From the moment you step into The Coffee Tree on Stettler’s Main Street, you tend to feel like you are stepping into a tight-knit and welcoming community.
No wonder the eatery landed Best Customer Service honour in this year’s Business and Citizenship Awards.
The Stettler Awards Gala has been a prestigious event for many years where citizens have an opportunity to honour the accomplishments of local businesses and citizens.
The 2020 Business and Citizenship Awards Gala will be held Oct. 22nd by invitation only – the Stettler Public Library will be providing a live stream to view on the Stettler Regional Board of Trade and Community Development Facebook page.
“It made me feel really good,” said Nev Frljak, owner of The Coffee Tree, about when she learned of the recognition. “Stettler is a really good community – there is engagement among people. You’ve got to love it here – it’s a good town.
“And I think it goes together – what you give in service, they give back to you. That’s what I think happens here.
“My customers are also awesome – Stettler has been so good to me – for years and years. And it also becomes like your family.”
There certainly is plenty of tasty fare on the menu, from soups, burritos, special drinks and coffees and sandwiches to delicious desserts. “I think our menu is quite extensive for a coffee shop.”
The Coffee Tree opened nearly 15 years ago, originally housed in a location just down the street.
“I think we had 14 seats,” she recalled of that first premises. “It was really, really small.”
Before long, a growing demand meant it was time to expand – so when the current location became available about 13 years ago, it marked an ideal opportunity.
As to what keeps her so genuinely excited about the industry as a whole, it really boils down to relationships.
“I think it’s the people,” she said. “Also, just making people feel good – I think that is very important in business,” she added, reflecting on the connections she has formed with her loyal customers.
She truly values people, and it shows. Frljak explained that she wants to make people’s visits to The Coffee Tree special and memorable. “People deserve the best, and they deserve to be treated well,” she said.
“I actually think this customer service award is my favourite (out of the awards). This is the highest thing I could ask for.”
Of course, she’s so proud of her staff, too.
“When I hire, I think I have this sense as to how I pick them.”
And once she gets that person hired, from the very beginning, it’s about helping them adapt to the friendly atmosphere that essentially defines The Coffee Tree.
“I’m always asking myself (during the hiring process), how is this person going to fit in with this family? And with the customers? I don’t only think of myself when I hire, or the operation and how they have to do this and that – I also think about the ‘people’ factor. It’s so important!
“We know them – we know their names,” she said, adding that she always encourages her staff members to try and remember people’s names and what their favourite coffees are as well, for example.
As for her own story, Frljak hails from Bosnia originally, having grown up just outside of Sarajevo.
She came to Canada 22 years ago after actually having lived in Germany for about eight years.
Initially, the family selected Calgary as the place to settle.
She also explained that Calgary had hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics just as Sarajevo had done four years previously. It was a connection that proved meaningful.
“I thought at the time that it must be similar to home,” she explained with a smile. “It was also a good spot to pick because Calgary offered jobs, and Alberta was booming at the time.
“Also when I came to Canada, I went to SAIT and took Hotel and Restaurant Management.”
She loved her subsequent work experiences in the big city, but overall, Calgary wasn’t really to her liking.
And through the passage of time, and by meeting now husband Bill Hulkovich, she followed her heart to Stettler.
And she loved her new-found community right off the bat.
“It was wonderful. I loved Stettler from day one,” she said. “It’s such a cozy town, and there is also so much going on. People are supportive. They engage with you, too.
“With a small community, you also tend to feel more recognized, more protected. You engage easily. What I also like about my customers is that they care for others – and they know each other,” she explained.
She also mentioned how Stettler, in general, is supportive of a range of organizations as well, such as the local food bank for example.
“It’s so good – I think it awesome, and very special,” she said of the strong sense of community spirit. “They have that in the cities too of course, but here in Stettler it’s just more obvious.”