As the Hub City undergoes a revival of its boomtown-era growth, café owners hope to create a community hub downtown.
Nearly two years after opening in downtown Crestview, Casbah Coffee Company is earning praise for sparking a new wave of investment in the historic railroad town.
Bill and Tracy Toannon first opened their cafe on Main Street in downtown Crestview in 2014. After experiencing rapid growth with their first coffee house at 106 N. Main Street, the couple purchased and renovated an 80 year-old building to expand their presence downtown.
The 3,000-square-foot former shoe factory on the corner of West Pine Avenue and Wilson Street provides them new areas for gathering, a larger kitchen and expanded seating.
The cafe looks and feels like an archetypal hip coffee bar that you’d find in most any thriving downtown of a larger city: an exposed brick facade and walls, industrial lighting, stained wood, and the aroma of freshly-ground coffee wafting in the air.
The husband and wife entrepreneurs have gone to great lengths to create a new kind of business off the historic Main Street and believe that Casbah is to be a place for people to engage with one another, meet new people and act as a community hub.
“Casbah is a North African word meaning citadel,” said Bill Toannon, who founded and owns Casbah Coffee Co. with his wife, Tracy. “Citadel, more or less, means a refuge and we consider our business a refuge for downtown Crestview. Our motto is, ‘Meet at Casbah and meet new friends.'”
The couple says they moved to Crestview a few years ago thanks to the relocation of the 7th Special Forces Group and Green Berets to the Hub City. Toannon’s background is in international economic development and when he decided to leave his traditional day job, he and his wife had their eyes set on downtown for their new venture.
“We had been looking at opening for more than 20 years,” says Toannon. “When we moved back here as part of the relocation of the Green Berets from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Crestview, we started talking about our plans for a coffee shop.”
The couple says a big part of their decision to start a new business downtown was founded in their belief in the community.
“We know what good development can do for a community,” says Toannon. “We wanted to create an anchor in downtown Crestview. We haven’t had a anchor for the community off Main Street in many years.”
Crestview mayor David Cadle has been in close contact with the Toannon’s since they opened their first shop on Main Street in 2014.
“The ambiance is very welcoming,” Cadle says of Casbah. “It’s become quite the gathering place for the public. They don’t care how long you sit there and work on your computer or read a book, it’s just such a welcoming place.”
Cadle and the Toannon’s agree that it’s time to see reinvestment back into downtown, which has remained largely deserted for the last half century, thanks to suburban flight outside the downtown area.
“We’re always excited about new investment coming into downtown,” says Cadle. “If you have all the right ingredients people will come find you and the Toannon’s have done just that.”
Now, Bill Toannon says, they’ve begun to witness more focus on downtown through investments like the $12 million satellite campus of Florida A&M University’s College of Pharmacy in the heart of downtown in an 1930s-era garment factory, upcoming construction of a new $21 million downtown courthouse, and rehabilitation of vacant storefronts by private investors.
The Toannon’s are among Crestview’s first business owners to use the downtown area’s new mixed-use zoning that allows retails and commercial space combined with residential housing in urban areas. It will allow them to have apartments above the cafe, which they plan to rent out to students of the pharmacy school just a block away.
Beyond their sense of community pride, the Toannon’s certainly pride themselves on the coffee they roast and distribute to wholesalers and their baked goods. The cafe also hosts open mic and karaoke nights for the community to come enjoy.
“We really have three areas of focus for Casbah,” says Toannon. “First, we have a coffee roaster on site to distribute fresh coffee outside the coffee bar. Second, we have a bakery that focuses on quality. Third, we have a strong focus on community. We couldn’t be more proud to call Crestview our home.”
Location: 196 West Pine St. in Crestview
Phone number: 306-1616
Hours: Monday–Friday, 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.