The Baristas of Cafe Amarti
Decorations up, holiday tunes playing in the background, and festive drinks back on the menu. We joined the Cafe Amarti crew for a day of huddling around the fireplace, whilst enjoying their favourite handcrafted beverages. Fondly known as one of Abbotsford's hidden gems, the Amarti team is bursting with character. Treating every customer as a regular, their friendly wit and good humour is always a warm welcome.
TFV: Who joined us at the shoot, and what are their roles at Cafe Amarti?
KK: Kelly Kang – General Manager
Ethan Hiebert – Espresso Trainer
Shaylene Tielmann – Senior Barista
Shane Hobson – Senior Barista
TFV: What inspired your family to go into the coffee shop business?
KK: We wanted to open up a café ever since we immigrated here 12 years ago. Jimmy (my brother) and I (Kelly), we have always lived abroad and never stayed in once place for a long time. My parents valued internationalization so we studied in many countries like the Philippines, Ireland, the US, France, even Quebec. We studied abroad in Europe in our early 20’s and was inspired by the idea that a café is a place of relaxation where family and friends get together. We wanted to break the North American culture of fast and on-the-go. Coffee is something worth waiting for, to sit down with friends that you haven’t seen in a year, offering your loved ones that it’s your turn to buy. People in Abbotsford were craving that, not another Tim Horton or Starbucks. A place where they could sit and read, get some work done, and just breath.
TFV: Can you tell us about your food selection and how you’ve partnered with local businesses?
KK: We try to stay local as much as possible, however, it is difficult to consistently find ingredients in the Fraser Valley especially during winter. Such as thing like avocados, or tomatoes or leafy greens. Exception to those, we source locally. We have worked with Mt.Lehman Cheese, Lepp Farm Market in the past. We have been working with the Polly Fox Gluten Free Bakery since day one, they have been such a blessing and a great team to work with. We carry beer from Field House Brewing, and we get our bread from A Bread Affair on Grandville Island, only organic certified artisanal bakery that uses natural yeast as the leavening agent. Our soup is from Laura from Yarrow Soup Co, she is a magician and we love her. It’s been fun but also complicated to say the least to curate a menu that is sustainable also delicious without a kitchen to experiment, just merely a panini grill and fridge. Without these wonderful businesses, Amarti would not be the same.
TFV: How have you been collaborating with local artists in our community?
KK: This is one of my newer projects. I saw a missed opportunity for local talent and graduating with a minor in Art History, I got to meet a lot of insane local artists in my classes that just did not have an outlet to showcase their skills. Abbotsford lacks in the fine arts and I witnessed a lot of cut backs on funding when it came to integrating art into our education system or investment in performance arts. I truly believe a form of art is what makes a city rich, and gives it character, starts a conversation to break the taboo, encourage critical thinking from young people. I did not know what to do as a business to facilitate that aspect. Many suggested putting up paintings to sell, but that idea never stuck with me because traditional methods, such as paining, nowadays will exclude a major field of artists that produce digitally. So my solution was to offer them a modern canvas. To produce something of mutual benefit, an outlet for the artist to present his/her work in a business setting and offering the public a chance to support them with reasonable price tags. Our first collaboration was with Dona Park, a thought-provoking, hyper talented, gentle woman that I have had to privilege of knowing for years now. She created a design for the tote bags that embodies community, friends, and family. Time for a new collaboration, but it has been challenging to seek out companies that will execute our idea. I guess that’s part of the fun! Right now, I have talked to Trish Roberts a graphic designer in the Fraser Valley and brainstormed but there has not been a concrete item set in mind yet. I will keep you updated for sure.
TFV: How did you balance student life while managing Cafe Amarti?
KK: The first two years of running Amarti was possibly the most challenging, and exhilarating period of my life so far. Yes, I am 22. I know I am extremely young, but the level of responsibility made me grow and mature as a person very fast. I was working full time, and going to university whilst taking 5 courses. Well, I wouldn’t say my life was exactly balanced then, I cried a lot. But, I would not have it any other way. It gave me a chance to push myself to the absolute edge of destruction, find where my limits are. I think that is where meaning for me lies. Consistently challenging myself to push a little more and realizing to stop, take a break, and do it over and over again until I am as competent and disciplined as I can be so people can rely and count on me with confidence. To answer the question, I didn’t, couldn’t, balance work and school. I thought back then, in order to balance something, I had to make compromises in either the business or my education and I was not willing to do that. I had a goal, and I fought through. What made it tolerable though was the staff at the time. I could write a book on how much I sincerely love and appreciate our team. They are reliable, trustworthy, respectful and hard working. Team management was somehow least of my worries back then due to our staff.
TFV: What has it been like working as a family?
KK: I would be lying if I said that we never have conflict. Trust me, there is. We have an unspoken rule, not to bring your emotion to work, easier said than done, but we try. I love my parents and is grateful for the scarifies they made for us beyond words. That mentality keeps me grounded, there are definitely times where I have let my ego take over and expressed my frustration, but I keep myself in check from lashing out and being disrespectful, especially in front of employees. I know to the core of my being that Café Amarti would have not succeeded if it weren’t for my parents’ intense and sacrificial work-ethic. Also, my parents are actual angels and their loving energy radiates in every aspect of the café, so it’s rare that I wish to not work as a family, and my brother Jimmy is someone I look up to and aspire to be like, his intelligence and the discipline is evident if you engage even in a brief conversation. He conceptualized a bulk of what Café Amarti is today and dealt with a lot of the logistics to execute our vision properly.
TFV: Tell us a little bit about your life outside of the cafe?
KK: Sadly, I have not had the chance to develop hobbies due to my busy schedule, and I am trying to find things that I like to do that is not related to work. Now that I have graduated as of April, I can solely focus on Amarti, but working full time, even isn’t enough at times and I find myself twiddling my thumbs. So I go back to work on my off days, to help out or take care of extra things. There is never a time in my day where I don’t think about Amarti on what I could be improving on. I genuinely love working at Amarti, it’s purposeful, but it’s also a death trap because I never stop. I signed up for a pottery class starting January, so that’s pretty exciting. Also volunteering at I-Lead-Abby has forced me to do step out of work for a few hours.
Hot cocoa or apple cider?
Apple cider. I love anything acidic.
Michael Buble or Mariah Carey?
You mean yuck or yuck?
Gingerbread or sugar cookie?
If it’s not Gingy the gingerbread man from Shrek, I’ll chuck it across the room.
TFV: How would you describe your perfect day in the Fraser Valley?
KK: Work the golden 10am-2pm shift at Amarti, go to Lepp and pick up a salami stick and just eat the whole thing, particularly their Landjaeger. Go to Villa Palace and have the biggest bowl of Pho, #16. Play Street Fighter with my boyfriend at Castle Fun Park. I mean, go to Oldhand and have their brown butter cookie, and go to bed! I’m super edgy like that. Ideally I would like to be in my pyjamas by 9 pm at the latest.
TFV: What is your favourite part about being a local business within the Fraser Valley?
KK: Favourite part of having a business in Abbotsford is that everybody is so freaking nice. It sometimes boggles my mind. Business owners, customers, delivery truck drivers, realtors, mail man, students, moms, dads, even babies are nice. We support each other and try to keep competition out of the picture. Competition can become toxic very fast and it helps no one at the end of the day. When everyone is so busy doing their own thing and being successful, we don’t have room to worry about how others are doing. That’s at least how I feel. I love the Fraser Valley.
TFV: What is your favourite Christmas activity to do here in the Fraser Valley?
KK: I went to the Christmas Tree Lighting, that was fun. I think coming to Amarti is actually amazing during Christmas. It’s lively and cozy. I love it here during winter. Stroll downtown, so many things to do! I went to Montrose and George and I just want to buy everything there, and maybe I will.
Comfy chairs and charming handmade tables, Cafe Amarti welcomes you to find your favourite spot with a warm drink in hand and make it your second home.