The Calgary Guardian | Homegrown Business: Russ Prefontaine of Fratello Coffee Roasters

Introducing Fratello Coffee Roasters, a homegrown coffee buisness nestled in the heart of Calgary. With a passion for excellence, this local gem roasts and brews exceptional coffee that captivates the...

The Calgary Guardian | Homegrown Business: Russ Prefontaine of Fratello Coffee Roasters

Introducing Fratello Coffee Roasters, a coffee haven nestled in the heart of Calgary. With a passion for excellence, this local gem roasts and brews exceptional coffee that captivates the senses. From carefully sourced beans to expertly crafted blends, Fratello Coffee Roasters takes pride in delivering a rich and aromatic experience with each cup. We spoke with their President Russ Prefontaine to learn more about what they do.

Fratello Coffee Roasters

What is your business called and what does it do?

We love coffee and want to share our enthusiasm and expertise with our wholesale clients to help grow an appreciation for great coffee among the public. Here at Fratello, we are eager to work with any partners that share our dedication to coffee and help them to bring the best coffee experience to their patrons. Our business is about more than just roasting beans —our consultants are experienced professionals who can guide independent café owners in all aspects of their business. From initial consultations for entrepreneurs who are opening a new location to educating the owners of existing cafés about the details of selecting products and equipment, our clients who use our coffees, have full access to our team of coffee professionals.

Working closely with us, you gain access to our extensive knowledge base, innovative practices, and superior-quality coffee products. Our team’s deeply rooted passion for coffee, meticulous attention to detail, and commitment to ethical sourcing and quality are what set us apart. We’re not just another supplier; we’re partners in crafting a remarkable coffee experience.

What made you want to do this work?

Our father, Cam Prefontaine, initiated us into the coffee culture through our family’s first venture, Fontaine Beverages. From those early years in 1974, destined for a life steeped in this culture, we—Chris, Jason, and Russ—took our first entrepreneurial leap in 1991, co-founding Espuccino Imports. This venture quickly gained prominence, becoming North America’s third-largest distributor of Nuova Simonelli espresso machines.

In 1997, we reached a critical juncture. We purchased Custom Gourmet Coffee from our parents and merged it with Espuccino Imports. This allowed us to create Fratello Coffee Roasters, a one-stop shop for coffee lovers. Leveraging nearly five decades of family involvement in the industry, our mission was ambitious but clear: we aimed to redefine the coffee experience in Calgary and Western Canada while pushing the boundaries of industry innovation. This led to the creation of the renowned Slayer Espresso machine in 2007, which set new global standards for brewing coffee.

In 2011, we ventured into the café scene with the launch of Analog Coffee. This wasn’t just another café; it was the embodiment of our vision for a world-class coffee experience. Though we’ve since sold this division, it marked a significant chapter in our journey. Carrying forward nearly 50 years of family expertise, now, we’re channelling our collective decades of experience and passion back into Fratello Coffee Roasters, with a renewed focus on refining and elevating every aspect of the company.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

This is difficult to answer and could be answered in many ways given our long history, different businesses and brands which we have created and cultivated in Calgary.  For Fratello, it’s about growing coffee culture and the customer base we work with.  We learned a lot through starting and streamlining Analog Coffee.  We feel that we have a unique approach to customer service and the café industry that not many wholesale coffee roasters could offer.  From running a coffee chain to inventing one of the best espresso machines in the world, starting a from scratch bakery and patisserie in Calgary to operating a bottling facility to manufacture our own line of coffee syrups, and Chai concentrate.  Each of these businesses were started to solve a unique problem/opportunity we saw in Calgary and the global coffee community.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

Our clients are vast, given coffee is offered, brewed, and sold everywhere you look.  People of all ages enjoy coffee, and specialty coffee, like we source from coffee growing region and roast in Calgary, continue to gain popularity.

How does your business make money? How does it work?

At Fratello Coffee Roasters, we see ourselves as more than just roasters; we’re curators of a unique coffee experience. Each bean we select has its own story, starting with our global farming partners and culminating in the cups of our patrons. It’s a journey we manage with precision, ensuring each bean meets our rigorous criteria for flavour, ethical sourcing, and quality.

Our Calgary-based roastery serves as the final testing ground. Here, we profile each varietal with painstaking attention to detail, finetuning the roast to unlock its full flavor potential. But it’s not just about the end product; it’s about the relentless pursuit of perfection that defines our approach. We don’t just meet standards; we set them.

Fratello Coffee Roasters

Where in the city can we find your profession?

Fratello Coffee is available at cafes, restaurants, offices through our distributor partners, at all Calgary Coop grocery stores and online through our new online store which offers free shipping, subscription services as well as VIP point programs.

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

Question – How can you help us succeed as a business operator?  Are there lessons you could teach us in order to help guide our café operations?

Answer – We want the wholesale customers who buy our coffee to be able to brew and present it in the best way possible so that consumers can really taste the best of what Fratello coffee has to offer. Consultants work with clients to recommend the right coffee, the right equipment, and the right training, depending on each café’s particular needs. We educate clients about sourcing great coffee, understanding how to best store it, how to grind fresh on demand and prepare beverages correctly — we offer step-by-step direction so that their coffee is perfect every time.

Our professional consultants draw from backgrounds that bring together business experience and an intense passion for coffee. During the consulting process, we get to know about a café’s prospective or existing business, what customers they are looking to attract, and how they envision preparing their coffee. We demonstrate all of the equipment options and advise on what will be best for any specific space and expected volume.

We use this experience in training our wholesale clients to help them improve their own barista skills. We work with local clients both at our in-house training areas in Fratello and in their own businesses in all aspects of beverage preparation. From there, we offer ongoing training in areas like latte art and alternative ways to prepare coffee by the cup in a café or restaurant. This training is included as part of our client’s relationship with Fratello.

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

Being able to speak with and interact with so many different people.  From coffee growers to coffee importers…. espresso machine manufacturers, to airline industries… store operation executives, to software developers….to the local Calgary business people, to the team who has been with us for so many years helping our family legacy continue now for 50 years.   My brother and I love what we do.  Yes, we have had bad days and seasons like all business owners, but we are having a blast and feel like we are just getting started.   We have nothing we can complain about.

Where can we follow you?

Please follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Also, we have a very active blog on our website as well as LinkedIn.

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?

We have SO MANY local businesses that we love and work with as this is where we have done business for 50 years now.  But I’m going to pick one who consistently helps and works with local Calgary companies get started and grow within our communities.   The entire team at Calgary Coop continues to be a leader in the community for supporting locals.


Written by: Emilea Semancik