Welding a Niche Business

Whitefish Heliarc specializes in stainless steel hygienic welding, with a focus on breweries

By Molly Priddy
Matthew Young and Keanan Janus, co-owners of Whitefish Heliarc, work at Kalispell Brewing Co. on March 28, 2019. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon.

Like many thinkers before them, Matt Young and Keanan Janus had an epiphany over a beer.

As professional welders and welding inspectors, both men found themselves looking at a weld at the business they were patronizing, and realizing they could do better.

Both men work at Applied Materials, and both had the urge to pursue a career outside of the company, something they could build and call their own. After seeing what they considered a poor welding job, the men decided to start their own niche welding business, Whitefish Heliarc, which specializes in code-compliant sanitary TIG welding.

Their business’ niche specialty is hygienic welding on stainless steel for breweries, and they’ve picked up enough business to fill up their weekends.

“We figured this was a way we could serve the community and do what we love,” Young said. “I wanted to see if [this business] would work, and it did.”

TIG welding, or tungsten inert gas welding, started in earnest in 1941 after Russell Meredith of Northrop Aircraft managed to perfect the technique. He named the process Heliarc because it used helium in part. It’s also known as gas tungsten arc welding, or GTAW.

Young and Janus both started welding when they were teenagers, either because of a vocational class or because of family influence. Young joined the U.S. Navy and served from 2006 to 2012 working on hull maintenance.

The two began working as welders together at Applied Materials, and they got to talking about what they’d like to see in their futures. And so far, their niche welding service has proven to be popular.

Keanan Janus welds a pipe at Kalispell Brewing Co. on March 28. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Hygienic welding means it is sanitary and at food-grade levels. Other types of welding can trap food and bacteria, and the end result, as Janus said, “is not good.” Whitefish Heliarc works only with stainless steel, an alloy that can be tricky to weld because of its variable compositions.

“It’s a little more difficult to weld than other metals,” Janus said.

Young said working in California got him used to having more regulations on welding practices, and he and Janus bring those rules to every job.

Both men are certified welding inspectors through the American Welding Society, which helps them not only scrutinize the job they’re doing, but also brings an understanding to complex standards and codes around welding. They follow the guidance of the American Welding Society when it comes to code compliance, whether it is required or not.

“Every joint we put out or place anywhere is also inspected,” Janus said. “We’ve put that onus on ourselves.”

So far, Whitefish Heliarc has had plenty to do with the existing local breweries, Young said, with projects at Great Northern Brewing Company and Kalispell Brewing Company, among others. They also intend on taking their business on the road soon, to Missoula and Great Falls. The company does on-site repair, piping, fabrication, modification, and light structural work.

It’s still a side hustle to their everyday lives, and Young and Janus still feel like they’ve got a nice balance in their lives. Eventually, though, they hope to find enough business to make this a full-time job, and one that allows them to stay in the valley.

Young said the recent population boom in the Flathead is a sign that more breweries are likely on their way, and believes Whitefish Heliarc will be able to find its feet if current trends continue.

“It’s a weekend hustle, but we’re balancing it well with working and fishing,” Young said.

For more information on Whitefish Heliarc, visit www.whitefishheliarc.com.