If you see a green flag flying from a purple houseboat in Yellowknife Bay, coffee is likely brewing.
Niki Mckenzie says the owners of Mario's Marvellous Movie Emporium — also known as the coffee ship — passed the torch to her in October 2019, after a few training weekends.
The owners, whom she knows only as Frans and Heather, had started the houseboat café as an informal place for friends to gather, drink coffee and eat cinnamon buns about four years ago. The rule was when the green flag goes up, coffee is on.
Mckenzie gave the space some more consistency by keeping regular hours and opening every weekend, and she still rolls up the green flag because she says, it's fun.
But then COVID-19 hit. She closed for a while to keep everyone safe.
This August, she got approval from the health department to reopen, with some new adjustments.
"Pre-COVID[-19], pre-health department, I was running the coffee ship the way Frans had taught me," she wrote in a text message to CBC.
"The only thing I changed was to switch to consistent hours, which led to increased traffic. I think my record was 15 people and five dogs inside. Obviously that doesn't happen anymore, with social distancing, but it was a hell of a lot of fun."
Mckenzie says one of the beautiful things about Yellowknife is that it gives people opportunities to try new things without huge overheads or the fear of failure.
"People up here are genuinely excited when anyone, anywhere is doing anything new, which I think creates a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurs and hustlers," she said.
She should know. Mckenzie, who is from New Zealand and has been living in Yellowknife for about four years, is working on seven projects, or "hustles" as she calls them, and has made a name for herself around town as a chef to be reckoned with.
She's brought fine, locally sourced multi-course dining into the snow castle with her project #86YKEats, and she is the chef of the Fish on the Bay gourmet fish and chips truck.
"In fact, I think I had to start the coffee ship just to get enough caffeine to get enough energy to keep going with all the other hustles," she said with a laugh.
'It's been nice to see a lot of familiar faces'
Since she reopened, she can only have a few people on board at a time.
"So far, people have been great," she said. "I've had canoes pull up, do a quick count of people on the deck and then paddle around Jolliffe [Island] and come back half an hour later, which is very respectful and kind of people to do."
What's also changed is that there are no tourists.
"In that regard, it's been nice to see a lot of familiar faces," she said. "I get to see young families coming. I get to watch their kids grow up ... I have a serious following of hungover people that turn up about 2:00 p.m."
She said people have been happy to see the flag fly above the boat again.
"They know they can get a good cup of coffee," she said, adding with a laugh that she's willing to trade one of those cups for some good gossip.
"[The coffee ship] is a gathering place to bring people together, to share ideas, stories [and] gossip. Gossip is worth its weight in gold here," she said.
"I will trade coffee for it."