Phil & Sebastian


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[W]hen Calgary’s Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters moved into their new headquarters in the summer of 2015, they also opened a new café. The whole setup was located in a hundred-year-old building that lay in the middle of a massive, seventeen-year, multi-billion-dollar urban renewal project that owners Phil Robertson and Sebastian Sztabzyb believed would eventually provide a steady stream of customers to the new shop.

In the meantime, they would make a café unlike any of their others. “We wanted to be a bit radical here,” says Robertson. “This is our flagship location. Our roaster is here.” A single line sends each customer to one of two espresso stations or a manual brew station. The customer orders, and then waits while the barista prepares their drink. There is no separation between point of sale and pickup.

The concept inspired a mirrored espresso bar, which is manned by two baristas and two barista-cashiers who steam milk. The close proximity between barista and customer led Phil and Sebastian to install their first Modbar. It’s also a setup that requires high customer service IQ, not just to offer great service but to guide the customer through this unusual experience.

It’s worked, but it’s been a challenge. “The whole premise was that we didn’t expect to be really busy,” Robertson says. “We hoped that, in time, we would, but we thought we had time to get our ducks in a row. We were wrong about that.”

Lines can go twenty, even thirty deep at the café, but the station-based setup and a few time-saving pieces of tech keep customers and baristas happy.


1) Push-button Americano: Alongside the Modbar is a Marco single-button, portion-controlled water font, which is connected to its own under-counter Ecosmart boiler. Robertson says that when making americanos it “cuts down the seconds.”

2) Over-counter Interactions: Modbar was chosen to remove any barriers between barista and customer.

3) Steamwand and POS: With a steamwand near the POS, two baristas can easily cover the bar and register.

4) Harder than Marble: The countertop is quartzite stone, a natural stone. It has the beauty of marble but the durability of granite.

5) The Scale: A My Weigh iBalance scale was chosen for its accuracy and toughness.

6) Future Plans: The space under the pastry case is wired to include a refrigerator if they ever need one.

7) Warming Boilers: Mugs are kept warm on top of the Modbar boilers.

8) One Espresso Per Side: A Nuova Simonelli Mythos grinder sits on the outer edge of each bar. Each side has a different, rotating espresso. Co-owner Phil Roberston says, “If café owners are honest, they will admit that one espresso is more dialed in.”

9) To-go Tubes: Plenty of cups in three sizes tuck into these dispensers.

10) The Aussie: A rare sight in North America, this Juggler dispenses milk from two taps. Phil and Sebastian had to persuade a local dairy to use ten-liter bags for the milk. And they had to heavily modify the system to make it up to code. They plan to put one in each of their cafés.

11) Stowaway: Saucers are hidden here.


1) Batch Below: The dual Fetco is placed under the counter and decanted into carafes.

2) Pour-over: Three coffees are available for manual brew, and each is dialed in for a specific brew method. “We found it more successful if you fix one coffee to one brew method,” says Robertson.

3) EK 1: All batch-brew and manual-brew coffees are ground here.

4) Tea Tower: A multi-temperature tower from Fetco is used for teas, which are steeped to completion at the bar.

5) EK 2: This EK 43 is reserved for grinding beans bought by customers.

Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup‘s editor.

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