• Stuart Benson

Bluebarn may close before they open

Wakefield roaster was ready to serve coffee for months


Bluebarn coffee and roastery building in Wakefield has looked ready to start serving coffee for months, and yet its doors remain closed despite, until recently, a lack of take-out coffee in the village. The owner said he’s been ready to open for

months, but the La Pêche municipality wouldn’t give him the go-ahead until this week.


Luc Alary, owner of Bluebarn, said he may have to close up shop at his roastery on 20 Chemin-dela- Vallée-de-Wakefield, leaving the village with an even bigger caffeine void unless the municipality decides to “play fair” and approve his business license with the 18 tables and parking lots he initially applied for.


Luc Alary, owner of Bluebarn coffee in Wakefield, said if the municipality can’t resolve his business license issues soon, he will have to make some very hard decisions about whether it is worth staying in the village. Stuart Benson photo

He has been running the roastery side of his business out of the old fire hall since he moved his business from a property in Edelweiss in 2019. He said he applied for a business license to run a café in July 2020. According to the municipal bylaw, Alary said the Urbanism department is required to respond within two weeks, but it took nearly two months before he received a rejection.


Alary said his business license was initially rejected on two grounds, the first was

that the proposed parking lot behind the building, which had been used previously by the fire hall for parking, fell within the 15-metre river protection boundary for the Cutter stream that connects to the Gatineau River.


“That boundary would extend to the middle of our building, so essentially, they’re saying we can’t use any of the parking behind the building,” Alary said. “It’s the same 15-metre boundary that the Kaffé 1870 and Fauxmagerie [Ma Petite Cuisine] parking lots fall within.”


Alary’s license was also rejected because of the location of their terrace, which would have had a few tables in front of the building.


“They said you’re not allowed to have tables within 10 metres of the sidewalk,” Alary said. “I walked through Wakefield and I couldn’t find a single terrace that wasn’t within [10 metres] of the sidewalk.”


Alary said he believes the municipality isn’t applying its bylaws evenly, preventing him from opening his business at a time when the municipality should be doing everything it can to support local businesses, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.


According to Alary, the reasoning he was given for why other businesses didn’t seem to have to abide by the same restrictions his license had been rejected for was that those other businesses have been “grandfathered-in.”


“They told me that they don’t make exceptions for anybody and, before they granted one to me, they would go back and look at every business in Wakefield and pull their business licenses,” Alary explained.


“It’s frustrating when you look at places like Ottawa where they are bending over backwards to help businesses survive, and on the other hand it feels like La Pêche is putting all of these barriers up,” Alary said. “It’s not like the other side of my business is thriving either — with the recent shutdowns and restrictions, our revenues dropped 60 per cent overnight, again.”


Most of Bluebarn’s current customers are cafés in Ottawa’s downtown core, which order their coffee from the roastery side of the business, but due to the COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns, orders for coffee havedropped dramatically, according to Alary. He said he hoped the café side would help plug the hole in his finances.


“I thought I would have this business license in mid-August and I could only imagine how much better our business options could look financially if we had been able to open then and take advantage of the tourist season,” Alary said. “There was no coffee in Wakefield for three months and that whole time we were waiting for our business license from the municipality.”


Alary said he had to watch while places like Café Le Hibou and Patisserie La Toque created their own coffee services in order to meet a demand left in the wake of the Aries Tea Room closure and the sale of Café Molo.


“I have developers in Chelsea approaching me to move my business there to be a cornerstone of their development, and the municipality of La Pêche is giving me every reason to do that,” Alary said. “We’re totally dependent on this to survive. Coffee is a cash flow business, and if we don’t open we’ll have to make some very hard decisions very soon and that’s going to be on the municipality.”


The mayor takes action


When reached for comment, Mayor of La Pêche Guillaume Lamoureux explained that the long response time was because the Urbanism department faced a considerable labour shortage in recent months, including extended leaves for medical purposes.


“In the specific case of Bluebarn, the response time to process the permit request is not adequate and the approach taken does not correspond to the customer service standards and expectations we promote to our inspectors,” Lamoureux said. “When the case was brought to the attention of the director general, it was immediately prioritized and handed to a senior member of the Urbanism department.”


Lamoureux also added that the sector around the Cutter stream does pose a challenge to the municipality in terms of environmental regulations.


“A biologist visited this area earlier this summer and produced a brief report regarding the project to link the Louis Rompré Park to the community centre,” Lamoureux explained. “The report raises numerous anomalies, which have long been overlooked, but can no longer be ignored.”


On Oct. 27, Alary informed The Low Down that he had spent the morning meeting with the mayor who informed him that his business had been approved for a license — for five indoor tables and five parking spots, fewer than the 18 Alary initially applied for, as most of the parking lot and the entirety of Bluebarn’s terrace would still be unusable under the license.


“On a personal note, I am obviously displeased with the situation Bluebarn has gone

through, and members of council share this sentiment,” Lamoureux said in a statement to The Low Down. “I know we are all thrilled to see this project unfold; it is a great addition to the community and our local economy.”

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