Expanding an Award-winning Coffee Empire
About twenty years ago, James and Heather Cook met at Johnson and Wales college. James grew up in his family’s restaurant businesses and was known as “the coffee kid” to his grandpa. He loved to make coffee and create culinary masterpieces.
Heather and James experimented with roasting green coffee beans in popcorn poppers while at culinary school. They really enjoyed drawing the unique flavors of the beans out with different techniques. They fell in love. They got married.
James became a full-fledged chef in major hotel chains, moving them around the country for work. It was getting tiresome. Heather’s parents lived in Citrus County. The young couple moved to Ocala and James was the Ocala Hilton chef. Layoffs happened. Things looked bleak.
Discovering Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters
Stephen Dorst had created the brand, the store, and the buildout at 2416 N. Heritage Oaks Path in Hernando, Florida. Stephen had planned to bring fresh roasted coffee to Citrus County, investing his time and money into his dream, only to pass away three days after opening the doors in 2008. He named the company after his loyal cattle dog, Barney.
James and Heather heard about the situation several months later. The new equipment was sitting in the storefront dormant. They met with Stephen’s family and decided to take on the challenge of fulfilling Stephen’s dream – and theirs!
Twelve years later, the Cooks have built a substantial business in Citrus County, roasting coffee, creating coffee drinks, making “foodie” quality breakfast and lunch offerings with fresh ingredients, and winning numerous culinary awards along the way.
Coffee Connoisseurs in Citrus County
James and Heather Cook take their coffee seriously.
In 2017, they attended Coffee Fest in Nashville, Tennessee, competing in America’s Best Cold Brew Competition as one of only two brewers selected from Florida. Their amazing cold brew was edged out in competition by Copper Horse Coffee Roasters, but James and Heather came back with renewed enthusiasm. They got their first wholesale customer and made plans to visit Africa, opening up direct trade for beans.
The Cooks have attended numerous trade shows, bringing cutting edge coffee systems such as nitro infused cold brew, and flavors to the area. Now they have opened a 7,000 square foot roastery at 168 Florida Avenue, where they roast beans daily for freshness.
The roastery houses a much larger roasting machine and k-cup machine, as well as hundreds, if not thousands of pounds of fresh, green coffee beans from around the world – and the magic flavor syrups. This is now where the most single-origin coffees, as well as the most k-cup flavors, are created and shipped throughout the world. In 2020, they roasted over 18,000 pounds of fresh beans!
They have had as many as five storefronts open at the same time, all while growing the wholesale and shipping business for Cattle Dog.
Thriving through the Pandemic
Today Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters has culled the storefronts to three. The pandemic hurt the business, just like everyone else. To survive its original onslaught of closing storefronts and ordering residents to stay at home except for necessary travel, Cattle Dog came up with “Pop Up Dinners.”
“Our first thought was how can we keep our employees working. They depend on us like we depend on them,” James shared with NatureCoaster. “I love to cook and create meals, so Heather and I came up with the idea of offering 3-course dinners to our customers Monday through Friday. A salad, entrée and dessert for $15 with a menu that changes daily. We had a lot of fun doing this and 20 dinners paid for two employees 8-hour shifts.”
This is the kind of ingenuity that bonds a team and keeps this Citrus County-based business growing strong. The Crystal River, Inverness, and the original storefront in Hernando are popular with residents and visitors.
“We are looking at expanding into two new areas in the next twelve months,” James said. “Heather and I do our own build outs to save money, repurposing items where we can.”
Earning Awards at the World Food Championships
Along the way, they began testing their skills against other brewers and chefs, chalking up several awards for culinary excellence and exceptional brews.
In fact, James Cook is currently ranked 7th overall and 4th in the Chef category in 2019, qualifying him for the 2021 World Food Championships! He began competing at the Taste of Inverness in 2017, winning the Golden Ticket to compete in that fall’s event. He placed 17th which wasn’t bad. The next year, he won another Golden Ticket and placed 4th in the Chef category and 7th overall, earning him an invitation to this year’s WFC.
The World Food Championships (WFC) is a multi-day culinary competition. It is a live event, showcasing some of the world’s best cooking masters in ten categories.
In 2018, over 1,500 contestants on nearly 500 official teams from 42 American states and 12 countries competed, including James Cook and the Cattle Dog team.
Planning is underway to attend the 2021 WFC competition November 5-7 in Dallas, Texas.
“We always use coffee as a flavoring ingredient in our competition dishes,” James shared, “We will bring the same team as last time to WFC: Heather and myself, along with Mike and Haley Haroux. Mike has done competitions before and has 30 years in the Marines. We work really well together.”
Fresh Ingredients and Quarterly Menus provide Creative Culinary Outlet
“Change it up! Having a quarterly menu keeps things fresh in our stores and provides an opportunity for my creative side. Right now, the Jicama Fennel Salad is very popular,” James says as he shows me the giant Mexican turnip, cutting off a sliver for me to taste and providing a sample of the delicious salad.
The Jicama Fennel Salad consists of organic baby field greens tossed in a spicy mango vinaigrette with jicama, fennel, strawberries, crushed pistachios, pickled red onions, baby tomatoes and feta cheese.
The jicama is good. The salad is amazing! It is light and refreshing, a delight to the taste buds, as well as healthy.
I love a good pastry. My favorite Cattle Dog pastry is the almond horn, made with almond flour and slivered almonds and dipped in dark chocolate at both ends, it is a treat I indulge in on most visits. And it is gluten-free for those who have sensitivities. There are several gluten-free options on the menu.
The current menu can always be found here.
Want your own Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters Franchise?
James and Heather have taken the time to create a opportunity for Cattle Dog franchises and are rolling out the opportunity for others to reach their dreams in the craft coffee market. You can see the franchise video below.
“We believe we can help guide coffee enthusiasts to follow their dreams, just like we have followed ours. Franchising allows entrepreneurs to avoid some of the pitfalls of starting from scratch and provides a consistent product,” James explains.
Remember the Roastery on Florida Avenue? It also contains a storefront setup that replicates each of the Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters locations in front and is open daily from 8 am – 2pm.
Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters at-a-Glance
- Started in 2008 by Stephen Dorst to bring fresh coffee to Citrus County.
- Currently operating three stores: Hernando, Inverness, and Crystal River, Florida. Planning for a fourth in Homosassa. Click here for locations and hours.
- Purchased in 2009 by James and Heather Cook. Roasted 500 pounds of beans that year.
- Added pastries, breakfast and lunch menus which rotate quarterly. Current Menus are here.
- Expanded to multiple storefronts and added wholesale and worldwide shipping.
- CoffeeFest Cold Brew competition in 2017
- Won The Taste in 2017, earning World Food Championship Golden Ticket, placing 17th in WFC
- Won The Taste Golden Ticket in 2018, placed 4th in Chef category and 7th overall at WFC
- Offers online ordering for in-store pickup
- Offers online coffee ordering for over 30 single-origin coffees and a multitude of flavors in caffeinated and decaf by the single pot, 12-ounce bag, or k-cups. Order here.
- Offers loose leaf teas. Order here.
- Opened a 7,000 square-foot roastery to meet demand in 2020.
- Roasted 500 pounds of beans 2009. In 2020, roasted 18,000 pounds of beans.