WHITMAN — It’s a family business where customers have become a part of the family.
Trio Café owners Ilian and Elena Tchourilkov are celebrating their business’10th anniversary year — since opening in November 2006. Many of their customers have ordered Trio catering services for everything from baby showers to funerals, corporate events to staff lunches.
“I know that 10 years is not that long to be in business,” Ilian said. “On the other hand, for one particular family we did a christening for their daughter, graduation parties [from both high school and college] and then we did a baby shower.”
Tears still come to Elena’s eyes as she thinks of customer-friends who have passed away years ago.
Family sticks with you.
“We become attached to them,” she said. “That’s life, it’s part of everything.”
The couple, who also owns a Trio Café in Boston, emigrated from Bulgaria 20 years ago, and moved to Whitman 12 years ago when their daughter was 2 — drawn to the community and schools.
Now she, like a handful of other WHRHS students, works in her parents’ café where the Tchourilkovs employ a staff of six plus some part-time staff. Ilian said the shop’s unusual family-oriented hours have made Trio’s a good place for students to work. Their Boston shop is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the Whitman shop closes at 4 p.m.
The small business is also a big hit with some very big companies, incluing Google, Microsoft, GoDaddy and Mass. General, as well as local businesses such as Mutual Bank, Tama Dojo and Bike Barn.
Catering is their main focus right now, and accounts for its interesting customer base.
“For some reason, we have different types of customers,” Ilian said. “Monday through Friday, we have the big corporations, we get the offices and Saturday and Sunday its birthdays, christenings and family parties.”
The two locations work closely together, as do the Tchourilkovs. Ilian is in the Boston store on weekdays, starting as early as 4:30 a.m.
“We could extend hours, but family is family, so you don’t want to overdo it,” he said. “Up until we get 24 hours busy, there is always room to grow. We try to keep it manageable.”
That was part of the reason for a shift of focus to the catering end of things, with only Whitman offering room for a small dine-in area — Boston offers only take-out and catering services.
They also continue to do the baking for tea cart services at a few Boston hotels.
“When we started the main idea was the bakery,” Elena said five years ago. “Then we started serving sandwiches and the menu is now a lot bigger. Slowly we added the catering service.”
The catering menu was increased in 2012 to offer a lot more choices, both in dishes and how — and how big — they could be prepared.
Organization is a vital skill in the business, and there are some plans for changing a few things. Ilian’s Christmas present figures in to that — new top of the line coffee machines and grinders.
“I want to sell Starbucks coffee,” he said, aiming to become a destination for fine coffee. Trio used to sell Lavazza coffees, but the importing system from Italy was cumbersome. If there is a problem for them to overcome, its that the business is growing but the building is not.
The main goal for the future, however, is to keep up the good work with good food — no additives are used.
“We try to be more efficient — to be faster and more accurate,” he said. The pastry shelves were relocated twice before being removed and ice cream is no longer offered.
Unlike a lot of area eateries, Trio does not go in for constant coupon deals.
“There is no hidden cost,” he said. “We think it’s fair pricing and there’s no reason for games.”
“If people come back, that means we’re doing a good job,” Elena said, adding it is not usual to see catering clients order small portions as new customers, then placing big orders after they’ve tried it.
Community participation is also important, Ilian said.
Trio continues to donate food and/or cater for events such as the Friends of Whitman Park wine tasting, the DFS A Taste of Whitman & Hanson, events for veterans groups, the Knights of Columbus and other events.
“I don’t remember saying no,” he said. “It’s a nice community, it’s a small town.”