Bringing The Heart Back Into Downtown Fort McMurray
For local business owner Carmelo Daprocida, the entrepreneurial idea of opening a bistro during his retirement may have been something he was unknowingly destined to pursue.
With a background in building luxury homes, the 69-year-old has spent over 10 years operating his family-owned business Birchwood Homes in Fort McMurray. Now, two years into ownership of the Blue Mountain Bistro and over a year into the community’s rebuild, the 17 year resident from British Columbia continues manifesting in his passion for the city’s people and their homes through hard work and relaxation.
He explains how his intent of taking on the Bistro ownership was to focus on the heart of downtown by getting people out to embrace the street fronts the city has to offer, while positively impacting the livelihoods of Fort McMurray residents.
“What entices me about doing this is I wanted to create something nice where people can come, relax and enjoy. The doors open up in the summer, and makes it an outdoor café. It brings good energy to the community and that’s really what it’s all about,” Daprocida said, pointing out of the café window to the outdoor patio located on the floor of the Jubilee Plaza. “We have such a heavy work environment (in Fort McMurray). It’s all about work, work, work. And I love that energy, too. But you have to take time, too - just take time to live.”
The Branding and the Brew
When customers first walk into the restaurant, they see an array of vibrant and uplifting colours with words of inspiration written with chalk, alongside the menu boards. The Bistro stays true to its restaurant type with a quaint space and deliciously, simplified food options served ready-to-order and prepared fresh by the pastry chef – Emile Caron, who has formerly worked at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
Looking to the café selections, the Bistro’s baristas serve a variety of brewed specialty hot drinks from the blends by Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters. Although the Bistro was originally named after Jamaica Blue Mountain® Coffee, the Calgary-based company is one Daprocida is educated about and inspired by.
“We gravitated towards Phil and Sebastian. They are a couple of engineers out of Calgary who quit their jobs to start a roasting company,” Daprocida shared about the decision of switching brands. “They go to countries around the world, and they buy coffee from particular farmers. They don’t blend, so every time you get coffee - from one time or another - it can be different because it’s coming from another region. It’s like a fine wine, like how every wine is different and unique. They find the perfect roasting temperatures, time, flavour and smell to make the perfect brew.”
The Heart of the Downtown Core
Interlocked in a prime location for activity at the bottom of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo building at 9909 Franklin Avenue, Daprocida explains how the Bistro works with neighbouring business owners and the city to create a space for everyone to enjoy. The benefits of being directly connected to McMurray Experience and the Jubilee Plaza is how the three entities can come together.
“This is the common area between the Bistro and McMurray Experience,” he explained by flowing his hand from the Bistro floor to the front door of McMurray Experience, which is situated adjacent to the restaurant. “We help each other. We become a drawing card for them, and vice versa. It’s a good mix.”
With both establishments opening in time to coincide with the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games, Daprocida shared how the Bistro’s existence was always intended to be a part of the rejuvenation of the city’s downtown core, which was a priority for the Municipality and the development of the Jubilee Plaza.
Because of this, he had recently launched an initiative to host the Farmers Public Market on Saturdays to keep the Jubilee Plaza at the center of the activity map, which he plans to continue next year from May to September. He’s also working on ways to entice crowds during the winter months.
“I’ve booked the space at the Plaza, and I’m encouraging others to come out,” he said, explaining how some of the events have featured Zumba classes and Latin dancers. “I would like to have things happening every Saturday. It would also be nice if we had people reciting poetry and sharing short stories (inside the Bistro and McMurray Experience).
He expressed how bringing the community together is important - not only in the city’s central location, but all locations.
“We need to keep the heart here. It’s here. This is downtown. We also have to support events throughout (the city). And if there’s something happening over here and over there, we need to support one another. This place needs nurturing… It’s the only reason I’m doing this.”
Bookings with the Blue Mountain Bistro for the Farmers Public Market, and other events, can be placed by calling 780-370-1772 or 780-714-4964.