Business student tastes success with campus coffee venture

Ryan Wenger puts classroom learning into practice with Barrow Espresso & Tea

When it came to launching his on-campus coffee shop, Mount Royal University student Ryan Wenger started from the ground(s) up.

While the idea of opening up a java joint had long percolated in his mind, Wenger needed more than a few magic beans to turn his dream into a reality.

As an experienced barista and heavy-duty mechanic, he possessed the unique blend of skills needed to build a successful coffee business. However, he first needed his own equipment.

For months, he scoured restaurant auctions in southeast Calgary for high-end coffee-making gear. His basement soon became stacked with coffee grinders, brewers and utensils.

Some of the gadgetry came in working order. Much of it didn't.

One of his greatest challenges arrived in the form of a La Marzocco Linea 3 group espresso machine. Most of the specialty parts for the premium machine are handmade and made-to-order - from Italy.

After a four-month wait for supplies, he got down to work on his espresso maker for another six months.

"There's a lot involved," he said "It's like fixing up a classic car.

"You strip it down to the frame and build it right back up again so that it runs perfectly."

With his equipment up to snuff, Wenger still needed to find a new home for it.



The opportune moment arrived earlier this year when he spied an abandoned coffee cart in a dusty corner of the University. Wenger reached out to the Department of Business and Retail Services to see what could be done.

It was a timely request. Mount Royal officials were already looking to add a coffee shop in the Bissett School of Business, and Wenger's pitch was a perfect fit.

In September 2016, Barrow Espresso & Tea officially opened in a nook of the business building. Wenger believes his coffee kiosk has been a magnet for what was a little-used section of Mount Royal real estate.

"When I was scoping out the space, nobody sat over here," he said from behind his rig. "Now you can't find a table to sit at.

"It's always hopping. People like to be around this energy."

Based on his early success, Wenger hired a pair of students to help him out.

The experience has provided valuable hands-on experience in managing employees. And the learning hasn't stopped there. He's now using forecasting formulas to determine how many pastries to order, while drawing on business communication skills when reaching out to customers and vendors.

"I'm discovering the full range of my education by practicing it right here in a business school," Wenger said.

"It's always hopping. People like to be around this energy."

In fact, some of the brightest minds in business education are in shouting distance.

Wendelin Fraser, an Associate Professor teaching in the Bissett School of Business, describes her pupil as a "solutions-orientated entrepreneur" and all-around passionate student. Fraser has watched Barrow's loyal clientele grow over the fall semester, and she hopes the coffee wagon will find a permanent home at Mount Royal when the pilot project wraps up this spring.

"Ryan shared his vision for a cafe in the Bissett School of Business earlier in the year, and he earned our admiration and respect as he worked tirelessly to make it happen," said Fraser. "He not only 'talks his dreams' but plans and implements with care and perfection."

At the moment, it's unclear what the future holds for the fledgling coffee stand. Although Wenger would be more than happy to call Mount Royal home for the foreseeable future, he's also keen to grow his business and is open to hearing from other Calgary businesses and institutions interested in his services.

"Barrow gives personality and warmth to any space," he said. "It creates community among customers.

"If there's someone out there who is looking to solidify their brand further by creating greater customer relationships, coffee is a natural way to bring people closer together."