Sarnia’s main drag is gaining an increasingly funky vibe as more independent culinary businesses fill in historic empty spaces with interesting and eclectic dining options. Last issue we visited Lola’s and The Tree House. This issue we have found a warming cup of coffee and a comforting, tasty burger by visiting Blackwater Coffee & Tea Company. Located near the Imperial Theatre, Blackwater is Sarnia’s first and only coffee roastery. It is in full view, as the 22-pound bright red roaster sits right in the middle of the long and narrow mixed-styled restaurant.
Owners Dave and Alyssa Duguay roast about 200 pounds of coffee a week, including beans from Ethiopia, Mexico, Peru, Honduras, and Indonesia. They make about six blends and do some customized roasting for restaurants in Sarnia including Maison St. Aubon, Sarnia Riding Club and Alternate Grounds (which was featured in eatdrink last summer). Dave’s house coffee is called Three Gringos, named after the three brothers who own Mountain View Estates Coffee in Toronto, where Dave trained and worked. “They are like brothers to me,” he says. He worked in the coffee business in Toronto for 24 years, including time at Columbia Coffee and Tea Co., where he started as an apprentice right out of secondary school.
In 2010, Dave and Alyssa were visiting her family in Sarnia. While Dave was making some sales calls, he met the owners of Blackwater. A short time later, he bought the place, which thrilled Alyssa, who was glad to return to her hometown. Alyssa had worked in Toronto for The Keg for 20 years and she was glad to pull up roots to return to a small town, the environment they wanted to be in to start a family. They now have two daughters, Evelyn, two and a half years old, and Finley, who is just under a year old.
“When the opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance. I love Sarnia,” says Alyssa. “The big city is cold and it’s a lot warmer here. People say hello and they hold the door open for you. Not to mention the water and the beach. It’s a great place to raise a family.”
The two have embraced the local food movement. This past summer they helped orchestrate and prepare a farm-to-field dinner to celebrate Food Day Canada. They are champions for Bluewater Beef and feature a unique burger every Friday. We sampled the Coffee BBQ’d burger with caramelized onions, five-spice bacon and Swiss cheese, served with the last of their heirloom tomatoes from Smith Family Farms near Wyoming. The Duguays now have their own plot at Smith’s and are growing their own produce. They also source from Sara’s Natural Pork, Purdy’s Fisheries, Franz Turkey and Vrolyk Farms. Everyone at Blackwater wears a team t-shirt which proudly proclaims, “Get Local … Eat Here.”
Dave and Alyssa quickly became part of the community. Dave belongs to the Sarnia Rotary Club and he chairs a community roast beef dinner. The café has a December food drive for the Inn of the Good Shepherd. “We try to get Sarnia-Lambton on the map,” says Dave.
Beyond coffee and burgers, Blackwater makes their own pizzas and baked goods with Chef Nathan Domitrek at the helm. His five-spice seasoning added a nice touch to the burger. He also helps keep up the demand for the café’s energy bars, blondies and butter tarts, as well as the banana bread made with Alyssa’s family recipe.
The café seats about 40 and has a stage at the front for their monthly music nights on “First Fridays.” Otherwise, Blackwater closes at 5pm and is also closed on Sundays. It is not licenced. Plans are underway for a renovation to update the décor, tables and chairs in the new year. Right now the café has a mixture of flooring, some exposed brick walls and is 2500 square feet in a long narrow path front to back, where the open kitchen is in evidence.
It’s been a lot of hard work for Dave and Alyssa but they both say they’re in this for the long haul. “Coffee is my background and people are my passion,” says Dave. “I like making people happy whether they are here for a coffee or something to eat.”
Blackwater Coffee & Tea Company
170 Christina Street North, Sarnia
Jane Antoniak can’t start her day without a cup of coffee. Once awake, she spends her time as a culinary journalist and communications consultant throughout Southwestern Ontario.
Bruce Fyfe prefers a French Press cup of coffee at his office at Weldon Library, Western University. He is a regular contributing photographer to eatdrink.