Connect
To Top

Meet Marcus and Jennifer Trilik-Contaldo of Modest Coffee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marcus and Jennifer Trilik-Contaldo.

Modest Coffee started as a passion project between Jenni and Marcus as a way to bring higher quality, ethically sourced single origin coffee to market. The two were first exposed to freshly roasted coffee at a local farmers market in Brookfield where they purchased single origin Ethiopian beans, and they bought them religiously every week until the market ended. They were hooked but couldn’t buy beans from their local roaster anymore because he closed shop for the season.

They started searching online and found that with shipping, most single origin coffees was cost prohibitive to buy on the regular. Through additional research, Marcus learned how to roast coffee at home using a vintage air pop popcorn popper, and thus the beginning of a passion for roasting coffee was born.

A few years later in November of 2013, the problem of trying to buy single origin coffee online was still prevalent in the marketplace. So Jenni and Marcus purchased a commercial drum roaster and decided to start Modest Coffee as a way to address what they felt was an opportunity to make great coffee more accessible to people in the US.

They found a cheap warehouse space and used minimal, environmentally friendly packaging to bring the cost down enough so that they could offer free delivery on high quality, single origin coffee. Now people could have great coffee roasted and delivered for the same price as buying locally.

They put it out to the internet and immediately gained a small following of loyal customers. In 2016, Modest Coffee shifted from a hobby project to a full-time business. They discovered that finding affordable single origin coffee was a problem for retailers in the Chicago market too. They started partnering with independent cafes, grocers and small chains to bring higher quality coffee closer to the consumer.

They went from having 4 wholesale accounts in 2016, to over 40 accounts including every major independent chain in the Chicagoland area (Woodmans, Sunset Foods, Treasure Island, Pete’s Fresh Market, and Caputo’s). Their commitment and passion for quality coffee is the foundation of their success, and the name Modest comes from the idea that it is less about them as roasters, and more about farms from which they source their beans.

Specialty coffee offers a means for the growers to get paid more for the quality of their product, which improves the farmers quality of life. In turn, Modest Coffee is able to provide a better tasting cup of coffee. This cycle of quality and sustainability is paramount to everything they do.

Looking forward, their 2018 goal is to increase their local distribution to 80 locations and to increase their market share to become the number one or number two specialty coffee provider in every account they serve.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road here has been long and bumpy for sure. Shortly after quitting the stability of corporate life and going full time, Marcus was diagnosed with a moderate to severe case of ADHD – Inattentive Type. So in addition to learning how to build the business, Marcus and Jenni had to learn the tools to manage his disorder.

Besides the personal struggles and adjustment from being a paid employee to an unpaid business owner, I think the business struggles are the same for every entrepreneur and there is a steep learning curve. You start with a passion, and everything else is trial by fire.

First, we had to learn the basics of business, how to manage cash flow, payroll, process, how and when to delegate. Then, we had to get better at time management which couples with partner management and customer service.

In addition, we have had to learn two entirely new industries. Marcus came from the technology industry with nearly a decade in business development, which really helped from the sales side, but from there we had to learn how to navigate both the coffee industry and the grocery and distribution worlds.

We had to learn the language of our customers and our new industries, then it was a learning process figuring out the distribution. Eventually, we decided to go full service with most of our accounts so we had to build out our own distribution network.

There is not a book for any of this, so you rely on your friends and mentors, and we have been fortunate to have a LOT of help along the way.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Modest Coffee – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are a single origin focused specialty coffee roaster. In the coffee world, there are only a handful of companies that do what we do on the level that we do it in the nation. The supply chain starts with farmers that dedicate themselves to growing, harvesting, and processing coffee at an incredibly high-level quality standard.

These beans have a higher value than traditional commodity coffee beans available on the market, and we pay 2x-7x the commodity price of coffee for them and even still, its a competitive market. Even though there are a smaller number of higher-end coffee roasters out there, we all compete for access to the higher quality lots, which are smaller in size due to their nature and they often sell out quickly.

This process introduces a whole new set of challenges for us vs traditional coffee roasters, which we thrive in and that’s figuring out how to roast a bean. There are so many variables involved in developing a roast but our ability to figure it out quickly, and create our signature lighter roasted coffees that really showcase the origin notes is something that we are most proud of.

Our attention to detail, sourcing standards and small batch roasting really set us apart from others in the market. This is especially true on our collaborations where we partner with different business to create something truly unique and exclusive in order to fit the needs and tastes of their customers. For example, we have been fortunate enough to partner with some great Chicago-area brewers to pair coffee with beer and have had some great coffee beers come to market as a result.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
As far as we can tell, Chicago is simply the greatest city in the world. The people are what we like best, we don’t think you can find a more diverse, open, helpful, and hardworking society of people.

Least favorite thing about the city would be a transition from public to private street parking. Variable parking rates and not being able to carry your ticket with you to a new zone? Bullshit. Especially when doing deliveries.

Pricing:

  • The Modest – Central/South American Coffees – Medium/Dark Roasts – $13 roasted and delivered
  • The Enthusiast – Globally focused on sustainability programs – $15 roasted and delivered
  • The Collector – Globally focused on unique/award winning/high cup score coffee – $18 roasted and delivered
  • The Espres-SO – Central/South American Coffees – Dark Roasts – $15 roasted and delivered
  • The Decaf – All the flavor without the fun – $15 roasted and delivered
  • Single Origin Cold Brew – $ about 4 bucks – only available in grocery stores

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in