Café at Fredericton's 12 Neighbours tiny-home community open for business

Melissa Heagney of Fredericton recently attended culinary school and is now working in the Neighbourly Coffee kitchen. Only 2½ years ago, Heagney went from living rough to having her own kitchen again. (Michael Heenan/CBC - image credit)
Melissa Heagney of Fredericton recently attended culinary school and is now working in the Neighbourly Coffee kitchen. Only 2½ years ago, Heagney went from living rough to having her own kitchen again. (Michael Heenan/CBC - image credit)

When Melissa Heagney moved into the first home in the 12 Neighbours community in Fredericton, she was most excited about being able to cook in her own kitchen.

And she often made food for other residents, including homemade chili for every new resident.

Now, she's joined the team at Neighbourly Coffee, a café in the community's social enterprise centre, after completing a culinary arts program at the New Brunswick Community College.

Heagney's favourite part about cooking for others is seeing the smiles on their faces.

"Some people are not fortunate enough to have home cooked meals or whatnot, so I provide," she said.

"I don't mind doing it to see their happiness."

The Neighbourly Coffee café and kitchen is located in the 12 Neighbours social enterprise building.
The Neighbourly Coffee café and kitchen is located in the 12 Neighbours social enterprise building.

The Neighbourly Coffee café and kitchen is located in the 12 Neighbours social enterprise building. (Michael Heenan/CBC)

Since 2021, Marcel Lebrun has worked on creating the 12 Neighbours tiny-home community on Fredericton's north side — a place where people who have been living on the streets or without a home can reside safely.

The final tiny home, number 96, was moved in in April.

WATCH | 'Somebody could walk in with a $5 bill, and they could still walk out full':

The non-profit also aims to give jobs to people who face barriers to employment. The first social enterprise project involved a picnic table building business. The goal was to have a social enterprise centre on the property with a café and other employment opportunities.

Neighbourly Coffee's official opening is Friday.

KT Cunningham, the new head chef at the café and kitchen, said it was important to make sure the team was made up of people from different backgrounds, ages and income levels.

Several loaves of bread are seen fresh out of the oven.
Several loaves of bread are seen fresh out of the oven.

Several loaves of bread are seen fresh out of the oven. (Michael Heenan/CBC)

And being located in a community where people are on fixed or low incomes, it was crucial for Cunningham to have affordable options.

"We have stuff that somebody could walk in with a $5 bill and they could still walk out full," they said.

WATCH | Take a tour of latest addition to the 12 Neighbours social enterprise centre:

One of the menu items is called socca. It's a chickpea pancake that will be elevated using mushrooms, bitter greens and some pickled elements.

"Even though this is a really cheap dish to make … we kind of turned it into something that feels special, but at the same time it's vegan, it's gluten free, it's really affordable," said Cunningham.

"It's something that's easy to teach somebody to make and then they could do it themselves at home, and it makes it really special."

The team in the Neighbourly Coffee kitchen were hard at work preparing food ahead of a friends and family launch for the new business.
The team in the Neighbourly Coffee kitchen were hard at work preparing food ahead of a friends and family launch for the new business.

The team in the Neighbourly Coffee kitchen were hard at work preparing food ahead of a friends and family launch for the new business. (Michael Heenan/CBC)

While some might be familiar with the "Yes, Chef" mentality from the TV series The Bear, Cunningham said that was something they wanted to eliminate in the Neighbourly Coffee kitchen.

They said at the very beginning, the team sat down and decided they wanted to get rid of some of the old structures that have historically existed in kitchen settings that could lead to a toxic dynamic.

Marcel Lebrun, pictured here, started working on the 12 Neighbours tiny home community on Fredericton’s north side in 2021. Here, he holds up a t-shirt made through one of the community's other social enterprise projects.
Marcel Lebrun, pictured here, started working on the 12 Neighbours tiny home community on Fredericton’s north side in 2021. Here, he holds up a t-shirt made through one of the community's other social enterprise projects.

Marcel Lebrun, pictured here, started working on the 12 Neighbours tiny home community on Fredericton’s north side in 2021. Here, he holds up a t-shirt made through one of the community's other social enterprise projects. (Michael Heenan/CBC)

One thing Cunningham hopes to incorporate is taking the time to explain things, whether it be to staff who all come from different skill sets, or to a customer who may not be familiar with a menu item.

"You can't really control if you didn't know something," they said. "The only thing you can really do is learn in the moment,

"We're all just supporting each other."