"I want that," Cait Holmes says. That was her first thought when she heard Joel Plaskett was including a cafe at his New Scotland Yard Emporium. "I am the type of person who says, 'We're doing it,'" Holmes says. "Alex has a bit of a frenzy, but then? Then it happens."
Holmes, 27, and her partner Alex Babineau, 23, are a part of a growing community of young entrepreneurs that are sticking it out, against all odds, in Halifax. They bring the DIY ethic of youthful music and art culture—a flower in this sidewalk crack of a province, a beautiful, stubborn thing that insists on growing here no matter how many times it's stepped on—to business ventures they can hopefully build into something that is just as deep-rooted. Last year they opened Honey & Butter, the cafe portion of Portland Street's Emporium.
Instead of following the steady road of working her way to the top of someone else's heap, Holmes wanted to blaze a path on her own. "Kitchen work is hard work and it's shit pay. That's just the way that it is," she says. "I'd rather pay myself shitty wages and do what I want. Rather than work for somebody else's dream, I can work for my own."
In February of last year, she left her job working in the kitchen of The Canteen. Babineau was still working as a barista at Two if By Sea when they started setting up Honey & Butter as a booth at the Forum Market. "We did that for a couple of months and then we realized that we wanted to be in Dartmouth."
When rumblings about Plaskett's record store and cafe began, their focus sharpened. "We weren't even thinking about opening a location when this came along," says Holmes.
The couple gave out their business cards to anybody they knew to pass on to Plaskett. Holmes calls it an ambush. After a half-dozen business cards reached Plaskett, he called. "It was a great fit," says Babineau. "And we told him we'd make gluten-free muffins. That's all he ever asked."
All fairness to Plaskett, the gluten-free muffins aren't the real draw. Honey & Butter's bread and butter is cookies and squares. "Sandwich cookies were the first thing at the market that we were like 'This is the thing,'" says Babineau. "The peanut butter-and-jelly cookie sandwich is the one we get asked about the most," adds Holmes.
The basics of the menu—cookies, squares and muffins—always stay the same, but the details change on a day-to-day basis. Christmas saw a peppermint Nanaimo bar, Easter saw a take on the Creme Egg and the thick, silky butter cream icing may be tinged with blood orange, chocolate or lemon, given the day.
"With the coffee we wanted something local and there was no Java Blend love over here, so we've decided to hold it down on the darkside," says Babineau. Won over by the socially conscious vibe in the Propeller cafe in Toronto, they also added Propeller Coffee Co.'s sustainably sourced roasts to the menu.
"I've lived in Dartmouth my whole life," says Babineau. "So many of the businesses seem to be people who grew up here. It's nice and everybody just kind of supports everybody else. As soon as we opened, a lot of people came in and were instantly like 'See you tomorrow!' It's pretty cool."
After a winter of testing ice cream recipes, the cafe plans to roll out an ice cream cart—with flavours like strawberry miso and pineapple upside-down cake—when the weather gets warm. This weekend, to celebrate Record Store Day, you can get a free taste of Honey & Butter's confections at Taz Records' Halifax, Bedford and New Scotland Yard locations.
Honey & Butter
45 Portland Street
Record Store Day
Saturday, April 16