You could say Mike Wenzlawe and Jamie Parker are fanning the flames of culinary success. Former firefighters, they’re now the owners of Calgary Heritage Roasting Company. And, among java aficionados, they’re quickly establishing themselves as roasters to watch.
It’s quite a career shift, considering that the pair, both 27, first worked as part of the Alberta government’s wildfire team, battling forest fires across Western Canada and beyond. The job had a few things going for it, according to Parker. “You get paid well and you get to jump out of helicopters,” he says. Better still, both he and Wenzlawe got to spend a lot of time in the great outdoors. Both men love to ski, snowboard, hike, camp, go ice fishing and rock climb in their spare time. “Any opportunity we get, any free time, we head to the mountains,” says Wenzlawe.
In fact, it was while backpacking in the Willmore Wilderness Park that Parker came up with the idea for Calgary Heritage Roasting. “In the morning, we’d percolate a cup of coffee over the fire,” he recalls. “It tasted terrible, but everything still tastes better when you’re outside.” The pair figured if they bumped up the quality and found a way to replicate that expansive campfire feeling, they would have the makings of a business. “There’s no company out there that takes you out of the city for just a moment, and takes you back to that feeling of being outdoors.”
Parker and Wenzlawe started buying beans, comparing roasting methods, and researching every aspect of the business. Using their firefighter friends as guinea pigs, they roasted green beans in a cast-iron frying pan over a campfire and brewed up test batches of coffee for the crew.
The results were transformative in a few ways. For one, as Wenzlawe notes, “Sometimes you’re working 14-hour days, 18-day shifts. It gets pretty hard on the guys. They get a bit squirrelly.” But a good cup of coffee did wonders for everyone’s mood. The other transformation wrought by the coffee was a bit more magical, Wenzlawe says. “It maybe takes you back to that place when you were a kid, camping with your dad,” Wenzlawe says. “You maybe didn’t drink coffee yet but you liked the idea and you liked what it smelled like.”
These days, the pan hasn’t been retired, exactly, but the company now relies on an industrial roaster. Some things, however, haven’t changed. Parker and Wenzlawe still sell green beans and offer instructions for anyone wanting to try roasting at home. “It’s a lost art,” Parker says, “but it’s instantly gratifying.”
The Hosts who Roasts
Impress your holiday guests by brewing them a cup of coffee from home-roasted beans. All you need is a barbecue and a pan. From start to finish, it takes about 15-20 minutes. “Don’t do it on your range,” Parker says. “The byproduct of roasting is smoke— lots of it.” For full instructions and a video, check out Calgary Heritage Roasters’ website.