Guest article by Connor Yuzwenko-Martin
Food at a theatre usually doesn’t bring to mind hearty beef stews and savoury grilled cheese sandwiches, but that’s just what Edmonton Fringe Theatre is offering at the Fringe Grounds Cafe. What was previously an entrance to a multipurpose room in the ATB Financial Arts Barns off Whyte Avenue is now the front counter for a full-fledged cafe.
Don’t worry, fringers – while there’s no dine-in option right now, takeout and curbside pickup are still available. The cafe team is steadfastly focused on serving with all precautions in mind.
“Before COVID-19, we saw that there was a lack of a gathering space for the arts community where they could work and relax together,” said Teresa Bradley, Cafe Manager. “Being able to eat and rest in the same building as your rehearsals will make a major difference.”
Fringe Grounds Cafe is envisioned not only as a place to eat and drink but to meet, collaborate, draft, rehearse, and even hammer out the details of a grant application. It debuted during the Chinook Series in late February 2020, mere weeks before the pandemic forced an early – although temporary – closure.
“When we opened, it was bright, active, full of energy. There was a clear enthusiasm and demand that we will continue to meet,” Teresa said. “Now we’re taking online orders and preparing meals for curbside pick-up. The team has been so adaptable.”
Teresa designed the entire cafe menu, which intentionally includes a range of healthy meals for all of the hardworking artists, staff, and locals.
Now just over a year old, the cafe is investing all of its earnings into its operations. Three part-time workers prepare, cook, brew, and serve alongside Teresa, who has been delighted to teach her skillset to newcomers in the kitchen.
“Some of them had never worked in a kitchen before, so they were super enthused to get that kind of experience.”
Fringe Grounds Cafe is also supported by Edmonton Fringe’s program administrator, Lindy Mullen. Lindy joined the team in June 2020 while theatre-goers remained in their bubbles and homes.
“I started out in a marketing and communications internship with Edmonton Fringe, and then transitioned to support the cafe’s merchandising and programming efforts,” Lindy explained.
In April, locals might have noticed a merry red wagon being tugged around the Old Strathcona neighbourhood. Stocked with bright red gable boxes, gold tassels swaying as the wheels bump over the pavement, this is Edmonton Fringe’s way of reconnecting with the local community after over a year of varying levels of isolation.
When asked about this initiative, Lindy’s eyes lit up.
“These neighbourhood business packages were received incredibly well. Just by stopping in and saying hello, and gifting their teams with goodies, we made sure they knew they weren’t in this alone. There were cookies and treats made by TYP TOP Bakery, and our famous truffle chocolate coconut balls! Even a corny paper fan that says, ‘Number One Fringe Fan.'”
While the street team has paused its activities for the wellbeing of the community, people have been visiting to redeem free coffee cards that were given out via a QR code.
“As soon as we can, we’ll be out and about again. You can expect us to be aggressively fun and friendly,” Teresa added mischievously.
What they are proudest of is the cafe’s suspended coffee program, loving referred to as “Mitchell-It-Forward” in honour of Fringe’s previous executive director, Adam Mitchell. Adam set the sincere goal of providing every artist with their first cup of coffee on the house. Really, every kind of theatre-maker: technicians, administrators, the rabbit in the magician’s hat.
Small tokens in the form of plastic toy dinosaurs – a callback to 2018’s Fringe-O-Saurus-Rex interactive adventure – can be bought by a customer and then gifted to someone else. That recipient can bring the token back to the cafe and get a free drink. (The dinos get a good soapy bath every time!)
Having a kinda-sorta-meh day that could be fixed right up with a warm cup of coffee, but no dino token gnawing a hole in your pocket? That’s okay. You can come in anyway and use one of them right at the counter. “This is how we want to welcome everyone and offer some comfort with a drink.”
When asked, Teresa recommended the Kale Caesar salad with sunflower seed dressing as a vegan option. Lindy often opts for the Toasted Prosciutto Panini with a side of pickled veggies.Fringe Grounds Cafe is currently open for online orders with curbside pickup. Online orders can be placed at cafe.fringetheatre.ca. For current hours, follow them on Instagram: @fringegroundscafe