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Modern Socialite – The Prefontaine’s and Analog Coffee

February 19, 2013

By Jeannette Vega B.

Russ and Chris Prefontaine are the visionary brothers behind the hit wonder, Analog Coffee on 17th Ave, nestled in the heart of Mount Royal and the Red Mile business district, a better location could not have been chosen.

The sleek and stylish cafe has quickly attracted a discerning and loyal clientele who recognizes the artistry and passion being put forth in this initiative. The brother’s desire to bring a higher level of quality and service to Calgary has not gone unnoticed with the buzz about Analog being wide spread.

I sat down with Chris and Russ to find out more about their journey into Analog, I wanted to know what motivated them and drove their passion throughout the years. The quiet yet charismatic brothers had a lot to say, their extensive knowledge, dedicated heart and deep desire to bring us the very best was immediately  apparent.

Q.1 When and how did your passion for coffee start?

1 – Its difficult to say when my passion for coffee started as it has been a part of my entire life.  My parents started in the coffee business in 1974 so my brothers and I grew up with coffee around us all the time. When we were young boys we would earn an allowance through helping my dad clean up coffee brewers.  My parents started roasting coffee in 1985, and as we got older, we began being able to assist my dad in the roasting department during our summer holidays.  We would help package coffee and get orders ready for his clients.  When I was in high school and College I started working at coffee shops.  My brother Chris also worked in a coffee shop but in 1991 started Espuccino Imports with our oldest brother Jason while Chris was in College.  Espuccino Imports was an Italian espresso equipment import company who also did service, installation and training for local coffee shops.  I joined my brothers at Espuccino Imports as a service technician in 1994, but the three of us began partners in 1997 when we purchased my parents coffee roasting business which was called Custom Gourmet Coffee at the time.

Prefontaine, Modern, Socialite, Analog, Coffee

Our coffee is consciously chosen, responsibly purchased, and carefully roasted.

Q.2 What motivated you to open up a retail location (Analog)

– Many people have asked us why we started Analog Coffee at the Calgary Farmers Market as well as our new flag ship location on 17th Ave SW.  Our Analog Café’s were not designed to be “just another coffee house”.  They were designed and created to give Fratello Coffee Roasters a voice directly who matters most.  People who drink and enjoy our coffee everyday

The idea of having our own cafe isn’t new.  We have been talking about this for over 15 years when we first purchased the roasting company from our parents in 1997.  Back in the early years of our roasting company, our father Cam Prefontaine did his best to buy better coffee from his competitors.  He would experiment with different ways of roasting this coffee with the equipment he had and would service his customers way better than his competitors.

These were also the days before “2nd Wave” coffee was the norm, and back before anyone had even heard of Starbucks.  Trying to convince the early bakeries and deli’s to buy what was “gourmet” coffee was a challenging thing to do.  It was only the early/mid 90’s that Starbucks, Second Cup, Grabba Jabba (now Timothy’s) began to pop up on every corner that the ability for us to roast/sell higher quality coffee began to become easier.

In these years, or the 2nd Wave of coffee, we began working closer with our wholesale café customers with education on what espresso based beverages were all about.  We did our best to encourage them and get them excited about wanting to sell better and better coffee.  We would offer our brand image to them in hopes that they would represent us in a way which would create recognition for quality.   This unfortunately is very challenging to do when you are required to rely on others to be your voice on the streets.

Prefontaine Analog Coffee

A big decision was made in 2007/2008 when we as a company decided to down-size and re-focus on what we cared most about. And what we cared about was quality. At this time we changed our name to Fratello Coffee Roasters (Italian for brother) and began to focus on our accounts who aligned with the same principles as us.  If an account didn’t “fit” we simply decided to end the relationship. Over the course of 4 years, a 50-60% reduction in business as well as an entirely new company culture was formed.   It was only during this process that we could begin our transition into becoming a “3rd Wave” coffee roaster.

The Third Wave of Coffee refers to a current movement to produce high-quality coffee, and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity, like wheat. This involves improvements at all stages of production, from improving coffee bean growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers and coffee traders and roasters, to higher quality and fresh roasting, at times called microroasting (by analogy with microbrew beer), to skilled brewing.

At Fratello we understand coffee because it has – literally – been our passion for over a quarter century!  Hundreds of thousands of people have tasted our coffee without ever knowing it!  With the opening of the Fratello Analog Café in the Calgary Farmer’s market in early 2011 we took the plunge into retail, and we’re delighted we did.   We continue to learn new experiences each month which empowers us with new knowledge to better train/coach our wholesale clients.   Our brand has become more recognized in this city as the leading quality coffee roaster and has enabled us to have a “voice” in the street (away from business to business) of our own, and put our brand in our own hands.

With the 2012 opening of our flagship store on 17th Ave and 7th Street we are again able to begin sourcing coffee an entirely new way!  It wasn’t typical of us to introduce 2 or more coffees from the same growing region at once, but this is something we are starting this year. We find it’s such a great opportunity for our customers to discover different flavour characteristics a country has to offer when you are able to taste different farm/cooperative offerings, from the same growing region, side by side.

Prefontaine Analog Coffee

Therefore, What makes a great cup of coffee?  Simply put, pride!  Pride in how we source our product, by knowing our producers and knowing our regions, and not being afraid to always make the call that quality is more important than quantity.  Attention to perfection then continues back here in Calgary, where we use our many years of roasting/training experience.   Lastly, the magic plays out in our cafes, Analog Coffee, where our amazing staff – who all understand and live the Fratello philosophy  – bring you the perfect cup of coffee every time you order it.  Come and check us out.

Q.3 How do you feel Calgary is benefiting from Analog’s unique approach?

– I definitely see Calgary benefiting from Analog Coffee being opened up.  It’s like a chicken or the egg thing; what came first – the great coffee house or the great city?  At Fratello we’re obviously biased, but we believe that you have to have great coffee houses to make a great city.  And just look around, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Vancouver and Seattle – they all have remarkable cafes.  Take it a step further.  How many movie sets or TV shows profile coffee shops?  Tons of them, and there is a reason for that.  Because great coffee houses bring out the very best in us.  They allow us to appreciate the good things in life; things that often get missed in the hurly burly of our daily existence.

In a great coffee house we socialize, we think, and we somehow become instantly gracious and appreciative.  Perhaps it’s the magic aroma of magnificently roasted coffee, or the professional skills of your barista, but somehow a good coffee shop ‘brings you inside’ and gives you as much value from the experience of the place as from the taste of the product.

Prefontaine Analog Coffee

At Fratello we understand coffee because it has – literally – been our passion for over a quarter century!  Hundreds of thousands of people have tasted our coffee without ever knowing it!  With the opening of the Fratello Analog Café in the Calgary Farmer’s market in early 2011 we took the plunge into retail, and we’re delighted we did.   We continue to learn new experiences each month which empowers us with new knowledge to better train/coach our wholesale clients.   Our brand has become more recognized in this city as the leading quality coffee roaster and has enabled us to have a “voice” in the street (away from business to business).

With the upcoming fall 2012 opening of our flagship store on 17th Ave and 7th Street we’ll be in the heart of the action, helping to sustain the pulse of that vibrant part of town.  Again, great café help build great cities.

What makes a great cup of coffee?  Simply put, pride!  Pride in how we source our product, by knowing our producers and knowing our regions, and not being afraid to always make the call that quality is more important than quantity.  Attention to perfection then continues back here in Calgary, where we use our many years of roasting/training experience.   Lastly, the magic plays out in our cafes, Analog Coffee, where our amazing staff – who all understand and live the Fratello philosophy  – bring you the perfect cup of coffee every time you order it.

Coffee should be all about the people.  The people who produce it, the people who roast/find it, the people who serve it and most importantly at Analog Coffee, the people who come in to enjoy it.  And, great people make a great city!

Q.4 How do you stay current in your business?

– Staying current in this business is a constant battle.  The coffee market is always changing, in the past 5 years has been changing faster than ever.  New brewing methods, and the re-birth of older brewing methods are coming back. The way roasters source coffee is changing and we are pushing ourselves harder then ever to roast these coffees  in ways which extenuate the natural flavours found in these beans.   More than this is the consumer is he much more educated and expect more from the baristas at the best cafes.  To compete in the cafe market at this level is hard work.  Its about constant training and re-trainiing and never being satisfied with what you are currently doing.  Being good, isn’t good enough.

We learn a lot from the roasters from around the world we meet when we are traveling to visit our coffee producers.  We are always bouncing ideas off of each other and then stay in contact with social media.  Twitter and Facebook are great ways to watch and learn from the best roasters/cafe in the world as well as going to different trade shows in this industry.

Really the bottom line for us to continually improve is the realization that we do not know all the answers.  We have yet to perfect the art of roasting and the skill of customer service.  We are striving to get there, but know we can never reach that goal, but by reaching for this goal we will continually improve what we do.

Prefontaine Analog Coffee

Since opening our doors at Analog Coffee 17th the main thing we have learned is that there has been a hunger for this level of cafe in Calgary.  There are many cafes in Calgary that are doing a great job, but Analog has tried to create a very friendly and approachable atmosphere.  We do not want anyone to feel intimated to ask questions and order beverages from our baristas.  We want to give the information to the clients who are interested in it, but not be over bearing or “coffee snobs” to clients who are just starting to explore coffee of this quality.  Our clients are really enjoying this and continue to support us as we perfect our systems in this new venture.

Stop by for a unique coffee experience and you might just end up staying longer than expected, savour an exquisite pastry or sandwich from one of the carefully chosen partners like Sidewalk Citizen and La Boulangerie, it will most certainly be an enjoyable stop that might end up being your favourite.