VICTORIA – Fernwood Coffee Company has the recipe for success.
For over a decade, the roastery has been garnering critical acclaim thanks to their contributions to the community and their outstanding product.
Owners Ben Cram and Terra Ogawa (husband and wife) began their journey when they purchased the Parsonage Cafe in 2006.
“I used to be a chef, working full time running a kitchen, and Terra was working in management, running the front end of a restaurant,” says Cram. “When we had our son, we quickly found that the hours and late nights were making it difficult to be good parents.”
“We were regulars at the Parsonage Cafe, and they were planning on selling. They approached us and we thought it would be a good opportunity to run our own business and make our own hours.”
Cram was captivated by a small coffee roaster that sat behind the cafe’s counter, and began to develop a passion for roasting, which combined his love of culinary arts with a crafting component.
“When we took over the business, I was doing most of the cooking, so roasting was an opportunity for me to step away from the kitchen and do something else,” he says. “The previous owners gave us some very basic training on the roaster when we took over the care, but we realized we could improve the coffee dramatically.”
Sam Jones of 2% Jazz Coffee was one of Cram’s primary influences during this time.
“Sam was the predominant roasting guy in town, and I would hang out with him and pick his brain,” he says. “I started going to the trade shows in the States, which had training seminars and workshops.”
Cram and his staff have undergone extensive training in both brewing and roasting, enabling Fernwood to rise to the top of Victoria’s coffee scene. Baristas from the company have competed in competitions like the World Barista Championships, holding their own against the world’s best.
“A great coffee bean always starts at the source. If the source isn’t good, the end result can’t be good,” says Cram. “We get beans either by sampling products at the source and choosing the ones we like, or by working with brokers who specialize in quality coffee.”
Roasters like Fernwood pay significantly more for these beans, making a positive impact on both the source farms and their surrounding communities.
Once Cram and his team have the beans, they perform a series of tests to find the perfect roasting method for the bean’s unique flavor profile. The Parsonage Cafe’s team of baristas undergo intensive training to properly handle the coffee, creating optimal products.
“I think there are a lot of roasters that are putting out really great product,” Cram remarks. “I think it would be cheeky to say that we’re better than other companies in that way; but where we set ourselves apart is with customer service.”
“The word ‘kindness’ comes up a lot in our training manuals, and it’s at the core of what we do: how we treat staff, how they treat each other, and how our guests and wholesale clients get treated.”
“For our wholesale clients, our commitment to customer service means that they will be able to get a key person on the phone, rather than an automated service. Most wholesale clients have the operations manager’s cell and my own. If something goes wrong, we’re essentially available 24/7 for them.”
Fernwood also works to build back into their community through both charitable contributions and their business practices.
In May of this year, the company was recognized as a 2019 Greater Victoria Business Award winner in the Outstanding Workplace category. Cram and Ogawa are constantly pushing the boundaries as employers, endeavoring to make Parsonage and Fernwood one of the most attractive places for baristas to work.
The cafe itself is committed to purchasing products from local farms whenever possible.
“All our meat comes through local craft butchers, who tell us where the animals are from,” says Cram. “If we purchase seafood, it’s from a local ethical fishmonger. We know where everything comes from. Any veggies or meat products are all coming through local purveyors.”
The company is also involved in various charitable causes throughout the community.
“We try to give back as much as we can,” Cram concludes. “The closer to home a cause is, the more critical it is that we give our full support. We’re always wanting to put money back into the community.”