Close-up: Raising the Cultural Bar
Nothing goes with good coffee like a great song and space to relax, and the Streaming Café certainly sets the bar in Kelowna.
Beyond the cutting-edge musicians streaming through their doors—and out to a wider audience via live Internet shows—is a very unique business model founded on social responsibility, creativity and Club Penguin business smarts.
As Kelowna turns its focus to building a cultural identity, pushing the arts to a more prominent role in the city’s future, the company behind the Streaming Café demonstrates how ingenuity and artistic expression really can change the face of Kelowna.
When Dave Krysko, and his Club Penguin partners, Lance Priebe and Lane Merrifield, signed on the dotted line with Disney, Kelowna jumped on technology like it was the last train to opportunity and animation was the bullet express.
In the intervening years, plenty have considered the economic impact of the game—the jobs, the draw for other technology companies, animation companies, new young talent. But few stopped to ponder where the $700 million dollars Disney paid for Club Penguin might go, or how its creators, and their talent for envisioning new realities, would influence this city.
Sitting on Leon Avenue, on a traditionally notorious corner in a neighbourhood once known for it’s seedy underbelly, is a small sliver of what the Krysko family has done.
It’s called the Streaming Café.
“My mother-in-law, she’s gifted in that, she can see light in anybody, or the darkest places—like this café, like our office. These are challenges that most people would shy away from,” explains Dustin Sargent, son-in-law to Krysko and his wife Donara.
Sargent is the spokesperson for the family business, Davara Enterprises. A merger of the family matriarch and patriarch, Dave and Donara, Davara allows the Krysko family to build their version of a sustainable, healthy community with a vision to spur social change, attract new business, respect the environment, and bolster the arts.
With overtones of Christian values, their philosophy permeates every venture they touch. From their multi-family rental housing, about to go up on Leathead Road, to their 12 addiction recovery houses for women, to their urban organic farm in the Mission, Davara’s reach holds seemingly endless possibility with the café providing both a geographic and philosophic centrepiece.
And aside from the obvious—they did strike it rich in animation—the arts are very important to the Krysko family’s vision.
Dave Krysko was a musician before launching into business. One son is a musician on the coast, where he’s building a similar venue, and the family seems to recognize that art, creativity and success don’t need to stand in opposition to one another.
“Learning how to bridge that gap between what exactly art is and what makes it financially viable has always been a conundrum,” Sargent admits.
With the café, it all makes sense. The music draws people in, the people create a change in atmosphere on the street, soon other businesses follow—or so they hypothesized.
When the idea for the Streaming Café was conceived, the family already operated the Karis Society, providing recovery housing, primarily for woman, to those coping with addiction and mental health issues. Karis, of Greek origin, means grace and the name encompasses their approach to their work.
“Some of our ladies have left and come back and left and come back. We work with them, realizing everybody needs a second chance,” said Peter Lees, manager of operations for the Karis Society.
Going into a neighbourhood like the Leon Avenue spot with the recovery houses already under their wing let Davara see past the dingy street-front and social challenges and recognize the potential of the heritage-style venue.
Two and a half years later, they’re pouring coffee produced in the Lower Mainland’s Oughtred Coffee & Tea, serving locally grown food from their organic farm, Little Church Organics, and providing Canadian musicians a unique way to showcase their talents in a room filled with local art.
In short, the café is a microcosm of the family’s world view and the music, streamed live over the Internet, takes the whole thing out to a global audience.
Initially, finding acts to play the venue was no easy task, Sargent admits, but with musicians like David Wilcox, Corb Lund, Julie Doiron, Greg Sczebel, and Jen Lane already in their online library, the Streaming is quickly picking up steam.
Krysko’s original company, New Horizon Productions, handles the Internet component, which is about to be moved from its current home in a van beside the premises to the brand new building Davara is erecting next door.
It’s the first new building in the downtown core in years, and it’s already fully leased. Davara worked with Martin Berthiaume, of Studio East to West, to develop the streaming solution, the team spending countless hours in the beginning working out a strategy.
“Knowing that when we opened there was still this habitual congregation of people hanging outside the doors that would probably smash the windows in to get a bottle, there was no alcohol.
“We were open seven days a week, for long hours and had security guards outside,” said Sargent.
“And we put the equipment in a van so we could drive it away at the end of the night.”
The plan worked. Today, the security guard and long hours are gone, and with a television at ground level in one corner, the Streaming Café even caters to families, starting shows early at 7 p.m. and selling alcohol. The early hour makes the music accessible to young musicians and allows anyone in the country to tune into the show without it getting to late.
And the fibreoptic cable already wired into the Streaming Café site is proving a selling feature for their new development next door.
They will soon be handling the live-streaming portion of the business out of a new studio space being built alongside in that development. The roof of the Streaming Café will become a patio for the corporate building and a street-level patio, with garage door-style access, will open the performance base up in summer months.
“We’re expanding at sustainability. As the influence of the Streaming Café reaches more people, and there’s more interest, we can open the doors longer,” said Sargent.
Although there does seem to be significant interest already, there’s a massive game-plan to go further.
At the moment, the shows fill the café and draw another 1,500 fans online, with regular viewers in Hong Kong, China and Europe.
In East Kelowna, their farm inn, Bottega (www.bo.ttega.com), is also being developed to complement the coffee house. The building is up and running in the soft-launch phase and, though programming has yet to be established, Sargent said Davara hopes to offer traditional retreat-style accommodation to supplement artist residencies during slower months.
“I can’t really find something that’s similar to it,” he said, noting it’s in the vein of the Banff Arts Centre, but different.
The official launch will not be until spring, and he’s tight-lipped on the subject for now; although he is game to point out a similar property, in Germany, is also being developed with some overseas business partners. Musicians from Germany have already made the leap, playing the Streaming Café’s regular concert schedule, and it’s hoped the exchange between the café, Bottega and Europe will foster new talent and build new relationships.
“The idea was to create a platform for musicians who maybe don’t have the tools to announce themselves on a larger level,” said Sargent. “The entire music industry is shifting toward using the Internet as a tool, instead of Internet being the thing that destroyed their ability to make money at it, and I think that’s what this is all about.”
Thus far, the musicians seem impressed.
“We have a really good standing with artists and we’re really proud of that,” said Michael Donley, the man behind the music.
Donley came out of a successful band himself—the Sleddogs—and selects the performers and manages the shows, which have become interactive experiences with the online audience invited to weigh in. Almost every artist’s mom or aunt or uncle watches and adds a little unique commentary, and almost every artist apologizes for looking a little rough around the edges on a night their family could be watching from the living room couch.
“With the Internet, we don’t know, we could have a room full of people watching the show,” said Donley. “And in addition to that exposure, the artists are all walking away with a product they can take and show to people in the business.”
Davara’s vision includes one day training people from the recovery homes as baristas at the Streaming Café or to work the gardens at Little Church Organics; but for now they’ve built an amazing hangout, changed the life of a downtown corner and managed to profit.
“We’re just looking forward to the expansion of the building,” Sargent said. “It’s going to be really the last piece of the puzzle to creating a total change to a little corner of the world. Nonetheless it’s key, and it’s key to attracting more creative business operators in the downtown area.”
In addition to Davara, the Kryskos have a foundation, the Krysko Foundation. Bands perform Friday and most Saturdays at the Streaming Café in house at 596 Leon Ave. or online at www.streamingcafe.net