Although it felt odd to have rushed all season to get the bus ready for opening day, and then decide to also rush the opening day itself, it was nice to be so close to showcasing my project to the public. I had spent the majority of the winter avoiding hang outs and ignoring event invites as I needed all the time available to complete the bus, and now that it was almost ready I began to stress less about the build and more about the business. At this point, other than a few friends here and there and the trades who helped out with the project, not many people had seen inside the bus, let alone knew what the plan for it was going to be, so I was feeling anxious about its public display. However, as I began to move the café equipment into place I realized my overall vision for the project seemed to somehow line up exactly with reality. Everything fit how I thought, it felt how I wished, and the aesthetic matched the months of day dreaming about the project perfectly! Moreover, throughout the build process I was continually giving myself a hard time for being behind schedule, yet now that it was complete I could really admire how much work I was able to get done in just five months while working full time at another job.
Overall the Soft Open was a huge success and I still believe was the best option to Showcase Double Decker Coffee Roasting before the season was finished. The event itself had a strong attendance which was a surprise given the overall lack of marketing I had put behind it. Over the two days I received amazing feedback about the bus, the conversion, the coffee, merchandise, and was happy to see how much support Whistler locals had for a new unique business. Although the event required several long nights of coffee roasting to build up enough back stock to sell, the real heroes of the weekend were my two buddies, Julian and Sarah who volunteered both days to sling coffee and snacks for me. By having these two work the café, I was free to chit chat with guests about the bus and coffee as well as observe how people moved and interacted in the space. Although I was very happy with how everything came together with the build, I was very anxious to see if the design and flow of the space worked for both the cafe and the public portions of the bus. Going into the weekend I had several concerns about the space and how multiple people in the bus would effect things. After all at this point I had not seen more than four people inside at a time and even that could feel tight with all the tools around. My primary concerns for the weekend were: How will the freshly painted floors hold up to ski boot traffic; how much of an issue will the staircase and landing be in regards to walkability; will there be a build up of people at the till waiting to pay or get coffee; and will the second floor get too hot in the sun for customers to enjoy the seating areas?
To my surprise most of the things I was worrying about ended up being total none issues. The floors did not wear poorly, though people were rough with there ski boots; it seemed people understood the stairwell was not for hanging out in, and naturally kept it clear; the dream team kept wait times for coffee to a minimum; and the temperature upstairs stayed reasonable throughout the weekend. Some interesting take aways from the weekend were: customers lack of interest in buying fresh roasted coffee by the pound; less interest in the onsite coffee roaster than anticipated; and how badly people wanted to see the bus open in the summer. Issues or inefficiencies that the weekend highlighted for me to address prior to next season were: Building a landing deck for the front door, and paint doorway with anti-slip grit paint; Remove side window in cafe and create serving window to outside of bus resulting in less stairwell traffic; adding a beverage dumbwaiter to the second floor to get customers in their seats quicker; better signage about "on site coffee roasting"; and setting up an inside/outside speaker situation to create a more cohesive hangout atmosphere with music.
After the success of the Soft Open, I had an odd change in energy levels, and all the sudden the drive that had kept me pushing through the evenings building the bus completely dried up. It seemed that with the public showing behind me, and knowing I had the coming fall to continue construction on the bus, the few weeks I had before heading back up north for another wildfire season would be better utilized locking down plans, courses, and generally educating myself as much about the coffee industry as possible. I had finally got past the stress of not completing the bus and now began to focus my stress on the future of the business. I mean all I had done is finished the portion of the project I had experience with, building stuff that is, but there was still a whole other component waiting for me. I had physically built Double Decker Coffee Roasting, now all I needed to do was learn how to run a business...
Enough about the build, what about the Coffee Roaster?
After completing the Diedrich Coffee Profiling course I picked up my new Diedrich IR 2.5 kilo Coffee Roaster from Sandpoint, Idaho and headed back home to Canada. Upon arriving back in the Callaghan Valley, I unboxed the brand new roaster and was very excited to see how it fit in its dedicated space. In fact, I was probably too excited, as I tried to move the 260 lbs coffee roaster into the bus by myself. Initially I was able to carry the roaster to the bus from the tailgate of my truck, but when I tried to step up into the bus, I lost my balance and dropped the roaster, slamming it and myself into the floor. Just like that, I held roughly twenty thousand dollars and immediately dropped it. As the roaster slipped from my grip I tried to protect the control module by padding it with my soft belly region, rolling the roaster on top of me. Unfortunately, I fell in a way which pinned my head against a wall, giving it no room for the roaster to slam into. Initially I thought I had broken my jaw and certainly destroyed the brand new roaster. However, after getting up, cursing a whole lot and walking it off, I found only a small bend to the exterior sheet metal of the roaster (only cosmetic damage) and luckily did not have a broken jaw. This was extremely embarrassing as I'm sure you can imagine, and I was quite disappointed in myself. Once again my stubbornness and refusal to ask for help resulted in a poor outcome.
After a few more weeks of hooking up utilities, building a podium and finalizing a few more aspects for the roasting zone, the roaster was installed. Once installed, several seasoning roasts had to be completed before consumable coffee could be roasted. The process of seasoning roasts washes the roaster's drum out by exfoliation, cleaning up any remaining metal shavings, and greases left behind from the production line. In addition, the seasoning roasts leave their own residue in the drum, similar to seasoning a cast iron frying pan. The seasoning process consists of loading the roaster’s drum to capacity with lower grade or old coffee (cheaper), getting the beans to an oily stage as quickly as possible, and then keeping them rolling in the drum for as long as possible without starting a internal roaster fire. It is kind of funny because the specs for seasoning a drum are actually fairly difficult to maintain as an experienced roaster let alone for some one that is brand new to it. In my experience I did have to add water on several occasions as the heat got away on me. These seasoning roasts are also a great opportunity to feel out your roaster and get better acquainted with its inputs and precision. After finishing the seasoning roasts, all the burnt batches of coffee must be thrown out as they could contain hazards left from production…as well as would be very unpleasant to drink as they are extremely over developed.
After finishing my seasoning roasts, I started to experiment with an espresso blend, and although these batches were fit for consumption it was probably my 8th batch before I started letting other people sample the coffee. At this point in time, the bus was still very much under construction, and I was still in a real time crunch just to get one opening day in before the end of ski season. So on top of the Callaghan Country work, and bus construction, I was also reading as much coffee roasting material as I could and experimenting deep into the night trying and get the right roast for opening day. On top of my knowledge from the Diedrich Profiling course, I heavily utilized Rocky Rhodes “Profiling Practicum” to keep me on track while developing the flavours of Double Decker Coffee Roasting. Although I had the concepts of coffee roasting down, my only experience roasting was on a 12 kilo Roaster and I was now trying to transfer the inputs I knew from that machine to my 2.5 kilo Roaster. Initially, finding the parameters to build off took some time, but once I found the limits I wanted to create within it became a lot easier. After a considerable amount of green beans and money later (estimated around 50 lbs @ $6/lbs), I arrived at a roast which I was happy to put my newly created brand name on. The Double Decker Coffee Roasting espresso blend was ready for customer consumption. All I needed now was a running espresso machine...and customers.
Super Booths and Tables
When I designed Double Decker's layout, look, and overall atmosphere, it was important to me that it looked like more than just a bus with tables placed inside. I wanted a unique space to enjoy coffee in that felt like it had a previous life and now it was simply the next chapter of that life. Another aspect of designing the space was identifying what I do not like in similar businesses. Probably my least favourite experience while skiing is seeing a cute building to enjoy snacks in and going inside to feel like sardines jammed in a ski boot. In order to avoid this feeling, I decided to limit the number of seats available up stairs as well as have a no standing policy (of course the low ceiling enforces that policy all on its own). In addition, I felt removing the soft fabrics from the space would reduce the humidity and ultimately cut down on the bad fragrance associated with a typical ski lodge lunch room.
As for the actual design of the upstairs, there were several qualities I wanted to target. I decided that by adding a colourful paint scheme inside, it would naturally frame the large windows separating the inside and outside spaces. To compliment the thick wood countertops downstairs, I carried the look through the tables on the second floor. The dimensions of the tables had to be altered several times in order to make the thickness match the scale of the overall booth. Continually cutting down the tables became a pretty exhausting task as they had to be cut with a beam saw and made quite a mess each time they were cut down. Another difficult aspect of designing the seating and table interaction was trying to manage the dimensions between tabletop heights, window heights and seat heights. This took some creativity and certainly results in a different feeling while in the bus.
Another aspect that was important to incorporate in the bus was having a large hang out booth, or super booth as I like to call them. I have always found these oversized booths to feel quite inviting, as well as a great meeting space for friends or people working together on a project. I also wanted to confuse the space by not giving it an identifiable front or back, and the super booths helped me achieve this by placing one at either end of the space. In addition to the two super booths, three smaller four person booths would be placed down one side of the bus. These smaller booths were made from the original bus seats, with a few alterations to make them compliment the wood in the space better. The four person booths have an interesting posture to them, as the original bus seats really throw you against the back rest, which an individual must be fairly relaxed to enjoy a coffee in such a posture. I find it quite funny to watch people try and fight the seat with proper posture, but once they finally give into the seat's wants they relax. Another difficulty in building the seating upstairs is that the floor has an apparent arch to it, as it is the downstair's ceiling. The result of the floor's arch is that portions of the super booth feel odd to sit at as the distance between table top and floor differs largely from the ends to the middle, almost two full inches.
Now I must admit that when I was designing Double Decker's layout, it was heavily based on what I like in a space, and I gave very little consideration to typical seating/revenue calculations. In actuality I would much rather the space be pleasant for fewer people that trying to maximize wallets in seats. In addition to the space primarily representing my wants, it is also primarily designed from one particular point of the bus, and how the rest of the space looks from that vantage point. Early on in the build I found my natural favourite portion of the bus and designed around it. By doing so, in the future when I am working in the bus alone editing film or what have you, I am always going to be surrounded by my favourite look of the space. I am curious to find if others visiting the bus can identify this seat or not as I believe it is not obvious one.
Now if I was simply just grooming for Callaghan Country I don’t believe I would have run into the same level of time crisis as I did, but in addition to running the snowcat I was also fixing most things that went wrong with the cat. As with any piece of heavy equipment, when it is run, it will eventually break down. A snowcat is no different, and although it may look like a large tough machine, it is actually incredibly fragile. Now every season has its fair share of poorly timed and comically destructive break downs with facilities and equipment, but this particular season brought a couple spectacular break downs. Everything from basic hydraulic line blow outs, broken axels, tires tearing off rims, and even a harpooned oil pan. In addition to the seemingly continues bad luck with the snowcat, we had several issues on the Journeymen Lodge front as well. The most memorable was the Christmas Day septic back up, where my Father and I spent the day and evening digging up and clearing four feet of plugged septic line. Truth be told, I actually quite enjoy the break downs and unforeseen circumstance the Callaghan Valley continuously supplies in a never a dull moment kind of way. However, this season was a different story as the time these issues kept swallowing up was already spoken for! Every time something went sideways on the Callaghan Country front, I saw the Double Decker Dream getting pushed further and further away. I distinctly remember thinking, “I could have another 8 hours a day and there still wouldn’t be enough time for one man to finish this”!
When I set out on this project, I really wanted to do as much of it on my own as possible in order to learn as much as possible. As I have referred to in previous posts, the whole purpose of this project was to learn and better develop my skills in all aspects of the business. However, as I pushed deeper into the winter it started to become clear that sure I could do it all myself, but certain aspects would probably not turn out as I dreamt they would and more importantly would just take ages to complete. In addition, one particular night’s volume of storm snow resulted in some serious damage to some structures on site and it became painfully obvious that I was in well over my head. For these reasons I reached out to some friends to take over the second stories T&G ceiling and clean up some of my less desirable wood work. Within the week of receiving my phone call for help, Bernard, Pat, and James came right up to force some progression on the bus and ultimately gave me the best Holiday present possible. Without these three gentlemen the bus would not have the have opened at all last winter and certainly would not have the clean lines it does now.
The bus had finally made some major progression with the first real steps towards a cute cafe becoming apparent. With the spray foam finally being covered up, and a much needed injection of energy to the project the next steps were clear. In order to keep the ball rolling, Boona called his friend David the painter and we rolled right into painting both the upstairs and downstairs. I was a little afraid the colour scheme I had picked out months prior may be abit much, but the light pastel blue on grey anti-slip floor paint really brought the bus to life and perfectly complimented the clear coated pine. Once the painting wrapped up the weather finally started to ease, with the temperature taking a major dive and precipitation completely dropping off...perfect nordic grooming weather. Finally, I had the time to bite into the bus, and just like that the holiday period was over and Double Decker Coffee Roasting was on the move!
The Beginning of the End
Starting in mid December, the heavy, unrelenting snow began…and it simply did not stop till the end of January. At the Journeyman Lodge (1400m), we went from having no snow on December 9th to over 3 meters by the end of the month. At the Alexander Falls Ski Touring Center (where the bus is parked) the snow came down like a cartoon, immediate draping everything. Tools, materials, and anything else that was left outside was now lost till spring. Trail preparation for Callaghan Country and the Journeyman Lodge had begun and Double Decker Coffee Roasting lost its priority work status.
Patrick Sills is the owner and creator of Double Decker Coffee Roasting. The purpose of the Build Blog is to share the story of the physical build, its components, Patrick's growing education in the coffee industry, and the overall creation of the business. Warning: if run on sentences, poor sentence structure, or simple spelling mistakes bother you to the core stop reading! The Build Blog has a very loose format, I am a builder not a writer, just thought some people might be interested in the story. Enjoy!