Student juggles school, running her own café
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If you look up “drive” and “ambition” in the dictionary, you might just find a picture of Ciara Bracken-Roche in both entries.
Only 22 years old, Bracken-Roche owns and runs her own coffee shop, Agora Cafe, located at 3015 Dundas St. W. while simultaneously studying international relations and psychology at the University of Toronto.
Though the workload between both endeavours might seem astronomical, it seems to hardly faze Bracken-Roche. No surprise, really, when you consider she used to be on the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Teen Council as well as the loud-voiced, commanding coxswain of a men’s rowing team. Taking charge comes naturally to Bracken-Roche.
“The key to getting things under control is the planning and organization. I always want to be behind the counter, even as we get busier,” she said.
Bracken-Roche bought the café with the help of her parents and opened it in June 2007. Since then, business has been strong, buoyed by Bracken-Roche’s clever insight into a lucrative niche: Environmentally sound meals and coffee.
“We try to use local or organic produce and I’m big on Fair Trade organic coffee and tea. It is slightly more costly, but I really wanted to show that you can offer an alternative for people and still run a business,” Bracken-Roche said.
The menu sports about 50 per cent vegetarian fare and its biggest hit is Irish brown bread, baked to Bracken-Roche’s age-old family recipe. The café, adorned with bohemian baubles and hand-crafted collages, already attracts a steady stream of regulars drawn to its homey, neighbourly feel.
“There’s a real community vibe that’s happening. You can leave your favourite mug here, and we don’t have a clock on the wall. Many of our customers like that,” she said.
Being green is a high priority for Bracken-Roche, from the completely biodegradable cups to the raw pasta strings used as stir sticks instead of wood. Even paper plates and bags are discouraged — Bracken-Roche says she encourages customers to take their meals home on the same ceramic plate they were served on and return those plates the next time they come in.
While school work and running the café eats up a lot of her time, Bracken-Roche says she still makes time to see her friends and relax when she can, or at least laugh the stress away.
“Most of my friends are really busy, too, so we can always poke at each other a bit for not making it out,” she joked.
Bracken-Roche will graduate in June, but for now she’s focused on business.
“Our soup sold out today. That makes me happy,” she said.