A year-long, mutually beneficial relationship between two local Calgary companies is about to bear fruit of the coffee variety. Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters and Bigfoot Industrial Services Ltd. – two Calgary businesses headed by born-and-bred Calgarians – found common interest, and gain, in the refurbishment of a 1961 coffee roaster.
“About three years ago it became clear to us that our current roaster would be insufficient in size to handle our growth,” says Phil Robertson, co-owner of the local coffee shop (there are currently five locations and 70 employees) and craft roasting company. Having worked with the company’s first roaster since 2009, Robertson – who is an engineer – wanted one he could customize with automation. Nothing on the market met his desires. “We had two choices: buy a new roaster, strip it back and customize it, or buy an older roaster and build it back.”
They chose the latter option, purchasing a 1961 German roaster that had been sitting abandoned in a warehouse in Russia. “It was all rusted up but otherwise in really good shape,” Robertson says.
After shipping it to Canada, Robertson struggled to find someone to help him rebuild it – a unique, time-consuming and challenging task. “I needed someone who was willing to see the job as an opportunity,” says Robertson, who redesigned the machine himself. “And who could quote me properly.”
He eventually called Jesse Messom, owner of Bigfoot – an industrial millwright, welding and fabrication company – who had serviced the old roaster. “Jesse had a can-do attitude,” Robertson praises. “He kind of saved me.”
“It’s been great,” Messom says of the project which saw him and five employees build Robertson’s designs. “There were a lot of setbacks and interesting things that came up. We had to work on the fly and be solution based.” Though the scope of work is wrapping up, Bigfoot isn’t going anywhere. “We’re going to be here for support, whenever Phil needs us.”
It is an attitude that has engendered Bigfoot much success. Since starting the business six years ago out of the back of his Chevrolet Silverado, Messom, who is a millwright, has grown his company by an average of 100 per cent year over year. “Business has been fantastic,” he beams. His can-do attitude and the fact that he hasn’t focused solely on the oil and gas industry have been key.
From the outset, Messom diversified Bigfoot with agricultural, food-processing and logistics clients. One of his first clients was FedEx, a client he still has today. “Given my skill level and customer care, I’ve gained more and more clients through word of mouth,” he says. “The clients I do have keep coming back.”
With an 8,000-square-foot shop and a dozen employees (up to 30 in the summer), Bigfoot is going places. “I think we’re going to be a place where innovation is built. And I think in the next couple of years you’ll see some big things out of Bigfoot, no pun intended,” he chuckles.
For his part, Robertson is keen to start realizing the efficiencies of his new roaster, located in the Simmons Building in the East Village. “The downturn has affected us,” he says, “but as a consequence we have to operate more efficiently, tighter. That’s why we’re looking at automation.”
A symbiotic relationship with happy endings for both sides. The next time you drink a cup of Phil & Sebastian coffee, rest easy knowing some of Calgary’s best young entrepreneurs have brought it to you. It will taste that much more delicious.