Fratello Coffee Roasters traces its history back to 1974. That was the year founder Cam Prefontaine began selling coffee and other instant hot beverages to offices under the name “Fontaine Beverages”. The next year Cam moved his family to Calgary to start his own division of Fontaine Beverages and operated out of his garage and basement. Cam’s three sons were involved in the coffee business from the start, earning an allowance by helping Dad service old coffee brewers.
Cam, however was not satisfied with powdered/instant coffees and in 1985 started Custom Gourmet Coffee by partnering with a local coffee roaster to buy pre-ground coffee. Being a coffee “perfectionist”, Cam made the decision to “trade” companies with the roaster and began roasting premium, high quality coffees. The goal in the beginning was not to get into marketing the brand, but it was all about supplying high quality coffee along with excellent service in support of his clients. Cam’s mission was to value clients and staff and treat them as family. To treat them with the respect they deserve and follow the “golden rule” of treating others as we would want to be treated. That mission continues today.Cam quickly became known within the industry as one of the Pioneers of gourmet coffee, and was one of the original coffee guys to focus on higher quality beans. In 1990 he visited Italy and returned with an excitement about espresso and had a distinct feeling this phenomenon was going to catch on in Canada.
Brothers Chris and Jason decided to partner with Cam in 1991 and opened Espuccino Imports to be the exclusive distributor of Nuova Simonelli espresso machines, Ugolini granita equipment, Lamber dishwashers as well as other Italian products for producing pasta, paninis, etc. Being ambitious, the boys quickly dominated the Southern Alberta market through a high level of service, training and support. Third son Russ joined Jason and Chris as a service technician and delivery driver in 1994.
In 1997 Cam successfully fought off two bouts of cancer and decided to sell his roastery to his three sons who formed a partnership and bought their parents out. The ultimate goal was to combine Custom Gourmet Coffee and Espuccino Imports under one roof to provide clients with a “one-stop-shop.”
By 1999 the company began to grow throughout Western Canada at a clip of 15- 30%. Marketing materials were produced for their unsophisticated, independent café clients to use in their efforts to compete with branded concepts like Second Cup, Timothy’s, Seattles Best Coffee and Starbucks.
The combination of inexperience and rapid growth ushered in the expected learning curve. Cafes were not monitored for quality and standards like they used to, and the high level of service their customers were used to began to slip. A focus on growth led to the acceptance of any type of customer, including U.S. wholesale clubs, hotels, airlines, cafes and the introduction of new coffee pods. The belief was “we can be good at everything!”
The decision was made in 2000 to move into the current roaster/warehouse. Rapid expansion continued along with a dilution of the credibility of the brand. A sales force was sent to Edmonton but with little support. Pacific Rim Coffee Service in Vancouver was purchased to sell coffee into offices and cafes, but again, the support was all out of the Calgary distribution center.
The decision was made in 2004 to start a syrup bottling line for coffee syrups, chai, smoothies and granita mixes. At the time, Custom Gourmet Coffee was the Canadian Master Distributor for DaVinci Gourmet Syrups but the level of support was not acceptable, so the company figured it could simply do it themselves. Valleta Flavors was born to sell a line of products to other roasteries and distributors around North America.
In 2007 the decision was made to rebrand Custom Gourmet Coffee into the Fratello Coffee Company. This was a fitting name, as the Italian word “fratello” translates in English to “brother”.
During this transition the discovery was made that much of the work that was accomplished for growth was diluting the brand and Fratello had become just another “commercial roaster”. The company had become bloated, expensive, with no focus on quality or any specific project or initiative. The decision to down-size, or “right-size” was made. Edmonton was closed, Pacific Rim Coffee Service & Valleta Flavors was sold and all USA and Korean business was terminated. Much of the assets in the roasting plants were liquidated and while the number of staff dropped from 80 to 20.
Many cafes that were not adhering to Fratello’s strict standards and guidelines were removed from distribution and all marketing materials removed. A bold de-branding strategy was put into place in an effort to re-establish Fratello as a uniquely different coffee company that specialized in high-end coffees with a reputation of excellent levels of training and support. It was no longer about “us” but about quality, and our clients.
Along with the new focus, the brothers went “back to school” to continue learning about coffee as the industry and trends were changing rapidly. They started traveling to the countries and farms where their coffee was grown to met the families who grew it and realized how little was known about this process. From that point on the decision was made to invest time in support of their growing partners.
A STAR IS BORN
The brothers expertise of both coffee and espresso equipment and a dream to invent a specialized machine unlike anything that had been seen before it. Something that would allow the coffee experts to get more out of the outstanding coffees being produced. Knowing there was specific demand throughout the world for a machine that could “flavor profile” these unique coffees led the to the ambitious decision to create from scratch a machine that would dramatically expand brewing possibilities. And in 2007, Slayer Espresso was born. Slayer introduced independent temperature and pressure control at the group head, in a beautiful espresso machine, purpose-built to enable baristas to craft each shot as while you brew!
In 2009 the Slayer manufacturing team, lead by brother Jason, moved to the coffee Mecca of the northwest USA, Seattle Washington to operate as a stand-alone company apart from Fratello to avoid any conflict of interest.
A DREAM COMES TRUE
After ten years of talking about starting a café division, in March 2011 the talk became a walk and Fratello’s Analog Café was opened in the Farmer’s Market on Blackfoot Trail SE, and in November 2012 we opened our dream location at 740-17th Ave SW, the heart of Calgary’s belt line community. After 32 years of training & supporting Calgary’s independent café owners, opening Analog allowed the brothers to showcase and serve coffee the way they felt coffee was meant to be made! Other locations may be opened in the future as the learning curve continues.
The brothers have never stopped learning & innovating and Fratello will continue to improve sourcing, roasting and preparation techniques. Direct trade relationships will continue to expand while enhancing their reputation as a premier coffee roaster in Canada.
The future is bright for Fratello due to the direction being taken. Coffee lovers are taking notice of Fratello coffees in quality cafes and the shine has returned to the reputation of the coffee company known as Fratello.