Juniper Café: Growing Community

By Emily Coppella

Juniper Cafe | 370 King Street West | Website

Raissa Sarkisian likes to take risks. As she dives into her third year as the owner of Juniper Café though, it seems that taking on the business – and the learning curve that came with it – was more than worth it.

“The entrepreneurial route, for me, I think, was the path I was meant to be on. It was a very risky move to launch into one of the most difficult industries as a wife and mother of young children. I knew it would be a handful, taking on this business. But I think most entrepreneurs will agree that we pursue our calling in business because we love it.”

Raissa’s original plan was to start her own coffee shop. When the opportunity came up to take over the Juniper Café, she felt this would be a great way to get started in the business while maintaining the legacy of what the Juniper was all about. She admits the process of purchasing the business involved a steep learning curve, but her passion for the business – and the people who work and find comfort there – is palpable.

Raissa Sarkisian of Juniper Café

Juniper Café is one of a few waterfront licensed dining locations in Kingston. Being embedded in the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning and a few steps away from Queen’s University has made the spot a vibrant scene for students, artists, locals, and visitors. The entire menu is made in-house with ingredients that are sourced locally as much as possible. Their BrieLT, a vegetarian spin on the classic BLT, is made with tomatoes from Forman Farms in Seeley’s Bay. The newest addition to their sandwich line-up is the Mediterranean Mushroom, made from a variety of specialty mushrooms sourced from The Fungi Connection in Harrowsmith. Every sandwich is topped with loads of greens from Burt’s Greenhouse in Odessa. While not exclusively vegetarian, the Juniper’s menu has a good variety of vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Raissa runs the Juniper Café with the help of important pillars that help guide her and the team’s decision-making every day: Quality, Sustainability, and Community.

Juniper Café is founded on quality ingredients, including fresh food sourced from an array of local suppliers. Juniper’s staff position themselves as leaders in specialty coffee and enjoy serving and spreading their coffee knowledge with Kingston locals, students, and travelers. Café operations are run with internal methods that reduce waste, use compostable and recyclable packaging when possible, and follow a responsible waste management regime. Raissa wants Juniper Café’s ecological footprint to remain small. She feels this is an important responsibility for her to assume as a business owner working in an industry that unfortunately contributes to packaging waste. She says: “We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to managing waste – I’m not sure what we are doing is enough.”

Raissa highlights “community” as the most important of the three pillars:

“That’s what coffee shops are all about. They’ve always been about community and where people meet. It is said that in old Europe, cafés were the place where people came to get their news. I love to entertain and make people feel at home. A café should be inviting and comfortable for people to share food, coffee, space, and good conversation. But the real sense of community starts internally with the team.”

A solid team, says Raissa, builds the sense of community that their customers pick up on. The café atmosphere reflects the stellar job the team has done in building that community vibe. It’s a welcoming place where you can connect with friends over a cortado or soup and a fresh slice of focaccia.

Since the Juniper Café is such an integral part of the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning, Raissa supports the arts community through fundraisers and event collaboration such as coffee & yoga, music nights on the patio, artist shows with coffee, and evening shopping or dinner experiences. She has supported not-for-profit organizations such as Loving Spoonful, Martha’s Table, and Kingston Youth Shelter.

Raissa has also not shied away from taking on more risk over the pandemic as she continues to follow her passions. She and her husband recently opened the Juniper Lakehouse, a luxury lakefront rental in Westport, (available on Airbnb and other accommodation platforms). The property is designed with similar vibes of the café – and it offers Juniper’s signature Pilot coffee and Sloane tea to its guests.

This summer, Raissa developed a School Lunch Program that she hopes to launch this coming year. She has always wanted to work with schools to provide healthy and delicious food options for growing kids. While the Juniper continues to grow, Raissa remains true to her values that are centered around quality, sustainability, and community.

The Juniper Café offers more than a dreamy view of Lake Ontario. Whether you’re escaping solo to find some peace or visiting with friends to reconnect, Juniper Café is rooted in and branching out to the Kingston community.