Former firefighters open coffee shop, raise money with roasts for wildfire evacuees
Pair used coffee as a morale booster while fighting fires. Now, they teach others how to roast it.
Two wildland firefighters first came to love brewing their own coffee by roasting it in while out in the field in Alberta.
Now, they're opening their first coffee shop and roasterie in Calgary — and using the proceeds from the opening to support those impacted by Alberta's wildfires.
"We were both wildland firefighters that learned to roast coffee in the bush in a cast iron pan, so wildfire and that whole community is really close to our heart — especially because it truly did help start the company. So with the recent and very early onset of wildfires we wanted to put some cause and effect to that and just try to help out," said Mike Wenzlawe, one of the co-founders of Calgary Heritage Roasting Co.
"We understand it's a long summer and that money is going to be needed at some point."
Wenzlawe was a unit crew firefighter for a season in Rocky Mountain House, and co-founder Jamie Parker was a rapel wildland firefighter for four years.
"It's the best job in the world," Wenzlawe said. "You create these lifelong bonds with people, and we've had so many of the guys actually come down today to support."
During the grand opening of the company's coffee shop in the C.C. Snowdon block in Ramsay on Saturday the air outside smelled of smoke — the city's air quality was rated as moderate risk, due to multiple out-of-control wildfires raging across the province.
- Suffering through smoke in Calgary? Here's what you can do about it
- 'A monitor-and-wait situation': Slave Lake watches weather as wildfire rages on
Wenzlawe said Parker was a crew leader, and when they'd be out in the field for as many as 24 days at a time things would get a "little bit squirrely."
"Just being in the bush, getting beaten down by bugs and heat and all that kind of stuff. So he would use it as more of like a morale booster just for the guys. You sit down, roast up some coffee, brew it up, drink it and take some time for yourself."
But the idea to turn the passion into their own business didn't come until about five years ago on a backpacking trip near Jasper National Park.
"[We were just] sitting around the fire one night, drinking Alberta Premium from a plastic bottle because we're pretty classy guys that way and we're talking about this idea that nothing tastes better than when you're in the outdoors. You know, it's the smokie that rolls in the dirt and you pick it up and eat it and it tastes better than any filet mignon that you've ever had and that's largely due to the experience, the connection, the nostalgia that I think we as Albertans really identify with," he said.
The pair brought on a friend's sister, Allie Sullivan-Lapp, who had a wider range of experience brewing coffee, and the company was born.
Calgary Heritage Roasting Co. is donating 100 per cent of proceeds from the shop's opening day on Saturday, from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., to the Red Cross and will also be accepting donations on an ongoing basis.
The coffee shop, which also hosts live coffee roasting demonstrations, is located at 2020 11 Street S.E.