April has been a tough month, emotionally. The return to a virus environment that is every bit as serious as it has ever been over the past year is one thing, for sure. I’m no different than most other Canadians and the statement that is bandied about, “we’re in this together”, is clearly truer than ever. Stacked on top of this strange environment for many Cochranites, is the loss of a haven of good tastes and social connection. The Gentry coffee house has closed its doors permanently.
I’m having trouble putting into words the emotions my wife and I have experienced since that fateful day at the end of March. The owner/manager, Tracy, did everything she could to keep it open through the past year of on and off operation, but in the end there weren’t enough customers buying coffee and food to support her costs.
We visited the Gentry almost every day of the year. The draw was, first, one of the best espresso coffee drinks we have ever found. I’m not just comparing the Gentry to other Cochrane coffee houses. I’m looking much further afield for comparison, to include places like Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, and Portland, the so called coffee centres of western North America. Some call me a ‘coffee snob’ and I don’t care—I am, and I don’t waste my money on ordinary espresso coffees.
Secondly, the Gentry was a collection place for many Cochranites. There was a different crowd in the Gentry than in other Cochrane coffee haunts. Most afternoons there were folk who stopped in, ordered their preferred drink, and sat down for a chat. That is another thing that provides a feeling of ‘home’. For me, home is not just the house we live in, but the whole community that we engage with, including our immediate neighbours and others, such as we connected with at the Gentry.
That almost daily opportunity to connect with others in town and the surrounding area is now gone for us. We may find another place to ‘hang out’, but we’ve yet to find a place in Cochrane that serves espresso coffee drinks of the quality and taste that the Gentry did.
The Gentry was the latest version of the coffee house in that location. When we lived in Calgary, we stopped in there a couple of times, but we were usually just driving through Cochrane and took our coffee to go. It wasn’t until we moved to Cochrane, ten years ago, that we discovered what a unique coffee house it was.
Back then the place was called Java Jamboree and it was owned and managed by Jessica. She lived in Cochrane, as did all of her staff. She was at the place almost all the time and kept the quality of their product and the customer service at a high level. It
took a few months, but we soon realised that we’d found ‘our coffee house’.
Jessica was one of the best baristas we’ve encountered. I remember one time when a friend of mine from Calgary came out for a visit and we met at Java Jamboree. He was also a coffee snob. In fact, he made my coffee elitism seem ordinary, by comparison. At his house, he had a complete espresso set up with an expensive grinder and espresso machine.
We picked up our lattes and sat down for a visit. He took his first sip of his drink, one that Jessica had prepared, stopped, looked at me, looked at his drink, then said something like, “Wow!—I’m going to have another one of these.” I just smiled.
Over the years the staff have come and gone, but in our first years in Cochrane, there was a consistent group of young Cochanites working for Jessica. There was Emilie, Shona, Ashley, Coleman, and Sean—all trained by Jessica in the art of being a good barista. One didn’t come to work at Java Jamboree and start pulling espresso drinks right away. You had to go through Jessica’s ‘school of coffee’ as I used to call it. It could take more than a month or two before you were allowed to make any espresso drinks, provided you demonstrated that you could create a product that met Jessica’s standards.
In 2012 and 2013 I had two exhibits of my photographic art hung in Java Jamboree. Those exhibits went very well. I not only sold several images, but I also met other local artists.
In 2014 Jessica decided to leave the business and thankfully a friend of hers, Jennifer, took on the ownership and kept it open. She changed the name to The Gentry, renovated it to give it a new look, put a new menu in, and started scheduling evening entertainment.
In 2016 Jennifer sold the business to Tracy, who has owned and managed the business until this year. I think Tracy ran the Gentry well. The coffee remained excellent and the goodies as well as the meals were perfect for the coffee house. Tracy’s flair for cooking shone through regularly and my favourites were her scones and cinnamon buns.
One ‘Jessica Trained’ barista, Sean, stayed with The Gentry through the years. Thankfully, he was able to pass on his knowledge to others. One who learned well was Dennis, who wasn’t at the Gentry too long, but made a nice espresso coffee drink.
Tracy’s family supported her with the operations. Ryan and Taylor were there a lot and they stepped up their support during the past year. Ryan’s touch with espresso was up to the high standards we’d come to expect from The Gentry. Another barista, Calum, drew a good espresso as well. To us he was especially known as the maker of apple pies with a perfect crust and hand cut apples that were not overly sweetened.
All owners of the Gentry offered the walls of the coffee house to artists so that they could exhibit their art in a place where it would be seen by many. In recent years, Tracy has hosted several exhibit openings and those have been well attended. One special yearly exhibit was put on by one of the local high schools and coordinated by their art teacher, Peter. Every year I saw at least one piece of student art that bowled me over.
Now the coffee we have is brewed in house. We’re accepting that if a nice latte is necessary, we need to plan a trip to Calgary with enough time allowed for that gratification. One thing that is easy to accept about all this is that we have more money in our pockets than we used to have. The coffee and treats at home are definitely less expensive than the coffee house version. However, nothing I can do at home can compare with a Macchiato at the Gentry.
The owners and staff of Java Jamboree and The Gentry can be proud of what they did for the Cochrane community for many years. I will never forget—the closing has left a vacant place inside me.