New owners, same place
La Crema Caffe sees few changes under new ownership
Saturday, Mar 01, 2014 06:00 am
The small bell located on top of La Crema Caffé’s entrance gives a light jingle as the first customer of the day walks in. She glances at the menu on a board above the counter but has barely opened her mouth when a café employee asks if she wants her regular coffee.
Yes, she laughs, and they chitchat for a while before she leaves, this time with a steaming drink in her hand.
Despite a change in ownership, it looks like business as usual at the popular, downtown St. Albert café. Throughout the morning, customers fill the tables beside the large, sun-filled windows. By lunch hour, they mix and mingle over pulled pork sandwiches and gluten-free cakes.
Beside the entrance, the café’s signature statue, a chubby cook, smiles at them. So does Jadranka Dzudzelija, the new owner of La Crema, looking up from her work in the kitchen.
“The looks and feel. Especially in the summer it’s like a piece of Europe,” she says of the café. “It has charm and it’s very attractive. I like it, the whole atmosphere, it’s a good feeling.”
Dzudzelija and her husband Velimir took ownership of the café in early December. But they had noticed La Crema long before that, she says. It reminds her of Europe, and the cafés she went to in her native Yugoslavia.
Three months into the business, she still remains the quiet observer in the background. She doesn’t want to scare her customers by over-exposing them to the new ownership, she says. And really, the changes are so minimal, they probably wouldn’t notice, she laughs.
Take the menu for example. Except for a few new items, such as the spanakopita, it has remained the same, she says. There’s a wide selection of (mostly) gluten-free baking. And they’re still smoking their wings and ribs in the back, she says.
They’ve also added a choice of different gluten-free soups, made from fresh, farm ingredients – such as free-range chicken, she says. On Wednesday, customers had a choice of chicken or mushroom, with an option for cornbread.
“Improve taste, decrease price, and have happier customers,” she says.
From bakery to café
The Dzudzelijas’ are no newcomers to the service industry.
Five years ago, the couple took over a longstanding German bakery in Edmonton. But with only one baker in the shop who could produce the specialized goods, the shop was lacking employees. So they sold it to another bakery last year and looked for new opportunities, she says.
That’s when they saw that La Crema Caffé was for sale.
Robert Logue, the former owner, says he decided to sell the business for health reasons. He owned the café for five years and says it became very popular during his time there, specifically for its gluten-free offerings.
“We had set up the restaurant in a way that it had become very popular,” he says. “So it’s up to them to follow that and we hope they do.”
But operating a café in downtown St. Albert is also expensive, says Dzudzelija.
They kept most of the old employees but rescheduled some work hours to make for a more effective team. They also tried to cut down expenses by baking more goods on their own.
On the weekends, the café continues to have open-mike and guest-musician performances but with few people coming out for the events she’s not sure if they are as popular as she thought.
But she looks forward to the summer, she says. That’s when the outdoor market opens and customers can sit outside. And really, it’s the downtown that makes La Crema Caffé such a perfect place to be, she says.
“Just look at it. It’s so beautiful,” she says.