Emphasizing connection over consumerism
The Roundhouse Café is a comfy coffee shop overlooking Rutledge Park on Cloverdale Avenue. It has a small patio enclosed by trees, and a cute little rock fountain. On the door is a sign proclaiming: “Bringing the community together… Our coffee is your destination.”
Roundhouse proprietor Kelly Miller-Gerlach says that her inspiration for the cafe’s name came from the large rotating turntables that are used in railyards to assist with service and storage of locomotives. She lived near the Canadian Pacific Railway in Calgary when she was growing up, and says that cafes and community played a formative role during this period of her life.
“My dad used to take me to coffee shops a lot,” she says. “On Sunday after church we’d go to cafes, and often he’d see a homeless person and he would bring them along and treat them to coffee and apple pie and lunch or whatever, and I learned a lot by that.”
This sense of connection is what inspired her to open her own cafe in January of 2015.
“I was only five years old when I started going to coffee shops with my dad, but that was a lesson well-learned,” she says. “My father would tell me never to judge a person until I had walked a mile in their shoes. Everyone has a story to tell.”
Miller-Gerlach values the generosity and compassion that her parents showed others, and she hopes to extend those values to her customers. She makes a point to chat with them, learn their name, and always say goodbye. She says that the Roundhouse also has regular patrons who mostly visit so they can feel at home.
“We have a lot of elderly [people] that come here and they don’t have anybody, so this is their spot. Even if they just sit and have a coffee for a couple hours, it’s somewhere they can feel appreciated,” she says. “There’s a lot of lonely people out there that you don’t realize, and here they can be a part of something.”
She says that she tries to be in tune with how people are feeling, and hopes to lift their spirits if they’re feeling down.
“Little things like that make a huge difference in people’s lives; you have to listen to your inner intuitions,” she says. “Often it’s spot-on, but I think we’ve gotten so caught up with being on our computers and our devices that we’ve stopped appreciating one another for who we are.”
Although the Roundhouse is a small business, Miller-Gerlach isn’t concerned about competition, because her cafe offers a unique humanistic atmosphere often missing in large corporate franchises. The COVID-19 pandemic has put some pressure on the business, forcing them to reduce their hours, but Miller-Gerlach says that the Roundhouse isn’t going anywhere as long as they have the support of the community. She is happy that her cafe can be a place where people can feel welcome despite the current social isolation. In tough times, even a small amount of interpersonal connection goes a long way.
“The happiness and the joy is missing now, so if you can get a little bit of that when you come into the coffee shop, it makes your heart sing,” she says.