Starting your own coffee roasting company can prove to be quite the journey, and with as many twists and turns that have come along the way making Bright Jenny what it is today, one thing has remained constant. A dude, who likes rad freaking coffee.
We’ve been running through some staff features in recent months, and figured it high time to feature THE Bright Jenny OG. Dave Upshaw.
We fired off some probing questions to Dave to think about and expand on - if you’ve ever wondered where the personality of Bright Jenny came from, this article maaaaaaay shed some dang light on that :)
What makes Bright Jenny, Bright Freaking Jenny?
The people. Employees and customers alike, everyone that fills our space is just rad. You can feel it the moment you step in our doors. The coffee is pretty good too.
Which jobs in past lead to you wanting to start your own company?
My career in coffee started at Starbucks, as a temporary job while I worked on my Real Estate course. I was a real estate agent for 3 years but it was a terrible fit for me. Then I tried to become a paramedic, but it turns out I don’t like blood… after that I worked in the craft beer industry for a while.
All of these jobs were interesting and taught me a lot about myself, but I always found myself gravitating back to coffee. I loved being creative and being in charge of my own business as a realtor. I loved helping and interacting with people in the medical field. And I loved sharing my passion for awesome flavours through the beer stuff. So combining the these things with my coffee obsession made sense!
When it was just you at the start, how did you learn to roast coffee?
I’ve always been interested in doing things myself, “DIYing” my way through life. So when I knew I wanted to get into coffee as a career, buying someone else’s coffee wasn’t an option. So I did what most people in my generation do, I went on YouTube to figure it out.
I started with a popcorn maker, then went on to build my own drum roaster using my BBQ and a stainless steel drum with a modified rotisserie (the medieval-looking contraption is in the Bright Lab… go see if you can find it!). Roasting this way was purely sensory, no graphs, no computers, just the manual heat from my bbq and my eyes, ears, and nose. Pretty sure I have lung damage from all the smoke, but I learned how to judge the roast by smelling, hearing the cracks, and using my intuition.
I’m sure if I went back now and tried that coffee I would cringe, but my customers appreciated it and that’s how we built our loyal customer base!
What's the best coffee you've ever had?
It was the first specialty espresso I ever tried. I was working at Starbucks in Port Moody, and a JJbean was opening up across the street. On my lunch break I went across the street to see what it was all about and tried an espresso that absolutely blew my mind. I had no idea coffee could taste so sweet. I asked for the manager and they hired me that day. Never looked back.
Can we have the link for your old blog?
No. NO. Deeply embarrassing. Pretty sure everyone in my generation who grew up with the early internet had a blog. Like I said earlier I’m a huge DIY guy, so that’s mostly what’s on there. I’m sure Dave Smith will find a way to leak it.
Why do we buy the specific coffee we do?
Coffee quality starts at the farm. All we do as roasters is try our darnedest to bring out the best in the bean that we have been given. So with that in mind we try to source the best coffee we can, which also means paying a premium and sourcing as direct as we can to make sure the farmer is getting the most money for their coffee, which in turn allows them to grow better coffee. Win win for all involved.
What's the craziest thing that's ever happened in Bright Jenny history?
How can I even choose? There was that one time we almost crashed into Kal Lake towing the old 1956 trailer that served as our first café because it was barely roadworthy… OR that time we almost burned our first Roastery down because we tried to suck burning chaff out of the roaster with a shop vac that subsequently lit on fire… OR that time we got vandalized and robbed on the night after the grand opening of our current space… ORRR that awesome time when a well-known billionaire (who shall remain nameless) threatened to sue us over the name of our company and we had to completely rebrand… WILD TIMES.
Why has culture and good vibes been such a priority over the years?
Coffee is about people. Good vibes in the cafe is just as important (if not more important) than the coffee. We want you to come into one of our cafés and instantly feel like you are welcome and important and comfortable. That’s not the case at a lot of cafés. I think it’s what sets us apart. Good vibes only.
Why are there so many holes in the counter?
My toxic DIY trait is that I tend to drill holes where they aren’t needed. Or I change my mind of the placement of something, therefore more holes are needed…. Who doesn’t like drilling holes?
You were recently transplanted away from kelowna for a while, shout out some cafes that made the best cups during your stay.
Me and my family moved to Edmonton for a year recently so Jenny could complete her doctorate and residency in clinical psychology. Some of my favourite coffee places in Edmonton were: Candid Coffee Roasters - shout out to Levi for all the amazing pour overs and good talks; The Colombian - Santiago and the team do an amazing consistent job, they seem to be taking over the town; Rogue Wave has some of the most stunning coffees I’ve had; and Farrow Sandwiches and coffee, literally the best sandwiches in existence, they serve specialty coffee alongside their sandos.
A year away is a long time - what were some of the highs and lows?
I spent the year with my two boys, staying at home everyday with them. It was a huge challenge, but I bonded with my boys more than I could have ever done while working. I’m so insanely grateful for that time.
Being a stay-at-home dad was both the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done, shout out to all parents who stay at home with their kids, it’s no joke. Wouldn’t change it for anything.
Also, why is the weather like that in Edmonton??
Easiest thing was having an amazing team back home taking care of the cafe!
What's your favourite coffee in Bright Jenny history?
By far the El Parisio Gold. I first discovered this coffee in Edmonton actually at Rogue Wave. After I tried it I HAD to have it so I found out who they got it from and got samples sent to the Roastery. Nothing has beat it since.
(Also a sucker for our smoke and mirrors sometimes.. with cream.. yes coffee nerds are allowed to like dark roasts).
The Man. The Myth. The Legend.