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The smell of freshly-roasted coffee hits you as soon as you open the door.
Inside the unassuming building on Water Street in Carbonear, home of Dark Star Coffee Roasters, café owner Darren Randell is sitting, chatting with customers at one of the tables made from reclaimed wood.
Randell and his business partner, Mark Royle, salvaged the wood for some of the tables from old buildings and found a craftsman to fashion it into tables.
The tables fit with the ambiance of the building. It’s circa 1929, and used to be a telephone operations building, among other things.
With its poured concrete walls and exposed pipes, and colour scheme of greys and blacks, it’s not a cookie-cutter design.
Artwork adds pops of colour on the walls.
As Randell continues his conversation with customers, Royle bustles through the room with trays of freshly-baked cookies and hand pies, the other specialty of Dark Star Coffee.
Sure, there are other coffee shops in town.
But this one is different.
Not just for the location, or the furniture.
Dark Star Coffee Roasters is a place where you’re meant to sit and savour your coffee or treat.
While the business is new, the owners are familiar to anyone versed in the history of coffee in St. John’s.
Randell was the founder of Hava Java in the downtown area of the capital city. Royle, his partner and Dark Star co-owner, also worked at the iconic coffee shop.
Hava Java was the ‘in’ coffee shop in St. John’s for many years, with a colourful and diverse clientele.
Randell said something happened in his personal life so they left the business and he and Royle went to the other side of the world to live in Australia and New Zealand.
He pursued a career in health care for about 20 years but eventually, they came back home.
“I always wanted to get back into coffee, that was never a question,” Randell said. “We were looking around and the market in St. John’s is saturated. We came out here one beautiful day to see this place and saw how beautiful the area was. We walked in the door of the building and said ‘yes, yes, yes,’ this is it.”
He said Royle immediately saw the potential for the space and they went for it.
They spent about eight months on renovations and opened in May 2019.
Royle said they see a lot of potential in the area, with the Stone Jug restaurant just down the road and the Yellowbelly brewery opening in Harbour Grace.
They were unsure whether there was a market for premium espresso, coffee, and baked goods but they said the local support has been fantastic.
“We’ve made some great regular customers here,” Royle said. “It’s gone way better than I expected.”
Randell said it was a pleasant surprise to see people come out of the woodwork for a local café and the people are delightful.
The passion they both have for the business and coffee is evident. Randell's eyes light up when he talks about the different coffees they serve, the taste, the smell. It's early to talk about expanding, he says, but he's been encouraged by the reaction so far and if things keep going so well, who knows?
They roast the small-batch coffee on-site and Royle bakes the food. It’s his first foray into baking, he said, he’s been pleased with the reception from customers. All their coffee is organic, fair trade, single estate and globally sourced.
They also sell their roasted coffee by the bag at the Carbonear location, as well as from at Rocket Bakery in downtown St. John’s. Randell said he hopes to have online sales up and running soon and they’ll see where it goes from there.