Cursed Coffee owner Rayna Moffat shows of her shop in the Canex Mall in Shilo on Tuesday, Dec. 14. (Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun)

By Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

SHILO — Celebrating its second anniversary in CFB Shilo, Cursed Coffee has been adapting to and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic since  it first opened its doors.

The coffee shop initially launched in  early December 2019, taking over Forbidden Flavours at the Canex Mall in  Shilo. It has been an interesting experience being a new business owner  during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Rayna Moffat.

“I have nothing  else to compare it to. I don’t know what it’s like to own a business …  [before] COVID,” Moffat said. “It’s a lot of having to pivot and having  to think quickly and change quickly.”

When she initially took  over the cafe, a full kitchen was added so they can do more baking and  offer more items on the food menu. A dining room has also been added to  the space.

Moffat said a number of renovations were undertaken because she wanted to enhance the space for the community.

It  was a scary project to undertake during the pandemic because they  invested a significant amount of money to secure equipment and  renovations, but were uncertain if they would get a return on the  investment.

Moffat said she had always wanted to launch her own  coffee shop — her passion lies in baking, and coffee made the perfect  companion.

“It was something I always wanted to do and have a cute  little coffee shop and bakery. I found myself in a position where I  could change career paths.

“I’ve always loved baking and I’ve  always loved the food industry. Restaurants are high stress and when  you’re busy, you’re so busy that you can’t think. It’s a rush and I  always like that.”

Owning the shop adds a new layer to her  hospitality experience as she gets to serve customers, but now has to go  home and do payroll and set up orders and complete other paperwork.

“I  get the best of both worlds where I can get into my finance background  and do the quiet things, but also we do have the rush here,” Moffat  said.

She opted to call the shop Cursed Coffee, because she felt  like it was the perfect name — it was a blessing to open the shop, but  the timing also felt like a bit of a curse.

As a specialty coffee  shop, everything at Cursed Coffee is handmade and all of the drinks and  food are made to order. Moffat takes great pride in the secret chai tea  recipe — it is made from a carefully crafted chai concentrate unique to  Cursed Coffee. It took about four recipes until they got it perfect.

The first year is always the hardest for a new business, and that was only made more true by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cursed  Coffee has been in a unique position during the pandemic. Because it is  located on a military base, it is regulated differently compared to its  provincial counterparts. This also impacted their ability to qualify  for programs offered during the pandemic to help businesses weather the  global health crisis.

Another challenge — but also a perk — is her business directly correlates with the movement of the military.

“In  the summer, if they’re on exercise in Wainwright, my sales go down, or  if they need to be shipped off to help with forest fires in B.C., my  sales go down,” Moffat said. “On the same token, when everybody was out  of work, the army still had work and they still had a paycheque coming  in, so I still had customers.”

This affected their first two months of operations, Moffat said, because most military personnel were on break.

“Usually  on the second week of December, everyone leaves on holiday. A few  people stay behind, but the majority of them leave, so my business cuts  probably in half in December.”

By the time they returned, the effects of COVID-19 were starting to be felt at Cursed Coffee.

It  is rare for an independent coffee shop to be located on a Canadian  Forces base, Moffat said. To her knowledge, CFB Shilo is one of the only  ones without a Tim Hortons and this can impact what customers expect  when they visit the shop.

“People are coming from across Canada to  Shilo and they are used to their Tims — and I’m not Tims,” Moffat said.  “I don’t have a huge infrastructure to have all of the equipment and  machines that they have and I don’t have the staff that they have. With  COVID, our resources are really limited.”

Health measures have  also been more stringent on the base, Moffat said. For example, Shilo  was mandated to wear masks long before the rest of Manitoba was.

“Having  to enforce the rules of wearing masks on base was hard. We have  civilians that come through and they’re not necessarily familiar with  the fact that the base rules are different,” Moffat said. “Even though  you didn’t have to wear a mask in restaurants in Brandon, you did in  Shilo. That was a weird time trying to differentiate the rules between  Shilo [as a federal entity] rather than provincial.”

She added  there was added pressure because as a small business, they were  navigating routes for financial support during the global health crisis.  This was challenging as she had just bought the business and could not  compare sales from previous years because overnight they became a  completely different business.

She noted the shop has not been immune to the rising production costs and supply chain issues during the pandemic.

At  one point, the cafe was unable to get hot sauce for a few months  because the supplier did not have enough plastic to make the lids for  the product. These obstacles have forced them to learn how to cope with  shortages.

“Sometimes I have to pay more for stuff. I can’t buy  the thing in bulk because they don’t have it, so I need to pay more for  things because I don’t have an option,” Moffat said.

This in turn  has increased already rising costs. Moffat said the cost of coffee has  increased 10-fold, and something as simple as a case of lettuce has  increased by about $30 in the last few months.

The shop has also encountered the rising costs of sanitization supplies and personal protective equipment.

“Your margins are very thin unless you want to pass on the costs to customers.”

The  shop currently has six staff members, most of whom are students. It is a  great team, she added, because three previously worked at Forbidden  Flavours and have played a major role in the success of the shop.

“They’re  great,” Moffat said. “My staff make everything worth it. If I’m having a  bad day … they’re always there to cheer me up, and if they’re busy,  we’re all a big family and we work together. They’re the best part.”

This item is reprinted with permission from Brandon Sun, Shilo, Manitoba. See article HERE.

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