Commercial Coffee Roaster News, Customer Stories
Watermelon Candy: Nate Dillon, Matthieu Galizia, and Austen Tanner and Cathedral Coffee
The Cathedral Coffee roastery runs in Saint Helens, Oregon, midway between the two Cathedral Coffee cafes in Portland and Scappoose. In the front, Nate Dillon roasts on the manual MCR-3. In the back, cafe pastries are baked in the commercial kitchen.
Setting the Scene
Cathedral Coffee owner Austen Tanner started as a sanitation worker in Portland, Oregon, until a diagnosis of arthritis forced a change of career. After some reflection and prayer, he realized what he really wanted was his own business. He chose to build a cafe because many people in his sphere belonged in the coffee industry. With the help of a few dozen people, he renovated an old gas station in northern Portland and the business became a reality in 2013.
From the start, Cathedral Coffee bought their wholesale coffee from Proud Mary, which was a partnership integral to the success of the business. In 2016, the second location opened, this one serving Scappoose.
In 2017, Matthieu Galizia joined the Cathedral team as retail manager after a year of studying architecture at the University of Idaho, during which he met and befriended Nate Dillon. The pair stayed in touch after Matthieu returned to Portland through a coffee-club-esque monthly Facetime.
Nate’s experience in coffee and restaurants came from his work in his dad’s cafes in his late teens. He loved brewing coffee at home, and working coffee in a professional capacity just served to solidify his passion for the industry. At the University of Idaho, he studied mathematics, even earning a credit for helping a masters student with his research on using infrared spectra to evaluate the chemical composition of coffee.
He graduated in 2020, staying in touch with Matthieu through their monthly coffee meetings. Then, in 2021, Cathedral Coffee launched an offshoot of the neighborhood cafe; a roastery. Matthieu recruited Nate as head roaster, and so he moved back to Portland to start working on the company’s manual MCR-3.
The Way Up
Before working for Cathedral Coffee, Nate was hesitant to break into the world of roasting. “It’s hard enough to brew [coffee],” he says. While culinary art had been demystified for him through years of work for his father’s cafes, Panhandle and Cone and Coffee, roasting still felt out of reach.
So when he did agree to move with his family from Idaho back to Oregon, his mindset was more learning and less expecting. “It saved us some grief,” he says. They employed the help of a friend who roasted for another company in Portland, who trained Nate on the Mill City Roaster and helped him acclimate.
The company made the switch from Proud Mary to its own roasting a few months later.
That same year, they made their first wholesale account, supplying Panhandle and Cone and Coffee with fresh-roasted coffee. Matthieu also started building out the company’s website, which marked a turning point for the company. Up until then, Cathedral Coffee had been built on the model of the neighborhood shop. All of its marketing and growth had been focused locally; building an online store was an entirely new beast.
Managing both the growth of the brick and mortar shops and the company’s online presence is presently the biggest challenge the team faces. Aspects of business they never had to develop before–like merch, for example–now need more attention.
And growing an online following is much different than growing a following in-person, although some Cathedral Coffee regulars have followed them to their digital shop. “It pays dividends to have relational backing,” founder Austen says. He hopes that with more time and a change in marketing, the online shop, which debuted in September, will gain new customers. With a goal of keeping the roastery and the cafe separate, the team’s advertising efforts are now twofold.
The Cathedral Coffee Menu
Cathedral Coffee offers one house blend and four single origins as well as a decaf. The house blend stays on year round; the single origins rotate with the harvest, changing out every three or four months.
They source from a variety of importers: JC Coffee Importers, a producer in Brazil; Sucafina for the house blend; Shared Source for Colombias; Catalyst for the natural Ethiopia; and Genuine Origin for decaf as well as the washed Ethiopia.
Since Nate has taken over roasting duties for Cathedral Coffee, their offerings have gone a bit lighter than what they were previously with Proud Mary. The house blend, used most often in their cafe menu, is the non-fruity roast. It was created specifically to be used in milk-based drinks; it’s a bestseller for customers who prefer balance over acidity and fruit notes.
For customers who prefer more acidity in their coffee, Nate keeps most of the single origins on the light side. They have nicknames like Watermelon Candy and Apple Crumble to help customers pick up on the flavor direction.
Since the online shop has been open, the team has seen a rise in the popularity of their washed Ethiopia, which is quickly coming up on the house blend as bestseller.
The launch of the online store has also enabled Cathedral Coffee to offer a monthly subscription, which Nate is stoked about. The subscription is a way for him to find new coffees to offer customers at a lower price point than they would otherwise pay for a bag. There’s two kinds of subscription: the classic, which sends one bag of the house blend per month, or the fancy, which sends two unique single-origins to subscribers before they’ve available in the shop.
The Cathedral Coffee in-house menu offers a traditional drink menu and a few specialty drink options. “We try to be passionate about everything we make,” Matthieu says; he wants customers used to big menus like Dutch Bros’ to find enough options without overpowering those who prefer a smaller selection.
They also offer a pastry menu, for which all goods are baked in-house, in the back room of the roastery in Saint Helens. They source their dairy from local farms, make syrups in-house, and order alternative milks from Oregon-based companies.
And now that the company is roasting its own coffee, only a select amount of ingredients come from elsewhere. This closed circuit is in part why Matthieu thinks the company fared so well during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Launching the online store and subscription service, Cathedral Coffee’s two biggest goals of the year, have been met. Now, they’re focusing on growing those aspects of the business by adjusting marketing campaigns, upping the variety of merchandise, and increasing brand awareness outside of the Portland and Scappoose areas.
Right now, it makes the most sense for the company to trust their importers to source greens. In the long-term, the team has plans to begin purchasing their greens direct from origin. The biggest factor in making that change will be growing the company to a size where purchasing greens from producers is sustainable financially as well as with the added time and labor costs.
“We’re happy to grow slowly,” Matthieu says. He believes that with a new online customer base, he and Nate will be able to join hands with other roasters in the area for new and enlivening collaborations on roasts and events.
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