Since opening its doors in early July, the Valley Social has been a hub of activity. The coffee shop and lounge was months in the making, after owner Dan Whillans entered an essay contest and ended up winning a café. Instead of taking over the original café, which was located in White Rock, Whillans salvaged what he could and moved the equipment, including an espresso machine worth over $15,000, to Fernie. He has been renovating the space on Second Avenue since then and was excited to finally open in the summer.
“I couldn’t thank all of the business enough for their support and people just keep coming in and that is what we are here for,” he told The Free Press. “I have been really grateful for people giving us a try and understanding that we are new and then helping us – helping us with criticism to get better.”
One of Whillans objectives it to keep it simple and local, and he tries to source as many local products as he possibly can. Currently, his beans are from Rooftop Coffee Roaster, a Fernie-based business with a young owner. His vegetables are from Spruce Spring Stream Farms and the meat for the charcuterie boards is from a German butcher in Kimberley.
“One thing we want to reiterate with the food is that it is all as local as possible,” he said.
As for simplicity, Whillans wants to make life a little less complicated for his customers.
“It’s all super simple and that is what we want – simple, simple, simple is what we are going for. If you order a latté, you are getting a specific size. You are getting the size that we think lends itself best to the flavour,” said Whillans. “We want people to make less decisions in their day and just have a spot where they can feel invited and good.”
Along with coffee and snacks, the Valley Social is a licensed establishment, selling a variety of beer, wine and cocktails, all with the same focus on local produce. Whillans sells beer from the Fernie Brewing Co. and craft liquor from the Bohemian Spirits in Kimberley.
While Whillans is still working out the best hours of operation, he intends to stay open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. throughout the winter, allowing people to enjoy a lounge-type atmosphere into the evening.
One aspect of the café that Whillans enjoys is the number of people who use the establishment for their work, either to host meetings or to create their own projects.
“It’s kind of cool to be in a community where there are so many people creating. There are so many people creating in this community where half the people who come in here are working on their own projects, and get into a place where they can work on it,” he said. “It’s really just about creating a space that people like.”
Whillans acknowledges the amount of help and support he has received, and says he thinks that is something unique to Fernie.
“Somebody asked me if I would be able to do this if I were to do it in Toronto, where I have lived and have a lot of friends, but I don’t think so,” he said. “Because, at the drop of a hat to be like I really need help with a dump run – someone is always there and happy to help.”