Adriana Mellas, the upbeat presence behind the Drica’s Specialty Coffees food truck, got national recognition this week when Drica’s was named a 2016 Small Business Champion by SCORE. (There were only five in Florida and 103 total in the U.S.) We talked with Mellas about the path that led her from Brazil to corporate marketing in New York to sharing coffee and pastries in Lakeland.
Name: Adriana Mellas
Title: Owner, Drica’s Favorites Specialty Coffees
Define what you do in 25 words or less: We serve fresh-roasted specialty coffee, both brewed coffee and handcrafted espresso beverages as well as homemade delicacies. We offer office catering visits and events.
What kind of workplace is it? Mobile coffee shop
Where do you spend most of your work time? On the truck, serving.
What about the baking? I have a pastry chef student, Kori, who does the baking.
What in your workplace shows off your passions? My pastries are from my grandmother’s recipes, so I grew up with them and they remind me of my childhood. And the coffee because I know the importance of a good cup of coffee to a coffee lover. There’s nothing worse than sipping a cup of coffee that’s bad.
What project are you excited about? We’ve started serving at softball games at Christina Park. The next thing for us is introducing new coffees and pastries. There are a few roasters I want to introduce. Also, we started a Facebook group called Drica’s Favorites Coffee Lovers. In that group, I’m hoping to introduce people to specialty coffees, how to brew better, things like that. Then we want to start doing coffee tastings so people can learn about the origins of the coffee and find out what they like by tasting the difference. A lot of places say they have premium coffee or gourmet coffee, but it’s not specialty coffee.
Can you explain the difference between specialty coffee and gourmet coffee? Premium or gourmet coffee is just a higher-quality arabica bean. It can be from several lots and several different farms. It can be roasted in very large batches. It can be processed differently. Specialty coffees are selected by and approved by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. They all get a higher score and the score involves harvesting, planting, the altitude of the farm; they all come from small lots; they are processed in a certain way … roasted in small batches. It goes all the way from the soil the coffee comes from to its roasting. There’s a lot more consistency in flavor because it’s all small batches. They don’t roast the coffee until we order it.
What’s your most important work tool? My espresso machine is my baby because that’s how I make my drinks. People get surprised because they don’t think I’ll have a professional espresso machine on the truck. Also my phone. It’s how I communicate with my customers — social media, our stops, if we have any new pastries.
Mac or PC? PC. I do have an iPhone and iPad. But at home I have an HP.
Favorite productivity tools: Even though I have my iPhone and iPad, I need a (paper) calendar that I can write on. It needs to have a page that shows the entire week. And I love Post-its. And I record notes to myself on my phone.
Tip for keeping organized: Having the ability to prioritize and be flexible with that. Also, writing things down, keeping track.
Favorite diversions on your mobile: I use it so much for social media and email that when I’m done, I’m done. I’d rather read a real book than one on the phone.
Favorite information site: I like the Specialty Coffee Association of America website. My roaster has a newsletter I enjoy. There’s a barista magazine and a few other industry magazines. Sometimes the newspaper and some blogs; most of them are from Brazil or entertainment.
What do you usually wear to work? Yoga pants or leggings, a T-shirt, my apron and cap and Dansko shoes.
How did you prepare for what you do? I have an MBA with a concentration in marketing from Wilkes University. While I was going to grad school, I worked at the Small Business Development Center. After many years (in marketing) I managed a Starbucks in New York City. And then I was part of the team to open Starbucks in Brazil and train the managers there.
What brought you to Lakeland? Fate, destiny. My husband and I were looking for a house in New York. I had left Starbucks. We could not settle on a house. And my inlaws had retired here. So we came to visit them for Easter and my husband said, “You know, the house you want at the price that you want — I think Lakeland is a good choice.” So I said, “If you let me stay here for a month, I’ll see if I like it.” So I stayed 40 days and I drove over 6,000 miles with my mom and a friend of mine and I really liked it. We went everywhere from Orlando to Clearwater. We drove through neighborhoods. And I really enjoyed Lakeland. I went to every restaurant I possibly could. I went to every Publix store. Having the marketing background, I was doing my homework. Everybody was extremely friendly. Every restaurant where I went was busy. Sometimes the large companies do your homework for you. You think if Starbucks is here, if all these other restaurants are here, that answered the question. So then I bought a house.
What about your love of coffee? Did that come through your work? I was working in New York City and I was not that passionate about my job. I loved the marketing but didn’t like the product so much. So I said to my husband, “I grew up with coffee. I grew up serving coffee. I offer coffee to everybody who comes to my house. I want a job with no responsibility, and there’s no better place to have no responsibility than a coffee shop.” So coffee, food, you can have conversation, you can have a great time. You connect with people; you listen to their stories. So then I applied and I got the position.
What position? Manager.
Sounds like a lot of responsibility to me. Yes, there was a lot of responsibility. But at the same time I loved it. I loved serving, I loved the hustle and bustle. I loved the fact that there’s nothing better than asking somebody, “How are you? Would you like a cup of coffee?” And they’ll tell you their whole life. If people want to write a book or study or meet a friend or have a business meeting, it’s all over coffee. I come from generations of farmers, so I do know the coffee. It’s just a perfect storm. Also, there’s nothing worse than a bad cup of coffee. If I can help you not have a bad cup of coffee, I will do that.
What book, TV show, movie or music has captured your imagination lately? I’m reading a book called “Before Happiness.” It’s by Shawn Anchor. He’s a Harvard professor. He teaches positive psychology, and they call his class they happiness class. I’m enjoying the book because it’s very positive.
What’s your favorite leisure activity? I enjoy reading, the beach. I enjoy Clearwater and Ana Maria Island. For me, the beach is very re-energizing.
Is there something you’re working on that makes Lakeland a more livable community? Yes, I serve delicious coffee and home-made treats. One of my goals is to be more involved. When I first opened, I was involved with the Junior League. I’m still a member, and I’d like to become more active. There are a few organizations that, with time, I’d like to be involved with: The Porch Light, kidsPACK.
What about Lakeland makes you excited? Seeing Lakeland grow excites me. There’s just stuff happening all over: new houses, new warehouses, new businesses opening.
What about Lakeland has you worried? It’s not that it worries me, but we need to understand Lakeland as a whole and not just this part or that part. There’s a lot of neighborhoods, but we need to look at the whole. We’re a large, diverse city.