Former Alberta firefighters brewing change

Coffee roasters have the environment front of mind

Fanning the flame: Mike Wenzlawe is the co-founder of Calgary Heritage Roasting Company in Calgary. He is a former wildland firefighter who changed his career, inspired by roasting coffee beans in an iron pan. (Photo by Kenneth Cheung/The Press)

From snuffing out wildfires to striking the fire of passion for the roasting industry, Mike Wenzlawe and Jamie Parker, two former wildland firefighters, have succeeded in sharing their love of coffee with Albertans.

The two have continued to put effort into the Canadian wildlands with their conservation efforts.

“We were using our experience in wildland firefighting to prop up the idea of Calgary Heritage Roasting Company,” said Wenzlawe, co-owner of Calgary Heritage Roasting Co. “We used to roast coffee on the fireline in a cast iron pan, and that’s how we got into coffee originally.

“Ironically enough, our time as wildland firefighters gave us the seed capital to start the company,”

With their love for nature, protecting the land didn’t end with the closing of the firefighting chapter.

They continue the effort to serve nature with their coffee roasting business, and the impact has grown stronger with every bag of coffee beans sold.

Roasting success: Mike Wenzlawe and business partner Jamie Parker are former wildland firefighters. (Photo by Kenneth Cheung/The Press)

“We wanted to do something a little bit more,” Wenzlawe said. “We joined the environmental stewardship programs, so for every bag of coffee beans somebody buys, a tree will be planted on Canadian soil.”

Over the last three years, the company has planted over 145,000 trees across Alberta, British Colombia, and Manitoba.

By buying their coffee beans, you are not just enjoying coffee, but also making Canada greener.

Although their business is thriving, they face challenges, like many of us, including work-life balance and finances.

“It’s like a newborn baby. They constantly need your attention, but when you have a million different things to do, and all of them are important, but you only have little time, it’s not easy to manage,”

Wenzlawe said it’s about being efficient with your time, not taking yourself too seriously, and reminding yourself of the excitement you had in the beginning.

“The biggest thing that you can do is lead with passion,” he said. “If you don’t love what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter how much money or whatever you have — you eventually will hate it.”

Some may think running a business is better than fighting wildland fires, but Wenzlawe suggests otherwise.

After starting the business with his friend Jamie Parker, he realized there are many similarities between the two walks in life.

“You have to really love to suffer and also find pleasure in that,” he said. “And that’s how the two compare. You just have to be strong mentally to get through it, which simply applies to firefighting, running a business, or even being in school.”

In the beginning, Wenzlawe and Parker worked three jobs to support themselves and the new business.

“You pack your bag in the morning and have one bag for one job and one outfit for another,” he said. “It was a lot of suffering. But you eventually will forget about the pain, especially now when I think about it. It’s crazy how much I did not hurt.”

As tiring as it was, there is always a silver lining after a rainstorm. The moistened soil afterwards is always be the best foundation for flowers to bloom.

“We used to be dealing with hundreds of dollars, and then it went to thousands and tens of thousands, and now we are getting into the million mark.”

Even with Canadian Heritage Roasting Company’s success, the most rewarding thing to them is not just the profit but more the impact they make with the environmental stewardship program.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to know we’ve had an analytical impact on our environment,” Wenzlawe said. “We know we have bettered the world for what we do, and that’s the most important thing.”

Firefighter to business owner: Mike Wenzlawe at Calgary Heritage Roasting CO in Calgary’s Ramsay neighbourhood. (Photo by Kenneth Cheung/The Press)
About Ngo Yen Kenneth Cheung 6 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Ngo Yen Kenneth Cheung is working as a writer for The Press in 2024.