YaYa would be ‘totally buzzing’

Andre and Karen Johnston with a picture of their late daughter Alexandra at their social enterprise coffee shop 'YaYa's Shack'
Andre and Karen Johnston with a picture of their late daughter Alexandra at their social enterprise coffee shop 'YaYa's Shack'

A couple have opened a social enterprise cafe dedicated to their daughter, who lost her battle with cancer earlier this year.

Alexandra Johnston won the hearts of thousands of people at home and abroad as she documented her five year battle with a rare form of cancer on social media.

Alexandra, who was affectionately known as ‘YaYa’, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma when she was just 11-years-old and she passed away just weeks after celebrating her 16th birthday.

The teenager encouraged her parents to fulfil their dreams and opening ‘YaYa’s Shack’ at the Gasyard is just the first step.

“I always wanted a coffee shop and Alexandra always said to me ‘get it open’. She was always telling me ‘Mammy fulfil your dreams’,” Karen explains.

After their daughter’s death, Karen and Andre began looking into premises and when they found out the lease was available for the cafe in the Gasyard ‘it felt right’.

“We had such a good feeling about it. It was the right place for us because there was a connection with Alexandra here - we held events here while she was sick and Linda the manager of the Gasyard treated her like a second daughter”, Karen said.

“We talked it over and went for it. We were getting a coffee shop for Alexandra. It was something we always wanted to do and now we are fulfilling that wish for her.”

Andre and Karen said their daughter would be ‘totally buzzing’ about the coffee shop. “She would want to be in here cooking, taking orders and serving the customers. She would have just loved it.”

The coffee shop will be run as a social enterprise alongside the charity ‘Keep swimming YaYa’, which will be officially launched on Alexandra’s first anniversary in January 2019.

The couple aim to use a coffee shop as a base for fundraising events and to run programmes for young people affected by cancer.

The charity will focus on assisting fathers and single mothers whose children have been diagnosed with cancer and allow them to spend time with their children without having to worry about finances.

Andre said the charity was something Alexandra always wanted to do.

“Alexandra said when you are on a journey with cancer there are three options - you’re cured, you live with it or you die. No matter what way her journey went she wanted to set up a charity and because of the relationship I had with Alexandra we decided it should focus on fathers and single mothers.”

The couple said the coffee shop - which opened earlier this week and is open to the public daily from 9am to 3pm - along with the charity, is giving them a focus as they grieve.

“People always tell us that we are being very brave, but that is just the way we have been throughout this journey,” Andre said.

“Alexandra hit the cancer face on and we hit it face on with her. We all bounced off each other and we still do. We talk about her everyday and she is still very much a part of everything we do as a family.”

“We just want to help people who are going through something similar, the way that Alexandra always did. They can come in here for a cup of coffee and a chat about their journey.”

“We were always so proud of Alexandra and often wondered how she did it. She would have been in terrible pain but would still put a smile on her face and tell you ‘I’m grand’.

“She inspired us everyday and continues to so.”