often walks over his delivery of scones and apple turnovers still warm from the oven.
Low, comfortable chairs by the windows, couches in the back corner next to a shelf stocked with toys and children’s books, and a combination of individual and communal tables surrounded by mismatched chairs provide customers with opportunities to take a few minutes to themselves, do some work, hold meetings, entertain their kids, or chat with friends. When the weather warms up, patio tables are set up on the sidewalk out front, and around the corner you can often find someone playing the purple piano that sits outside.
The Carrot also acts as a gallery and point of sale for many local artists and craftspeople—display cases next to the till hold everything from jewelry to blown glass and sock puppets, while leather bags and canvases hang on the walls. Arts on the Ave, an organization dedicated to rehabilitating the neighborhood by facilitating the arts, uses the coffeehouse as a command station; it’s a rare day when at least one of their members isn’t working from a table in the corner or meeting with a city councilperson or setting up for a fundraiser.
Though it opens at 9 a.m. and thus, misses much of the typical rush of caffeine-dependent commuters on their way to work, The Carrot’s hours are designed to accommodate residents of the neighborhood around Alberta Avenue: parents with young children, retirees, freelance artists, small business owners, and the casually and unemployed. Kids even come in with tutors in the afternoons—it’s a better place to learn algebra than the library a few blocks away, which doesn’t have much study space.
As per its name, The Carrot also hosts a full calendar of community events, ranging from African dance workshops and a Friday-morning parenting group to a weekly open mic, a monthly knitting night, and a recurring meet-the-cops event, where local beat police and members of the community have a chance to come together in a comfortable environment.
Rhys Howard, a local producer, remembers the first time he attended an open-mic event at The Carrot. “There were a lot of the standard acoustic folk-song covers that you would expect at an open mic, but there was a little more eccentricity in the air as well. I think [it] maybe came from how different people were—everyone from a Filipino-Canadian stand-up comedian in his early twenties to somebody in his sixties singing old folk songs,” he says.
Such diversity reflects the variety of people who call Alberta Avenue home. Though the neighborhood was for years a hub for prostitution and violent crime, the concerted efforts of organizations like Arts on the Ave, The Kaleido Family Arts Festival, and Deep Freeze Festival, as well as dozens of individual businesses up and down the avenue who post signs declaring “We Believe in 118,” have helped make Alberta Avenue more notable for its ethnic grocery stores and the community events to which The Carrot is so central.
For as long as they’ve been around, coffeehouses have been centers for establishing community and sharing ideas. It’s hard to overstate the importance of a place like The Carrot, where anyone can come in and eat, work, socialize, and drink good coffee.