Java Shack

Chris Fawbert is an active, adventurous Aquarian and owner/operator of Java Shack in the Tyee Plaza, and proud owner at that. This growing-bigger-by-the-day café restaurant was opened in 1998 by rock-climber and cyclist Chris, with partner Kaylene Cayne. At that time, Chris was actually looking for a site in Campbell River to build a rock-climbing wall. He scaled down the idea to create a boulder wall, found space in the Tyee Plaza and planned "a complementary coffee shop” for the customers. A short time and major renovations later Java Shack was born, sans boulder wall. Chris mentioned having to remove "a huge trash compacter” in the area across from the ferry and "smashing down two brick walls” at the back of the building. Good thing because this is where the garden would grow!

Since the beginning the Java Shack’s climate has been great coffee, nutritious and hearty food, art and entertainment. An open-mike-night attracted budding performing artists but was cut when it later became too disruptive. Chris researched Kicking Horse Organic, an independent, fair- trade, organic coffee supplier in Invermere, B.C. and preferring "good quality to the customer than big sales”, a reputation for great coffee and lunches was soon built by Chris and his dedicated staff – which now includes Nadine, two Sarahs, Jenny and Colleen. You won’t see white sugar or caffeine-power drinks; you will see mostly organic greens, awesome fruit smoothies with names like "brass monkey”, Jones soda – how pop used to taste, and wholesome breads from Steiner’s Bakery. The tranquil garden courtyard in the back with potted Kiwi, climbing wisteria, Japanese maple and corkscrew Hazelnut trees invited languorous coffee drinking, sunshine and catching up with friends. Trash compactor – what trash compacter?

The plaza was sold and a move ensued. Shoppers’ Drug Mart was relocating for space creating a domino effect in most of the retail outlets. Java Shack had no lease, by choice, and Chris was given only a few days to respond to the request to move. He was then served a 30-day notice to vacate and/or relocate and the Duke’s restaurant location was offered to him for lease. The dilemma was to "either move or shut down” and he took the challenge to move house – coffee house that is.

The new Java Shack, leased in September 2007 is twice as big, taking four months of closure, huge financial loss and "three months of fourteen-to eighteen-hour-days” of renovation. Chris did all the work himself including counters and flooring, stripping the forty-year-old space to bare concrete and studs. "It almost broke my back” he says and a few seconds later, "I could use some sleep!” The work was physically and mentally demanding, draining and frustrating. Chris says, "I got friendly with some contractors working around here” who must have given him some carpentry tips because right now, sitting comfortably in the corner closest to the ferry surrounded by full length windows, quality rock work, paint and flooring, the look says professional all the way. Chris developed this beautifully manifested space with no formal training in construction, interior design or even cooking!

This proud owner now sees the stressful move as an opportunity to expand and says, "Necessity made it happen.” He feels supported by loyal customers and by his girlfriend who "was always positive when I felt I didn’t know what I was doing.” Chris’ mottos of "letting life happen”, "seeing the natural order out of chaos” and watching the "day to day unfolding” show his acceptance of living life on life’s terms. It’s his "adventure manifest” and a reflection of his personality. "What I put in is exactly what I get out”. Chris says it was time for a change of direction and, not wanting just any job he would be half-into or working "just for a paycheck,” he says "it’s what I want to do. The energy here is reactive and spontaneous” and the customers, Chris tells me – off-the-grid islanders and city folk, professionals and all in between – create this liveliness. People come here who appreciate quality, are not into fast foods and are definitely "not drones!” The staff is fun and the food’s fantastic – must try eggs pol-enny, a creative version of eggs Benny made with polenta and their own special ingredients. Chris supports local suppliers when possible and has made connections with "so many friends.” He consistently refers to the Java Shack customers as real connection for him and that they are the "core” of the whole business.

Chris says he’s an Aquarian who feels he doesn’t have to stifle his personality here at Java Shack. Hmm, I didn’t ask… do Aquarians stifle their personality? It obviously doesn’t matter because he says the Java Shack is a "complete expression of who I am” with "no pretence”. Chris says he has to "maintain quality or lose my soul”. This, translated, means genuine, honest and self-knowing. Working here enables him to "be the person I want to be as opposed to doing mass retail and production”. And best of all Chris gets to "have people to connect to and hang out with friends!”

Chris feels that the Java Shack will naturally gravitate towards growth. "No six-month indicators here” he says. He intends to "grow busier and learn more” and is more focused and committed, "giving it all” and "making it happen”. Creating and preparing more food is the current push with the combination of good products that are creative and fresh. He feels he now needs the experience of a "real kitchen”. A beer and wine license is brewing, perhaps just in time for those hot summer days, a huge patio facing the Quadra ferry awaits an artistic green thumb, and the walls are ripe for visual art. We end our visit with Chris saying it’s all worth it when a customer tells him "the soup was fantastic!” So the Soup’s On at Java Shack. Keep it cookin’ Chris.