A Local Love Affair with Coffee Leads to Walmart
Clay Cass knew his coffee was good when customers were walking through dirt mounds to get into his coffee shop in historic downtown DeLand.
Within two years of opening his Trilogy Coffee Cafe in 2015, the city began construction right outside the cafe. With sidewalks torn up, dirt piles everywhere and construction equipment blocking entry, it wasn’t exactly an easy spot for coffee lovers to get to daily.
But they came anyway, much to the delight of Cass and his wife, Michelle.
“It’s not a matter of if you’ll face challenges, but it’s when you will,” says Cass, who has seen his business through multiple floodings, construction and the Covid pandemic.
The key to not getting burned out during those stressful times, says Cass, is to “have a combination of what your passion is, how it connects with your community and what you’re willing to do to see your goals come to life.”
Cass discovered his love of specialty coffee in the early 2000s when a friend introduced him to the experience. His passion started small before expanding into a small space at DaVinci Design Studio and selling coffee at the DeLand Farmers Market in Artisan Alley.
“The goal was to eventually open a cafe,” Cass says of the early plans. “What I didn’t know was how our version of coffee would be perceived in DeLand.”
The demand, it turned out, was there. On May 4, 2015, the Cass couple opened their first cafe before outgrowing the space again and relocating to the current location on Georgia Avenue.
“I love the idea of how coffee connects us globally,” explains Cass. “It’s not just this faceless commodity. Coffee at its best is small communities producing something and connecting with communities like ours.”
As a small-batch coffee roaster, how it gets from bean to cup is anything but a small process. Cass and his team get shipments of 150-pound burlap sacks of raw coffee that look like roasted coffee but are green and smaller. That’s when Cass — the head roaster — gets to work measuring, pouring, temperature adjusting and tasting coffee. Each roast lasts between 11 to 13 minutes, with around 20 different adjustments made during the process, Cass explains.
On average, it takes him about two months to perfect a new blend before it ends up on a customer’s taste buds, he says.
“It’s a craft; it’s part art and part science,” he explains.
Inside Trilogy’s Georgia Avenue location, Cass has 10 team members running the shop, including baristas making coffee for those who gather. On any given day, customers sit and chat in the cafe holding various social engagements from book club meetings to business meetings. Some remote workers even make it their office for the day.
Ann Marie Batley, the assistant to the cafe’s manager, says she loves working for the family-owned business.
“My bosses and coworkers mean the world to me,” she says. “We all love each other so much that we frequently spend time together outside of work. Working for a family-run business is much more rewarding and exciting. Knowing that your hard work is genuinely appreciated means the world.”
Even after a year of working in a coffee shop, Batley is still delighted by the specialty coffee world.
“I was surprised by how complex some coffees can be,” she says, noting that the Colombia Quindio Anaerobic Natural blend is her favorite. “I’ve learned to appreciate coffee so much more.”
Cass and his team hope others will appreciate and delight in the experience of tasting specialty coffee as they expand their offerings and locations, too.
This year, Trilogy made the leap onto Walmart’s shelves so that consumers can pick up a bag of local specialty coffee right alongside other grocery staples.
Coffee Collective Co. is a company focused on connecting small coffee roasters to their local area Walmarts that approached Cass to see if he’d be interested in distributing through the big-box superstore. In August, Trilogy made its first delivery to 24 Walmarts from Ormond down to New Smyrna Beach and from DeLand to the greater Orlando area.
For Cass and his wife, it’s proof that dreams can grow even bigger. Alongside the new Walmart distribution, they’re also working on the opening of a restaurant called Trilogy Kitchen in the building that once hosted the first KFC in the DeLand area. The address is 844 E. New York Avenue in DeLand.
The plan is to open by the end of 2022. They’ve already hired the head chef, who has the core menu thoughtfully planned out.
The restaurant — currently under renovation — will serve typical breakfast fare, but Cass hopes it will be best known for its coffee and specialty biscuits. They’ll be bringing customers a favorite secret family buttermilk biscuit recipe to the menu.
“If you go anywhere and they’re known for biscuits, it’s a source of joy,” Cass says.
As for the coffee, he continues to roast and grow the coffee line, especially since they’re currently remodeling for a roastery in another location. The new coffee roastery location will also have tours open to the public.
Growing his business won’t be a problem now that Cass knows DeLand welcomes specialty coffee. Plus, given that the specialty coffee market is set to grow by $68.59 billion from 2021 to 2026, the coffee business is a good business.
“I just know that the more we grow, the more opportunities we will have to create awesome and fun positions for people who are passionate about coffee,” Cass says. “Specialty coffee is a labor of love. The people that are in specialty coffee really have a passion for it. As the owner, one of my biggest prerogatives is to continue to grow to fulfill their passion.”
Photos courtesy of Trilogy Coffee Roasting Co.