• By: Marie Waine

Take a bite at Café Urban

One year after the opening of Café Urban at Saint Paul University, the kitchen is busier than ever. Handmade sandwiches, granola and soups are flying onto the trays of hungry students and faculty.

Urban Cafe WEB  (15)Café Urban aims to supply the university and public with locally sourced food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a branch of Urban Element, a cooking studio and event space, located on Parkdale Avenue.

When Saint Paul University decided to end an existing contract with then-food service company, Urban Element submitted a proposal highlighting its focus on in-house made food.

Carley Schelck, Café Urban’s culinary events director, works hard to bring the vision of Café Urban to life every day.

“The welcome back over the last two weeks have been crazy. It just shows you what a year in the space can do. There’s a comfortability with it now,” she says.

However, Café Urban was not always popular with the Saint Paul crowd.

“It was challenging at first because it was a change from what they were used to here. We were more health conscious and focused but slowly over time we started to win them over,” says Schelck. “Who can really deny it—it’s comfort food, it’s home-made and prepared in-house everyday. People can actually smell the baking from the kitchen. That made a difference.”

In order to produce the mouth-watering options, morning staff start their shifts at 5 a.m. with baking and preparing for the morning breakfast crowd. By 7:30 a.m. lunch is being prepared. After the lunch service, afternoons contain events such as catering meetings, conventions and events before preparing for the small dinner rush.

Café Urban employees are hard workers and dedicated to their craft, says Schelck.Urban Cafe WEB  (35)

“We’ve been able to attract employees who have been in traditional restaurant jobs that find this work still interesting because you aren’t cooking typical cafeteria style meals,” she says. “You’re still challenged, people are receptive and then they are encouraged to cook creatively.”

Besides constantly creating meals from scratch, Café Urban admits to one other challenge. A new location recently opened at a first-year student residence on the University of Ottawa campus. Schelck says the café applied the same principles but received a completely different outcome.

“It’s interesting serving food to 17-year-olds. They have lots of different options on their campus. We just have to figure out their interests,” says Schelck. “The chef is torn between giving them exactly what they want and staying true to our principles.”

Perhaps the café just needs more time—after all, it took almost a year to see a big boom in sales at the Saint Paul location.

Meanwhile, Café Urban will be hosting collective kitchen workshops where students, faculty and the public can come together to produce a large amount of food and all share the outcomes. Cooking classes, such as the recent taco night, are also being held.

“We hope to be able to expand this model,” says Schelck. “The school bought into our vision. They saw a common vision with us and they are really excited about helping us achieve those food goals.”

With gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan choices, Café Urban is offering an array of options for anyone who wants to stop by and take a bite.

Check out Café Urban at Saint Paul University on Main Street, open to everyone weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.