Village café in Cascapédia-Saint-Jules sees business surge with detour due to closed bridge

A teetering support pillar on the bridge that crosses the Grand Cascapédia River has spurred a mini-boom in business at a convenience store and café in tiny Cascapédia-Saint-Jules, Que.

All traffic that would normally take Highway 132 between New Richmond and Maria now has to take an 11.5-kilometre detour, passing in front of Joanne Legouffre’s store and lunch counter.

Legouffre’s daughter, Vanessa Harrison, 21, who works in the kitchen and at the till, says customer traffic has been “insanely busy” since the support pillar shifted, forcing the closure of the bridge on Highway 132 earlier this month.

“I can’t barely keep up anymore,” Harrison said.

The Café du Village sells everything you’d usually find in a dépanneur, such as coffee, soda pop and salted nuts, and doubles as a small restaurant that serves comfort food for lunch.

Locals Cascapedia corner store

Locals often stop by for lunch. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

TLC on display

When Legouffre bought the store four years ago, “it was just a mess,” said her daughter.

“It was just rundown and needed a lot of love.”

Since then, the walls have been redone, the floors replaced and new furniture and equipment installed.

The boxes of dried pasta, bags of flour, evaporated milk and instant coffee are arranged with care on giant wooden bobbins at the front of the restaurant. Part of Legouffre’s antique collection decorates the space.

Teas are tidily displayed near the front window, and shelves hold trinkets, birdhouses, woodwork and handknits made by locals.

It’s also the only place in the town of 730 to buy a carton of milk or loaf of bread.

The Village Café has become a popular place to meet friends and exchange local gossip.

Over a weekday lunch hour earlier this month, the parking lot was busy, and nearly a dozen people sat in a small eating area, sipping pea soup and eating BLTs. 

A place to pursue passion

cascapedia corner store- cake

Vanessa Harrison says if she didn’t work at her mother’s café and store, she would have to leave the region to find work baking confections like this one. (Facebook/Café du Village)

Vanessa Harrison’s favourite part of her job is taking care of baking the sweets, which she learned how to do in culinary school.

“It’s my passion,” she said, “It makes me happy, and it’s like a stress reliever for me.”

Her specialty is cheesecake.

Harrison says the options for making a living as a baker are limited in the Gaspé region, and she would likely have to move to the city to find a job in the field. 

She was offered a job for the summer working as a cook’s assistant in a salmon fishing camp.

Instead, she’s opted to stay put and help her mom.

She and Legouffre have long-term plans for her to take over the business one day.

“I’ve always wanted my own bakery and pastry shop,” Harrison said with a shy giggle.

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