Moving back to a Tetley Tea–loving former British dominion to launch a career in coffee might sound like a bad idea. But Jon Howse and Greg Hewlett are proving that the island of Newfoundland has an appetite for quality coffee that is growing even more quickly than their Fixed cafés, which now have two locations in St. John’s, the province’s capital.
Howse and Hewlett grew up together in Springdale, a small coastal town in central Newfoundland. They headed in separate directions after high school, both discovering a love of coffee along the way: Howse in British Columbia and Halifax and Greg in Australia and back in St. John’s.
Howse worked as a barista in Nova Scotia, including at Two If By Sea Café in Dartmouth, and helped open Brewed Awakening, a café that now has three locations in Corner Brook on the island’s west coast. While working together as baristas at Rocket Café and Bakery in downtown St. John’s, Howse and Hewlett hatched a plan to give the city a proper coffee bar inspired by those they’d visited around the world.
Fixed Coffee and Baking, which opened in downtown St. John’s in 2012, brought that plan to life. The small shop in one of the older buildings just two blocks in from the waterfront is painted a robin’s egg blue that brings to mind both the ocean and the famous Jellybean Row homes lining the city’s downtown core. Finished wood floors and tables, many set inside tall booths, give the café a craftsman feel that strikes a balance between modern and homey. The stool seating at a pair of corner windows look onto Duckworth Street and an elegant pocket park, offering plenty of opportunities for people-watching
Fixed brews one single-origin roast each day in a six-cup Fetco brewer or by pour-over for to-stay orders. Espressos are pulled on a three-group Kees van der Westen Mirage that rests on a raw-wood bar free of clutter. The beans in the Compak grinders come from Anchored Coffee, based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. They regularly change with the season, and Howse and Hewlett regularly bring in guest roasts from across North America. True to its dual nature, Fixed Coffee and Baking offers stunning baked goods. The café presents freshly made muffins and pastries featuring local berries, as well as sandwiches, salads, and soups. Soups are made with local produce, and salad ingredients are sourced exclusively from Murray Meadows Farm on the island. A hoisin-jelly brioche donut has even been teased on the café’s mouthwatering Instagram feed.
Hewlett and Howse’s original plan has branched out since Fixed opened nearly three years ago. While coffee and fresh-made baked goods were always part of the plan for Fixed, Howse says, “books just sort of happened” when a small space became available in the same building downstairs and around the corner from Fixed. They partnered with Broken Books on an independent bookstore that served great coffee. Late last year, they opened their second shop, called Fixed Coffee Bar.
In the near future, Hewlett and Howse plan to focus on establishing the second location and relaunching their popular summer pop-up evening meals at the original Fixed location. Fixed’s quick success and growth reflects the expansion of the market for good coffee in St. John’s, Howse says—a change that doesn’t just come from the province’s increasing fortunes, thanks to revenues from offshore oil production. “People who would have been content with a bad cup of coffee no longer are,” he says.
In fact, he thinks the small city could support another couple coffee shops, based on how busy his own usually are, and credits his former employer Rocket for helping to create a wider coffee culture in a place known for its affection for tea and Tim Horton’s. “People have a hunger for it they didn’t know they had,” Howse says.
—Terri Coles is a freelance writer based in St. John’s.