Passion for coffee fuels business owner through good times and bad

Passion for coffee fuels business owner through good times and bad

“Everybody’s feeling the pinch at the moment, and books and coffee are kind of little luxury things.”

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A local coffee lover, business owner, author and cyclist says “momentum” keeps her going and that “the coffee helps.”

“Once you start these sort of things, you can’t extricate very easily,” says Annabel Townsend. “I find life snowballs very quickly.”

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Townsend is originally from Sheffield, England, although she says her accent comes from Kent, which is near London. She moved around the UK but spent 10 years in the northeast, around Newcastle, before moving to Regina in 2012 with her husband and first-born child.

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“We aimed for Canada, and Saskatchewan is the place we both found work first,” says Townsend, adding that she loves it in the Queen City. “Nowhere’s perfect, but I think we really landed on our feet. It’s been a great place to raise our kids. Certainly in comparison to where we were in the UK, we’re very happy here.”

Townsend even enjoys the Saskatchewan winters and stays active by skating, snowshoeing and cycling.

“I’m one of these annoying people that gets excited about winter because we’d never seen anything like it,” she says. “I was 30, I think, when we moved here and I had never seen a white Christmas before.

“In the UK, it never gets very hot and it never gets very cold and it’s constantly grey and raining and I find that very depressing. I’d much rather have it be minus-40 and it still be sunny than constantly grey.”

Cycling is not just an activity for Townsend, but her main method of transportation year-round.

“I don’t drive. I never needed to drive in the UK and over here it’s just terrifying because everything is huge and on the wrong side of the road,” she says. “The bike is kind of a mandatory part of operations now. I’ve got a big fat-tired one and it’s electric and it gets me through the worst of the snow drifts quite happily.”

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Annabel Townsend
Local business owner and author Annabel Townsend stands outside her store, Tuppenny Coffee and Books, on Feb. 6, 2024 in Regina. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

Townsend became passionate about coffee when she was a student at the University of Sheffield, working at an independent shop.

“I enjoyed it and learned a lot about coffee, and then my university put out a call for PhDs looking at ideas of waste and quality in different food industries,” says Townsend, adding that she decided to write her human geography PhD thesis on coffee.

“It took me all over the place. I got to spend a year out in Central America basically watching the stuff grow and talking to the farmers and stuff like that. It was fantastic.”

Townsend opened Dr. Coffee’s Café on 11th Avenue in Regina in 2015. She had a café with the same name in the UK but sold it before moving to Canada.

“I tried to kind of resurrect the same thing,” she says. “We survived a few years but it was very difficult.”

The coffee shop evolved into Noni’s Prairie Café before it closed in early 2017. Townsend says it took her a while to recover financially and emotionally before opening a new business.

During this time, she worked at the Saskatchewan Science Centre.

“I wanted to get back into it because if you’ve been self-employed it’s very difficult to go back to being an employee for somebody else after a while,” says Townsend, who opened a shop called Books and Beans in a space at Centennial Market.

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The business, which sold pour-over coffees and bargain books, was open for around a year before closing in March 2020.

“It did pretty well,” she says. “It definitely was an unusual thing on that market, so I kind of got the confidence to expand from that. I wanted a whole bookstore and we eventually got there in 2020, and then the pandemic hit.”

Townsend signed a lease for the building just a couple of weeks before the first COVID-19 lockdown.

As a result, the opening for Penny University Bookstore was put on hold until September 2020.

While the delay caused some panic for Townsend, the building had to undergo some renovations during this time.

“I was just sort of getting everything together and I ended up storing 4,000 books in my garage and we were just waiting until we could get the doors open,” she says. “It felt like it was delayed forever, but it was about six months.”

Penny University Bookstore holds author events, book signings and readings. During the pandemic, Townsend had to control the number of people in the store and hold small events.

As the restrictions lifted, more and more people started attending.

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“We’ve had so many events where we can’t fit them in the shop,” she says.

On top of the need for more space, Townsend also missed working with coffee, which she called “her first love.” She decided to open Tuppenny Coffee and Books in 2023 with the goal of using it as an event space and coffee shop.

“When the Tuppenny space became available, it was like we could do a whole venue here, you know, and do drinks and snacks, and have proper big book launches,” she says. “It holds about 30 people up there.”

Townsend says the Penny University Bookstore is doing well, but it has been hard to maintain Tuppenny. She also felt like she was stretching herself too thin between the two businesses.

Annabel Townsend
Local business owner and author Annabel Townsend sits in her store, Tuppenny Coffee and Books. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

When Tuppenny proved to be unsustainable, she decided to change its hours, opening to the public on Saturdays only.

However, events are still being held throughout the week.

“It’s not been easy at all, unfortunately, and I can’t afford to keep it open six days a week at the moment,” Townsend says.

“Everybody’s feeling the pinch at the moment, and books and coffee are kind of little luxury things. If you are feeling the pinch, you stop buying the luxury things.”

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Despite staying busy by running multiple businesses over the years, Townsend has been able to make time for writing. She wrote her first book, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, in 2018, and added her second book, A Thousand Lives, in September 2023.

“It’s all small business adventures. The first one was mainly about how not to open a coffee shop because I had failed twice at that point,” she says.

“The second one, I wanted to record all the bizarre circumstances with the pandemic. You know, no one saw that one coming and the world was a very strange place for quite a long time. So it was the stories from the bookstore and COVID and everything like that.”

Townsend has always been a writer. She frequently journals and has been taking part in National Novel Writing Month — a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days — since 2006.

“You do it in 30 days and then you’ve got the beginning of the manuscript that you can spend forever editing into something actually readable. It’s a great excuse to sort of make a start and then get it down, so I think both of my books have actually come out of that originally,” she says.

“I certainly haven’t done a 50,000-word novel every year since 2006. I’ve failed abysmally several times after it, but it’s something I enjoy doing, so I at least make an attempt every year.”

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