Revolution in a coffee pot
Four months ago, things were bleak for the unionized baristas at the Smiling Goat Organic Espresso Bar. A sign on the front door of 5896 Spring Garden Road declared it closed for renovations. Weeks before, the colourful chalkboard welcoming customers read, “Please tip your baristas generously. Tips are our main source of income as our paychecks are bouncing.”
On July 10, the staff café reopened the coffee shop as nine co-owners, under the name Glitter Bean Café, Halifax’s first explicitly, but not exclusively, queer café.
“Many of us have been working there since Just Us,” says Charlie Huntley. The fair-trade coffee roastery operated the café until September 2017, when it sold the business to Smiling Goat proprietor Kit Singh.
“It’s something we’ve joked about for years, wouldn’t it be great to have our own café, a gay café,” says Huntley. “But there were no resources available to us as low-wage workers to make that happen. That’s why it was a joke.”
Glitter Bean’s co-owners estimate that Singh owes them approximately $10,000 in back wages and owes money to staff from other locations. Since May several suppliers, and Just Us, which retains the lease on the Spring Garden Road café space, have spoken publicly about debts the local chain owes them. April three of Signh’s six cafés closed.
Singh did not reply to requests for comment on this story. He was most recently in the news when he and his company, Hebron Hospitality Group, named six former Smiling Goat employees and their union (Service Employees International Union Local 2) in two separate lawsuits seeking $600,000.
Out of this economic turmoil rises Glitter Bean. The day after the Smiling Goat closed, the baristas met with the union to discuss the future.
“The union gave us some funding, Just Us offered us subsidized rent in exchange for an exclusivity agreement,” Huntley says. Some of the nine co-owners put in their own and family money.
Huntley says it was difficult keeping the small, tight-knit staff together between the Smiling Goat closing in April and Glitter Bean opening in July. Some took other jobs to make up lost wages. “It was very important to keep us together because we fostered an environment where 90 per cent of us are queer and 50% of us are trans,” Huntley says. “Having a work environment that is queer-trans-non-binary friendly is very difficult to find.”
One of the co-owners’ goals in opening the café is to provide a safe space for queer, trans, and non-binary people to gather that’s accessible to underage patrons and sober folks alike.
“The other day I overheard a queer youth telling a friend that they weren’t open to their parents yet,” Huntley says. “Whoa, I realized it’s really important to have this space for people to talk and work out their bio-family feels. It’s overwhelming and amazing and beautiful.”
Glitter Bean’s layout and ample seating remain from its prior incarnations, but with an extra burst of fabulous.
Pink and aqua paint brighten the walls, while gold pendant lighting hangs over head. Local art by queer artists and framed affirmative dot the walls with sayings like “Black girls are magic,” and “Never stop loving your bits.”
On the menu you’ll find the expected coffee house fair (made with Just Us beans), albeit with the option to add edible glitter for a small charge. Tart & Soul Cafe on Coburg Road provides squares, muffins, and other treats. Try a generous, tart, but not too sweet lemon square with a London Fog, a silky blend of steamed milk and Earl Grey tea.
While nothing is set in stone yet, the co-owners plan to host events ranging from dance parties to queer history lectures. “We hope to become a space where people can socialize, organize, and celebrate their queerness,” Huntley says.
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.