If there are eight million stories in the naked city, Heather Pilipenko has heard about seven million of them.
Pilipenko is the supervisor for the Barrie Courthouse Cafe (BCC) and has been for the last two years. Pilipenko had worked for two years at the Newmarket courthouse cafeteria but when the opportunity came up to work in her hometown, she jumped at the chance.
“I enjoyed where I was but if I could do the same thing where I live it just made sense,” said Pilipenko. “Working here is about eight minutes door to door and it was just better for me than driving 45 minutes down the highway every day; it was also a promotion as I was given the job of supervisor for this cafe and that was a really good thing for me.”
Anyone who is attending the Barrie courts to answer a charge or are involved in something criminal is usually on their best behaviour while in the view of police and a judge, but when they head up to the cafeteria most feel the need to talk and get things off their chest; that’s where Pilipenko has seen and heard it all.
“We hear a lot, a whole lot and it’s not always a nice place to be,” said Pilipenko. “The crazy part of it too is since I grew up in Barrie I’ll actually see people I went to high school with and I’ll hear their stories; that can be something else. We’ve had incidences that have gotten out of our control and I just call up the security and it’s dealt with. We see stuff every week that is eventful, but we also see the quieter moments of either sadness or even some relief and joy. Working here you really have to take the good with the bad and vice-versa.”
One might not think of a courthouse cafeteria as the ideal spot to sell coffee and food, but when Pilipenko lost her job a few years back, a friend of hers reached out and brought her into what turned into a place she loves.
“There is a small process with getting the criminal record check but that’s fairly normal everywhere now,” said Pilipenko. “I’ve always worked in kitchens and it is just something I feel comfortable doing. It does get pretty busy and we have been lined up out the door and down the hall, but we just roll with it and get everybody what they’re looking for as best and fast as we can.”
The job may seem like it would be similar to any coffee shop in town as the customers are wanting their cup of pick-me-up and a bite to eat, but the BCC isn’t located on the corner of main street. Hundreds of people come through the Barrie courthouse daily for reasons that may alter the way their moods are when approaching a counter for coffee. Pilipenko knows that she and her staff are there to serve those in line and try to hold off all judgement and make someone’s day a little brighter.
“You never know what someone is here for and it isn’t my place to judge or think anything other than how can I get this person what they need quickly with a smile,” said Pilipenko. “You might assume that all we see in here are people who have broken the law or are being accused of doing so, but we obviously serve lawyers, police, staff and there are the feel-good stories too; the couple that comes in for a bite to eat may be here to get an adoption finalized, we’ve seen that many times.”
The Barrie Courthouse Cafe has many treats for those on the go such as muffins, biscuits, yogurt and fruit with the baked goods being made up that day by Pilipenko and her staff who also supply the food to prisoners being held downstairs.
“We come in early and get everything made fresh, including the sandwiches for prisoners who are downstairs,” said Pilipenko. “It’s important to make sure this isn’t thought of as just a cafeteria with pre-made food, but rather that we take care in what we make and that our coffee is fresh and maybe the best part of someone’s day.”