Culture and community at St. John’s Rocket Bakery

Fresh fish cakes and partridgeberry scones fill the retro glass cabinets of Rocket Bakery, a vintage hardware store turned eclectic café in the vibrant city of St. John’s. We caught up with co-owner and Toronto native Kelly Mansell to find out more about this unique community space and the building’s historic roots.


So Kelly, you are originally a Torontonian. I have to ask, what brought you to the East Coast?

Well, I’d worked in PR for tourism for years and there were only a few places I had visited where you really wanted to get to know the people. In some places it’s about the experience but with others, it’s the people who have a real cachet. Newfoundlanders have a unique culture and I wanted to know more about it. There was such a great community that welcomed us and people are really great at giving us feedback here. They’ve really lived up to the cachet for me because I don’t think we could have opened a place like this in Toronto. It’s helped us survive.


It seems like this is really a community space. I see your events board. It’s huge.

We share this space as much as we can. Last night we hosted a movie screening on gender equality in the film business. We recently hosted a music crawl with Lawnya Vanya which is a local arts and music festival. Our rocket room is used by high schools for fundraisers all the time and we also host lectures and panels. There is always something on.


Wow, busy place!

It is but it’s a lot of fun! Honestly, if there were acrobats swinging through the rafters here our customers wouldn’t blink an eye. Actually, we are a sponsor of the local women’s roller derby, so two of them were in the window last week waving to people in the street. So I wasn’t kidding about that.


This space is amazing too. It has an authentic vintage feel. Was that something you wanted to create here?

It is a historic place so a lot of the original features are still here like the wood stairs and the cabinetry. The woman who owns the building restored this space. For a while it was a bakery and deli but originally it was a hardware store, that’s what these glass cabinets are all from. I fell in love with the space right away and wanted to preserve its heritage and history.  


Where did the name Rocket Bakery come from? Is there history there as well?

Being from away we all call Newfoundland “the rock” so we got talking about what we were going to call it, all us outsiders, and then wanted to use that idea. The three of us that own it, Dave, Mark and I, we all grew up in the 60s and were really into comics and cartoons. Dave actually had a t-shirt company and dealt with a lot of cartoons and artists. So we thought Rocket as this sort of fun and dynamic name and icon. It wasn’t until we moved here that we realized Newfoundlanders don’t call themselves from “the rock”. So it came about in a funny way. Our official name is Rocket Bakery and Fresh Foods but if you live here you call it The Rocket. It’s our little moniker now.

Find out more about Rocket Bakery’s schedule of events here.