Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Gord Fortin

STANDING THEIR GROUND – Brioni Connolly, the owner of The Poor Creature café, and her husband, Traolach Ó Murchú, are seen at the premises late Tuesday morning. The lease dispute with Yukonstruct has landed in the Yukon Supreme Court.

Supporters gather at café facing eviction

The owner of The Poor Creature invited customers and supporters to visit the café Tuesday to show support since a petition was filed against it in the territory’s Supreme Court.

By Gord Fortin on November 13, 2019

The owner of The Poor Creature invited customers and supporters to visit the café Tuesday to show support since a petition was filed against it in the territory’s Supreme Court.

Traolach Ó Murchú and Brioni Connolly welcomed everyone into their establishment at the Yukonstruct Innovation Centre (the former Food Fair/Super Valu building) on Second Avenue.

Yukonstruct filed the petition earlier this month, seeking to evict The Poor Creature from the centre.

Connolly, the café’s owner, said she wanted to push back on allegations made in Yukonstruct’s affidavit. She said there have been suggestions that she and Ó Murchú have been neglecting their child.

“I’m just hoping to see more support,” she said.

She regards Northlight as a great space that helps entrepreneurs.

Ó Murchú said there has been strong support from Yukonstruct members which has been phenomenal. These are the café’s primary customers.

The managing board is a different story. Ó Murchú said the board, last Thursday, publicly questioned his and Connolly’s parental abilities.

He claims this had led to the family receiving a lot of online abuse.

(Yukonstruct’s petition says the couple’s child has seemed upset and has cried for extended periods while at the café.)

Ó Murchú pointed out that a lot of men have called Connolly a bad mother. He claims people have sent them direct messages. He explained that came out through the affidavit.

This online behaviour has made them not want to be out in public. He said the family did not go out much last weekend.

“We were uncomfortable going out into public because of the comments that I have read online,” Ó Murchú said.

He felt that people were just reacting to Yukonstruct’s side of the story and not bothering to wait to hear the other side.

“It’s a difficult thing to read things about yourself that are untrue and make you out to be something you’re not,” Ó Murchú said.

Connolly always planned to open a café. She filed a proposal for the establishment, saying it would be a parent-friendly space.

They thought everything was fine until she received a letter on Oct. 11 informing them of this complaint.

He said his wife has great support in the community and from members of the organization, adding people visit with their kids. He added that if Yukonstruct wants to claim that their child was the only one there making noise, that is false.

He said many of the people showing support that day are regulars who frequently bring their kids.

Connolly has been looking to move the café to another location, as she does not feel welcome in the centre anymore.

They will be filing a response to the affidavit, perhaps later this week.

Heiko Haehnsen brought his young child to the café Tuesday. He said he just recently discovered The Poor Creature. He likes the food options available there, and finds it welcoming.

Haehnsen has never had any concerns bringing his child there.

He went on Facebook to like it and learned about the troubles. He hopes the conflict gets settled, and that Yukonstruct tries to mediate it.

He felt going forward with the current strategy would damage its reputation.

Shane Maley said he was happy to support The Poor Creature. He said it has been a great place for his family to meet and enjoy a great meal.

He often brings his eight-month-old daughter to the café. He has never had a disruptive bothersome experience there.

“The concerns have not reflected my experience here at all,” Maley said.

He too said he hopes for a resolution because of the café’s value to the community.

Lana Selbee, Yukonstruct’s executive director, issued an emailed statement to the Star, which first reported the restaurant’s eviction notice last month.

“Since day one, Yukonstruct has been a community-driven organization. We ourselves are a start-up that has grown quickly, and we are so proud to manage a space that serves over 200 members and many local businesses, makers and start-ups,” Selbee wrote.

“Supporting and creating a productive and positive working environment for our members and tenants is our number one goal.” 

She said the relationship with the café did not work out, so it was decided not to renew its lease.

She indicated that Yukonstruct tried to make the arrangement work, but ultimately found it not in its best interest to renew the lease. She said notice was provided.

 “We also offered to provide additional accommodations and supports, including providing a reasonable period of additional time beyond the end of the lease to transition out of the space,” Selbee wrote in the statement. “We are now working, through legal means, to bring a resolution to this situation that respects both parties. “

Selbee explained that members rent spaces with the expectation that there will not be “excessive disturbances.”

She added that members deserve to be able to have productive discussions and should be able to voice concerns safely.

All Yukonstruct members must be respected, Selbee added, and there will be no tolerance for behaviour that is contrary to the organization’s values. 

“We are proud of the work our organization, our board and our staff do every day, and we look forward to continuing to serve our members and our community,” she wrote in the email.

Comments (21)

Up 1 Down 11

Frank Boyston on Dec 2, 2019 at 10:07 am

@ Jackson
Why in hells name would you think I speak on behalf of T.O.M.???? Because I have an opinion that perhaps conflicts with yours I would suspect.
Pretty sure that guy has the smarts to speak for himself!!

You have made your position quite clear.
Reading the latest news articles this week just reinforces my view that they are perfectly correct to stand up for their values.
As any self respecting Entrepreneur would fight for their principles and business. I wish you a good day.

Up 12 Down 3

Jackson on Nov 30, 2019 at 8:43 am

@Frank Boyston (aka T O'M)
As I am sure you know, I am a Yukonstruct member. I have personally witnessed and experienced the interaction between Yukonstruct and TPC. Yeah the child was at times excessively loud and inadequately supervised... but it is NOT the child's fault as Brioni asserts Yukonstruct claims. Yukonstruct simply and accurately lays out the source of complaints and consternation raised. Both sides have provided evidence of a decaying relationship between tenant and landlord. This notion Brioni was blindsided by the decision is not supported in the body of public statements made by either. Now Brioni has changed her story to claim an unequivocal verbal agreement where previously she claimed reason to assume a new lease would be entered into. I could say more from my personal experience in the space but it is not necessary so I won't. Yukonstruct's case is an easy one to make and in my opinion they've easily made it.

As far as being a loyal customer... I was, past tense. As an entrepreneur I have no respect for how Brioni has handled this business conflict. I would never wage a conflict like this in the court of public opinion. Traolach is supposed to be in communications and frankly should know better. Their approach in dealing publicly with a resolveable conflict is a case study in what not to do in communications 101 - first day of first class. These wounds are entirely self-inflicted and they've caused irreparable damage to their own reputation... no one did this to them, they did it to themselves.

Up 1 Down 10

Frank Boyston on Nov 27, 2019 at 6:12 am

You must be reading into this in a very different way to the rest of us lay people. Reading all the comments (both positive and negative) AND what Yukonstruct have declared in their affidavit and it appears it is ALL about the noise emanating from the cafe.
So you are deliriously and completely wrong in stating this agenda was pushed out into the open by anybody other than Yukonstruct. The cafe operator is quite right to defend such accusations.

If indeed you are a Loyal Customer as you stated, then perhaps reserve judgement and remain “Loyal” until you HAVE the full picture from both sides.
That is all I am saying.

Up 29 Down 5

Dentist on Nov 18, 2019 at 3:32 pm

So, they have a one year lease with no guarantee of renewal. The organization decides not to renew the lease. The occupants are asked to leave with a very generous amount of time given to them to do so. They refuse. They are now breaking the law so why isn’t the government service that deals with these issues down there moving them out. Simple. Tax payers do not have to foot the bill for the court proceedings and life carries on.

Up 36 Down 24

Salt on Nov 15, 2019 at 10:17 pm

@Free money- That $50k of tax funded outfitting is likely a large part of why TPC is fighting so hard to stay in the space. Not many other commercial leases out there with $50k of free bespoke outfitting. Government money is poisoning the Yukon. Even the leaches have leaches.

Up 92 Down 7

Jackson on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:32 pm

@Frank Boyston
That narrative of "Yukonstruct blaming a young child" is one that Brioni and Traolach are themselves pushing. I have read nothing from Yukonstruct that points blame at the child but has rather correctly attributed some complaints of noise to the child. These complaints are not isolated or imagined, they are legitimate. Yukonstruct makes clear their issue is with how Mrs. Connolly and her partner (husband maybe?) handled their business and the relationship with Yukonstruct and its members as and when issues arose. Yukonstruct had no option but to include the details of the complaints as a matter of fact in their petition to the courts.

I get that it's hard to run a small business and that as a parent sometimes your child is unable to attend daycare due to illness. I frequented the cafe, loved the food and the business ethos. I have personally witnessed Brioni's son there when he's been sick, very unhappy and screaming at the top of his lungs while his mom was struggling to deal with running her business and unable to attend to his care and comfort reliably or consistently. In that moment Brioni was obviously stressed and dismissive of these concerns while trying to juggle impossible and conflicting demands of her time in the moment. She needed more support than she had available to her, which wasn't fair to her, to her patrons, members or Yukonstruct.
I empathize with everyone sucked into this mess. This should never have been thrust into public view on social media but that was the decision Brioni and Traolach made, apparently without so much as attempting dialogue with Yukonstruct before doing so. They are themselves responsible the public scrutiny / opinions this issue generates. I have no doubt they have their supporters but in a small town a small business can't afford to behave like this, they will turn some loyal customers like me into never again customers and likely lose more than they gain.

Up 12 Down 68

Frank Boyston on Nov 15, 2019 at 12:39 pm

It is astonishing to read all of the comments by people that now purport to support the witchhunt of this cafe owner, as some have called it. Why have these people not made their opinions known prior to this article OR the articles in recent weeks?? All of a sudden ye have found your voices. Interesting bias now perhaps?

We should all wait until the REAL story comes out in the wash when we get the cafe owners side of the story in the coming weeks. They have yet to defend what has been spun about them right???

Remember they have always maintained in these articles that they did not know why they were being asked to vacate the lease! It’s kinda shxxty of Yukonstruct to go down the path of blaming a young child. It's pretty low tactics but hey... all is fair in love and war, especially when a director holds the reigns in an organization such as this NGO.

Not good for anyone but BOY oh boy, I think you guys who are being so vitriolic towards a young start up business may well have to eat humble pie if we all find out its been about more than “babygate” and a dirty nappy.

Up 89 Down 5

Trent Callahan on Nov 15, 2019 at 8:41 am

The noise complaints about the owners of the cafe have been happening for almost a year. I have worked in the co-working space, and the noise is quite significant and extended - general cafe noise is fine, but when there's a toddler who is shouting/yelling for 2-6 hours a day, almost every day, that's not acceptable. There have been at least six people who have left the co-working space because of the noise. There are also many people in the co-working space who pay a lot of money for childcare, and then pay more money for a work space so that they can be productive, and this situation is hugely unfair to them.

Up 72 Down 6

Nicky on Nov 14, 2019 at 4:59 pm

People who play the "victim card" when they don't get their way give vegan millennials a bad rep. They seem to believe they are 'above the law' if enough of their friends agree with them. Professional business-people respect the law and don't use the media and public opinion to support their passive-aggressive bullying.

Up 31 Down 27

Free money on Nov 14, 2019 at 4:32 pm

So they spend $50,000 (of taxpayers money) to renovate a space for a restaurant in an open concept design. Now they want to rethink this idea because of noise and not do the restaurant thing. So after 1 year and $50,000 later just walk away. NGOs should not be incharge or own real estate. We have so many examples of failure that a track record has developed. All will be happy as long as the government keeps the cheque book handy.

Up 74 Down 9

Jackson on Nov 14, 2019 at 3:21 pm

It seems that there is actually no real dispute over material facts here. Various complaints were raised by patrons, members and staff which went unresolved. One side claims those complaints amounted to harassment, discrimination and defamation. The other side claims they were unable to have a productive and respectful relationship with their tenant because when they raised issues and concerns they were attacked as discriminatory, defamatory and harassing. It is clear that the relationship is toxic, untenable and should not be continued. I find it interesting that every action taken since the notice that the lease wouldn't be renewed reinforces Yukonstruct's claims in this matter - there might just be something to it.

The only area of dispute is one party says they were told verbally they'd get a lease renewal and the other says they did no such thing. This is kind of a pointless argument anyway as a lease is a complex agreement with a whole variety of terms under which any breakdown in negotiation on any single term could result in the failure to form an agreement. Failing to form a new agreement either party was within their right to walk away from the fixed-term lease on Oct 31. Under law, this is reasonable, equitable and fair as both parties enjoy the same rights.

I am taking bets that this doesn't go well for Brioni - short-term she's likely to loose any position she may have had to negotiate a beneficial settlement and long-term everyone can see how they conduct their business... in public. Conflicts routinely happen in business, but they have to be dealt with appropriately and require compromise and a reasonable approach. In this case, good luck to Yukonstruct and hopefully TPC can recover some sense of purpose and put their energy into more productive activities.

Up 50 Down 4

There must be more to the story on Nov 14, 2019 at 12:43 pm

Funny how there were no formal complaints about the noise until there was a push to get them out.
But also, I do agree with the other commenters stating that it was a 1 year lease and this shouldn't have been a surprise. For the fact that a lawyers are now involved, I would think there is more to the story that isn't being shared.

Up 7 Down 56

CJ on Nov 14, 2019 at 12:05 pm

It sounds like there is blame to go around for both parties and communication between them just wasn't good. One thing I wonder about, though, is making October 31 the termination date. I think in some provinces you couldn't evict in the winter months. That is probably not the case here (or maybe anywhere anymore) but common sense should have caught that from either end. It probably contributed to the intensity around this.

Up 58 Down 30

Max Mack on Nov 14, 2019 at 11:47 am

"We ourselves are a start-up that has grown quickly . . ."

Yukonstruct has grown quickly due to large infusions of cash and other supports from government. Be careful taking too much credit there, Lana.

Up 82 Down 20

Matthew on Nov 14, 2019 at 6:18 am

You don't own it... you're a renter.. leave.. pretty simple isn't it? Also kids have no place in a workplace.

Up 27 Down 58

Adam Smith on Nov 13, 2019 at 11:36 pm

So the only real business in the building is being asked to leave as the NGO and ‘businesses’ that pay nothing or a token of FMV to use the facilities want to ignore that running a real business takes a full commitment. Such a Yukon story. Let’s get lawyers involved. How did such a good idea become a self serving NGO so fast?

Up 94 Down 13

Nicky on Nov 13, 2019 at 5:31 pm

The lease was for one year, the owner legally elected to not renew it and gave ample notice, plus generously allowing a month to move out.
Their forcing this into the courts only makes them look foolish and unqualified to run a business. The only people who benefit from this situation are the lawyers.

Up 18 Down 74

Miles Epanhauser on Nov 13, 2019 at 5:29 pm

I have never been there but plan to support them in whatever location.
The crying child thing sounds like a witch hunt although I would prefer to hear the complaint from customers rather than the landlord.

Up 52 Down 28

I always wondered why animal rules have gotten so lax on Nov 13, 2019 at 4:44 pm

My child has allergies and walking into businesses it's always tough when a dog is present. Facilities that are accessible to the public should "try" to provide an atmosphere that allows the most people to use it. The "dog" crowd doesn't have any harm if the dog isn't present. Put a peanut in a child's lunch, off with your head, have a dog leaving hair, licking and jumping on people, awww cute!

Up 38 Down 87

Rob on Nov 13, 2019 at 3:57 pm

I've been to the cafe several times and it's fantastic. I have never seen their child in the commercial kitchen. I do know for certain that their child is in full time daycare.
I will continue to go to this establiahment no matter where it is located. It is one of the very low options for gluten free food and treats. It is the only option in town for a proper balanced vegan meal.

Please visit the cafe, try the food, take in the atmosphere and then come back and comment.

Up 124 Down 41

Veg on Nov 13, 2019 at 3:11 pm

A commercial kitchen is no place for a child of any age.
Having kids is expensive. Running a business is expensive. Child care should have been built into your business plan.

I think your business is viable given the current climate surrounding awareness of what we choose to eat. Get your child in daycare, open up in a new location and I would expect your business to be profitable. Oh, and leave the dog at home.

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