We all have a happy place. For some, maybe it's the beach or a ski hill. For others, this place may not actually exist unless they close their eyes and imagine. I've never really had a happy place, per say. I have a hard time picking favourites too. Your happy place should make you feel safe, comforted, and of course, well, happy

I think it's safe to say I've found my happy place. And what I like most about it is I don't have to close my eyes to go there. 

It's located on the corner of Union and Crichton Street in New Edinburgh, in the east end of Ottawa. And they don't call it the big house-o-love for nothing. This particular big house is home to the Shunnya Centre yoga studio, an incredible Airbnb apartment, and what this post will mostly be about: the Union Street Kitchen Café

We all have that one thing that when we talk about it, our voice changes, our eyes squint, and everything else — all the noise of life — falls away. For café owner, good friend, teacher, and coffee connoisseur Christine, it's food. 

Before following her dream of opening up a yoga studio / café combo, we worked together for four years at The RoyalWhen I first met her, it didn't take long for me to realize she not only loves food, but has a seemingly never-ending knowledge of nutrition. As a an Ayurvedic nutritionist, Christine spent the previous decade of her career helping people learn to cook and use food as a healing tool. 

Just a few months into our friendship, I became a frequenter of her Sunday morning Kundalini + Soup yoga classes where she would teach a yoga class and serve her homemade soup after. She taught me that yoga is about union and community. Traditionally, yoga would bring people together and they would share a meal afterwards. I quickly learned that she is not only a super-cool-mom-entrepreneur but also a top notch yoga teacher, chef, and community-builder. 

Christine embodies community in everything she does. She is a friend and teacher to all through her yoga classes and connects people at every chance.

After class and on our lunch breaks at work, we started getting coffees cortados. A cortado is exactly half espresso, half whole milk or cream and has little to no foam, very coif-able, she would say. We would chat about everything under the sun as well as analyze the flavours, and discuss what made us like the shop and what we would do differently. 

Flash forward and I'm sitting in her café listening to jazz and savouring her latest creations. Did someone say Lavender-White-Chocolate Mocha?

Having had a window into this whole process - from purchasing the building and her discussing floor tiles to watching her come up with a name and design her own brand, I know how much work has gone into turning her dreams into a reality. 

But she's not living it alone, everyone — this whole community she has brought together through her love of food and coffee — is living it with her. The second I enter the café, I feel like I'm in a dream. And I sort of am. I'm in her dream and the joy is shared. 

She first spotted the big house-o-love many many years ago back when it was the original Scone Witch location. She would watch the owner Heather who frequently visits USKC make the scones and stare in amazement. She always loved the house so when she saw it was up for sale last year, she embarked on a journey that led her to where she is today.  

While USKC was undergoing major renovations — which took just six months — the yoga studio opened and I was able to complete the last few months of my Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training there. I remember me and all the students would get so excited about the café opening and talk about how cool the big house was and how she's really really doing it. Christine gave us a behind the scenes tour of the reno's and would outline *with stars in her eyes* air drawings of the layout.

I've learned so much through watching her manifest this dream. The most important being that once you find what makes your heart jump — be it food or coffee or both, or animals, or teaching or traveling, do that. Do it and just decide, as Christine says. Because at the end of a 16-hour day, that is what will keep you going. Trust me, I've seen it. No amount of espresso will give you the fire to keep going like living your passion. The coffee does help though, I'm sure she would agree. 

While the coffee is on point, Christine would never drink a cup without a cookie, of course. I remember in our early coffee shop visiting days she would say What is the point in having a coffee without a cookie?

She knew that cookies would be a key food item of her café. It wasn't long before the Cookie Monster was born. These cookies — which sell like hot cakes cookies — are the perfect balance of crunchy and chewy and have only the best of the best — Lindt milk chocolate chunks (they're like more than chunks tho) in them. If you're going to do it, just do it, amirite???

The café aesthetic, which draws inspiration from neighbourhood coffee shops in Europe and NYC, has become a favourite, insta-worthy spot. The tiles — a labour of love by her fiancé, local restauranteur, and co-owner Craig, have become the adored stamp of USKC.

Having been notorious for her soup-making abilities, that too had to be a key menu item. Her soup is by far my favourite thing. It always has been. I feel like her secret has been exposed and now everyone gets to enjoy her soup the way her family and friends always have. 

To go along with a bowl of healing, are scrumptious pressed panini's, avo-toast, salads, frittatas, and pizza. 

While she's never one to shy away from a conversation and knows almost every customer by name, she truly speaks through her food. It is an extension of who she is as a person — vibrant, healing, warm, inspiring and beautifully complex. 

She accomplishes in her 250 sq-ft kitchen the same as a world-renowned fine dining chef. She takes classic items and thinks what can I add to make this better or how can I make this pretty. She's changed mine and I'm sure many people's view on food. The way she pairs spices and herbs to make new flavours is astounding. She can make a green soup look and taste like you'll need a second bowl — it's that good. What people are surprised to learn is that she doesn't use recipes and cooks mostly by smell. She also welcomes and incorporates her staff's favourite recipes, encouraging them to try new things, adding variety and an international twist to the menu. 

I'm truly blown away by this whole experience and I know this is just the beginning for Christine, Craig, and the big house-o-love. 

Photo: owned by Christine. (Her and Craig). 


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