For former professional NASCAR driver Trevor Bayne, life was once all about speed. Yet with the opening of Mahalo Coffee Roasters last year in Knoxville, Tennessee, Bayne has shifted gears, embracing a more casual pace.
With its bright colors, high ceilings, surf-themed decor and cheerful service, Mahalo strives to offer customers a kind of laid-back, day-at-the-beach experience. Along with providing high-quality coffee and food, Mahalo aims to promote a more leisurely pace of life, affording greater opportunities for the kind of positive human connections that hopefully brighten oneâs day.
âWe love coastal coffee shops where families are coming in, theyâre on vacation, theyâre wearing their flip-flops, theyâre hanging out with their kids,â Bayne told Daily Coffee News. âThey enjoy the day, they take time to speak with the baristas. You want [customers] to take their headphones off long enough to have a conversation. We wanted to create that kind of vacation vibe, even though it is not a vacation spot. Itâs just a little vacation in everybodyâs day.â
One day after his 20th birthday in 2011, Bayne became the youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500. While quality and community may be the fuel sources that now drive Mahaloâs business, Bayne was able to apply his gift for speed into the operation.
âIf you think about a NASCAR pit stop and the fact that you can get four tires and 18 gallons of fuel in 12 seconds, thatâs kind of the mentality I had,â said Bayne. âI was like, alright, letâs set up the bar as efficiently as possible. Letâs be able to have conversation while weâre doing stuff, so letâs make it intuitive.â
On Mahaloâs opening day, a crew consisting of Bayne, his wife Ashton and only two other employees served roughly 640 drinks in the companyâs first eight hours in business. A 3-group Synesso MVP Hydra espresso machine paired with Anfim SP II grinders purr atop the Mahalo bar, with a Curtis batch brew system yielding even speedier grab-and-go cups.
Bayneâs handiness with tools, engineering and design also translated smoothly from the auto sports field into the retail and industrial buildout. Much of the woodwork around the cafe and all the equipment installations were done by Bayne, who now continues to take pleasure in addressing repair and maintenance needs on various Mahalo machinery.
Bayne now also drives a San Franciscan SF6 roaster equipped with Artisan software for extractions modeled on a Decent espresso machine before theyâre translated on the Synesso. That roaster is soon to be replaced by a Loring S7 Nighthawk for larger batches as Mahalo moves into some wholesale roasting. Bayneâs style behind the trier has borrowed plenty from his experience behind the wheel.
âThatâs what I did my whole career â we looked at data,â said Bayne. âWe looked at throttle traits, steering traits and the brake traits, and you go out and try to replicate that. I would run a lap, and you wouldnât be able to see that data live, but when you came in you would go over the data and say okay, what did I do here? Why was that lap faster, why was it slower? Then you would study that and figure out, okay, the next lap, I need to lift off the gas 10% more at this place, I need to turn the wheel a little less or more. Thatâs kind of what you do with roasting. After the roast, you go back and look through it and say okay, next roast, what am I gonna do to make this curve react?â
Currently Bayne spends 20 to 30 hours per week behind the SF6, which is visible to guests through a doorway behind the bar. Armed with knowledge from books, videos and correspondence with more experienced professionals like Scott Rao and others, Bayne steers coffees precisely to what he said is in the medium range by industry standards but is on the lighter side for Knoxville, where specialty coffee is still relatively new.
âTo be completely transparent honest, Iâm six, seven months into production roasting, and a year into ever roasting,â said Bayne. âI do not claim to be a complete expert in roasting and flavor profiling and modulating, thatâs for sure. At first Iâm just a NASCAR driver thatâs trying to roast coffee; eventually I want to be a great coffee roaster and shop owner.â
Bayne said he could see a handful of Mahalo Coffee locations opening around the Knoxville area, although the company is by no means racing in that direction.
âI go back and forth on that,â said Bayne. âToday the answer is yes, I would love to. A week ago, Iâd say Iâm doing all that I can handle. But from the beginning, I wanted to have three, four or five shops around Knoxville, and maybe at some point expand to other places we love. I think thereâs a lot of room for specialty coffee on the east coast, in general.â
Mahalo Coffee Roasters is open now atÂ 1317 E Emory Road in Knoxville.
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.