Why a coffee shop owner describes fixing his roaster as working with 'adult Lego'

'I just describe it as adult Lego.' A P.E.I. coffee shop owner figured if he couldn't fix the huge complicated roaster, it was time to learn how.

'Everyone in the café cheered'

'If something breaks it's gotta get fixed immediately,' says Chris Francis. 'You're dealing with pneumatics, electrical, plumbing, you're dealing with wiring and programming.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

You know a coffee shop is in real trouble when the coffee machine conks out. 

Three years ago in the peak of summer, Receiver Coffee on Victoria Row in Charlottetown was dealing with its first "real big breakdown." 

Chris Francis says local plumbers and electricians were only able to fix parts of the complicated machine. 'We realized we had to be the people that were called upon.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

"Lineups out the door, we couldn't serve any espresso-based beverage," said Chris Francis, co-owner of both Receiver shops.

"Customers are disappointed, you're turning people away," he said. "It's really stressful." 

Francis tinkered with the small machine and eventually got it going. "It was a huge sigh of relief. Everybody in the café cheered."

'It's gotta get fixed immediately'

Francis soon faced a bigger challenge when the giant metal coffee roaster — that looks more like a steam locomotive — stopped roasting. 

"If something breaks it's gotta get fixed immediately," Francis said. "You're dealing with pneumatics, you're dealing with electrical, you're dealing with plumbing, you're dealing with wiring and programming." 

'If I'm not able to give them the product that they want, then I'm not doing my job,' says Francis. 'So by the time we ended up fixing it, everybody in the café cheered.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

Local plumbers and electricians were able to fix parts of the complicated machine, but it was often touch and go.

"So we realized we had to be the people that were called upon to do it," Francis said. 

'He taught me early on'

So Francis decided he had to learn how to tackle the monstrous machine.

Francis had always tinkered with things since he was a kid. His father worked for Island Tel and was always bringing home broken rotary phones and pieces from old switchboards.

'Lineups out the door, we couldn't serve any espresso-based beverage,' says Chris Francis, from Receiver Coffee in Charlottetown after the espresso machine broke. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"He taught me early on the importance of being curious about how things work," he said. "When stuff breaks, you gotta be the one to fix it, so it was always important to me to carry that with me with everything I do."

Francis was also good at fixing things that were actually useful. "If our lawnmower broke, I'd try and fix it," he said. "I was a musician so I always fixed my own amplifiers and guitars and stuff, but nothing like an espresso machine."

'A lot of troubleshooting'

So he flew out to Edmonton for a five-day course put on by an Italian espresso manufacturer to learn how to fix the roaster.

"By the end of it, we had a lot of understanding of the components, how the electrical systems work," he said. "A lot of troubleshooting."

Francis is now called upon to repair equipment at other shops that buy coffee from Receiver.

'My dad taught me early on the importance of being curious about how things work,' says Francis. 'When stuff breaks, you gotta be the one to fix it.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

"If they're selling our coffee at their restaurant, we want to support them," he said.

"Some people might see it as competition but as far as repair and wholesale goes, we don't approach it that way."

Having completed the training course Francis is a little less intimidated by these complicated machines.

"I always joke around when somebody sees me working on a machine, and they say, 'Wow, that's quite ambitious-looking,' I just describe it as adult Lego."

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Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning where he was a writer-broadcaster and producer. He joined the web team recently to share his passion for great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He retired in Oct. 2019.


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