Sam Friley built Buttermilk Fine Waffles to improve the Calgary food and culture scene by recreating his favourite memory for Calgarians to experience. Despite having zero food experience and a troubled background, Friley continues to build on the success of his business with patrons and reviewers alike.
In his modest, plain white covered office, Friley talked about how his family had “waffles every Sunday morning” when he was growing up.
“We have orange juice, waffles, coffee and it was just this really like warming, just comforting feeling,” something Friley wanted to “recreate” at his restaurant.
Sitting in the same office, two weeks before the business opened, his mom, dad, elder brother Billy and his sister-in-law pitched ideas for the waffle dishes that would be part of its menu.
“This is all about creating unique spaces in our city,” Friley said — something that is needed more than before.
Before the oil prices crashed, Friley said most people got jobs in the industry and then quit as soon as they could to head to the coast.
“Fact is, especially for our generation, there is not the jobs and there is not the money to allow us to leave every weekend,” Friley said.
“So we better enjoy the city that we live in.”
“We got to have texture in our cities,” he explained. “And to have that texture, you need to have authentic businesses that are influenced by people’s personalities.”
Friley, who graduated with a degree in geological engineering from Queens University, never thought that the food industry would be his future.
“I was like I’ll get this degree… and I’ll be an industry titan,” he recalled.
“I got a job in the oil business and after like three minutes, I was like, ‘Oh no!’” Friley joked.
“I went and worked at a brewery after putting bottles on the line for $14 an hour, and it was way better,” he added.“I like using my hands. I like moving pieces.”
After leaving the oil business, Friley also took some time to help manage Village Ice Cream, a store owned by his older brother Billy Friley.
“He is just really passionate,” his brother said, recalling how Sam was concerned about how Village Ice Cream looked and how their customers were being served.
“I saw my brother doing something really cool, and I was super envious of that,” Sam Friley said.
“I loved every bit of building that first business.”
It was not long though before Friley decided to start his own business, travelling back and forth between Chicago and Calgary to experiment with different food concepts. Tacos? Barbecue? Friley thought of many things before landing on waffles.
“The best food being eaten on this planet is being eaten by the working people,” Friley said.
“The other thing I noticed is the reason it’s good is because generally that person only does that one thing, and the only way to make something really good is to cycle through the ingredients quickly,” he continued.
“So I knew that you actually could do one thing and keep it really simple and focused,” he said.
Although Friley’s business has been a success since he opened Buttermilk’s doors on 17th Avenue S.W. in 2015, receiving good responses from Calgarians and the media alike, he admitted to having gone through difficult moments.
“I doubted myself a lot… it’s a part of my story,” Friley mentioned.
“One year after I opened this business I ended up going to rehab,” he explained. “I was in rehab for six months … Literally, within 12 months of opening this place I had to leave, like it was eating me alive,” he added.
Upon coming back from rehab, Calgary and Friley’s business have been dealing with the impact of the local recession.
“Buttermilk has experienced some rough times,” said Raven O’Reilly, an associate in the restaurant. “But he still tries to put our name out there, whether it’s like for your business or just the smaller aspect of like the customers, to really make sure that they feel welcome.”
Amidst the setbacks, Friley kept a closer eye on his business and himself, at one point changing the closing time to 3 p.m. so that he can continue the rest of his day in a calmer space and pace. The restaurant is now open until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday, and until 10 p.m. Wednesday to Friday. It is closed Mondays.
Just a couple months down the line since Friley’s exit from rehab, the store has been going through some serious changes, adding three new waffles to the permanent menu for the first time in a year. Friley even spent time experimenting with gluten-free options for his guests.
Smoothies? More savoury? Or more fruity dishes?
These are just some ideas Friley has in mind as his business continues its journey in the Calgary food scene.
Editor: Ian Tennant | firstname.lastname@example.org