Abigale Avery and Michael Casby, Owners of Trillium Catering in Belfast, Maine
Abigale and Michael would be the first to tell you that their successful city to country journey involved a lot of luck, but for this tenacious couple, their dedication and tireless work ethic created their opportunities, luck had very little to do with it. Abigale and Michael had both been working in the service industry in NYC for many years and had grown accustomed to that lifestyle. They loved their lives in the city, but all the while they felt like something was missing. All it took was one trip to Maine in the summer to get them planning their escape from NYC. They immediately emailed everyone they knew to see if anyone had any leads on places to find work. As soon as a prospective cooking school job opened up, the couple left their lives in the city and set off for the great unknown.
Their first few months in Belfast, they enthusiastically worked lots of odd jobs before landing at an established and respected catering company. Their ability to seamlessly manage enormous events, without showing any signs of stress or strain, instantly impressed the owner of the company. At the end of the season, the owner approached Abigale and Michael and asked if they would be interested in buying the business from her. Instead of shying away from the opportunity presented, they jumped in headfirst.
In just a few years, they have become one of the most in-demand and high-end catering companies in Maine. They cater events and weddings all over New England and are booked solid in the summer wedding season. They are insanely good at managing difficult variables, like hosting a giant wedding on a tiny island with no electricity or running water. Together, they are unstoppable, getting strength and inspiration from one another. Because their summers in Maine usually fly by in a flurry of events, they love the quiet downtime of the winter months. They especially love that their life they have created for themselves in the country allows for a month-long getaway in Mexico every February, to reset and prepare themselves for the upcoming event season.
A year ago, they bought a building in town, one block from their catering kitchen. Their urban-style loft would be completely unattainable in NYC but here they are able to live in a space that feels uniquely them. It isn’t a country farmhouse, like many others featured on Urban Exodus, but it proves that there are many different ways to live outside of the city. You don’t have to be out on farmland somewhere, you can live in-town and still be connected to the pulse of the small community you call home.
Q & A
What inspired you to move to the country?
Michael: We visited friends of ours out on the island of Islesboro in Maine, and after a delicious lunch we followed a lead after what was purported to be a place for buying incredible produce. That brought us to Chase’s Daily in Belfast, a town we otherwise would have never stopped in. Thirty minutes of strolling through Belfast was enough to plant a seed in our minds that this place might be a good fit for us. On our way back to NYC we stopped at my parents home in Massachusetts, where we climbed a tree and split a bottle of wine while plotting our escape from the big bad city up to Maine.
Abigale: My desire to get out of New York City! After nine years on that treadmill I decided it was time to shake things up and see if a smaller pond might yield better results. I had spent time farming in Maine before and was completely in love with it. Being close to the produce and food I was using to caterer with was one of the biggest draws.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
Michael: We actually drove through a tornado - no shit - coming through Massachusetts on our move. That was pretty hairy, driving a 16-foot box truck with everything you own packed in it down the highway while the wind hurls debris everywhere. After that it was just a matter of putting ourselves out there looking for work.
Abigale: Just stepping out into the great unknown. Michael and I had no jobs or prospects and relatively few friends so we really had absolutely no idea how things would pan out. Our first winter we definitely had a few “city mouse” moments where we didn’t know how to deal with certain aspects of the cold and made some stupid mistakes.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
Michael: I was surprised by how quickly I acclimated to it. Going to bed at 10pm, for instance, after working in the restaurant industry in New York where I would stay up until 4 or 5am. When you’re out in the country, and the sun goes down, you just naturally want to hit the rack. There isn’t the same thrum of energy surrounding you like in the city. Or light. Or noise, for that matter.
I never realized how much I would appreciate living in a small (or smaller) community. If you had asked me before we moved I would have told you that bumping into people I know every time I walk down the street would drive me crazy. Now, I literally run into a friend or acquaintance everywhere I go. Rather than irritating me I find it gives me a boost. It feels good to know the place you’re in and the people that surround you. It feels like home.
Abigale: The number of young, talented, and amazingly cool people in this community! Living in NYC you start to feel like it’s the center of the universe and no one could possibly be doing anything interesting or cool anywhere else. The diversity of talent and energy here is incredible and people aren’t trying so hard to keep up with the cost of living so they actually get to pursue their passions in a meaningful way. I think I actually have more friends here than I did in NYC, which is pretty surprising.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
Michael: I miss my friends that I left behind the most. I get kind of snarky about it below, but there are a number of people still in NYC that I love dearly and wish were a larger part of my life now. I also miss the restaurant scene, and being able to get whatever I want at literally any time, day or night. Often delivered. Not a ton of delivery in the country.
Abigale: I REALLY miss walking everywhere. In NY if the weather was good I’d walk over the Williamsburg Bridge to get to work, which took over an hour, and on days off I’d just wander the city. Sometimes I miss the anonymity and I definitely miss the bars and restaurants (although we have some really solid options here).
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
Abigale: It is tough to tell, I know that my life has never followed a direct path and that I embrace change so who knows what could happen.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Michael: The community here and the amount of quality time I actually spend with my friends. I make plans to see friends and stick with them, which was harder, for some reason, in the city. Here we have people over, throw parties, go to dinner, and actually TALK with our friends. I think when I was living in NYC most of the conversations I would have would actually just be people taking turns complaining about one thing or another- their job, their rent, the train. I did it too. Now I actually feel like I know the people I’m surrounded by, not just how much they hate their job or how much they pay a month for their apartment. Natural beauty is another. I don’t think I could give up being surrounded by beautiful, natural, scenery. Once that becomes a part of your daily life, it’s tough to go back.
Abigale: I appreciate the quality of the people in my community and feeling like my relationships with them have substance and are tended to.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Michael: If you need the change, just do it. If you’re in the right place for you, and you really put yourself out there, you’ll find like-minded people and opportunities.
Abigale: Honestly ask yourself how where you live will serve you. Be comfortable with quiet nights surrounded by your own thoughts.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Michael: There are a handful of people that we HAVE to see - good friends that we left behind and can’t wait to catch up with. Then it’s food - we tend to go a little overboard with dining experiences. A more is more kind of thing. A walk over the Williamsburg bridge always makes it onto the list, too.
Abigale: Soup dumplings in Queens Chinatown, a walk over a bridge and Balthazar.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Michael: My partner, Abigale. I developed so many skills working in restaurants in NY that serve me so well catering in Maine. Abigale’s drive and focus inspire me- she keeps me focused, so that I rise to her level. Owning my own business is inspiration in and of itself as well. Our clients also inspire me. Each event we do is tailored to them- their tastes and personalities. It’s a serious responsibility to caterer a wedding- what is for many people the most memorable night of their lives. To be able to do that well, to make it all go seamlessly, is incredibly rewarding.
Abigale: From the farmers and also the plethora of other food artisans in this area. We are so so lucky to run a food business in such a food-focused place where producers are so committed to the quality of their products.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away from the city?
Michael: Ha! Yes. I own a home, and a business, and a dog. I went from Peter Pan to all grown up very quickly. I’m sure a fair amount of that progression is just living through your late 20’s, but moving to Maine certainly had a lot to do with it.
Abigale: I spend less time hungover. I have a lot less anxiety. Which is somewhat counterintuitive because now that I am my own boss I have a lot more responsibility and thoughts running through my head. I think it has to do with the fact that I feel settled and stable here, with a real future.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
Michael: Depends very much on what time of year it is. If it’s mid August, we’re up by 6:30-7:00. I take the dog for a walk down to the Belfast Boathouse and back and then off to the kitchen. Depending on the day I’m in the office doing administrative work, prepping food in the kitchen, or loading up the van and heading off to an event. Event days are pretty intense- we may not get back home until 1am depending on where the party is. If it’s January, I’m awake at 7:30 to let the dog into the room so she can sleep on the bed until 9. Then it’s the same walk down to the boathouse and when I get back we make coffee, cook breakfast, respond to emails or write proposals, get to the YMCA. See friends for dinner or just lay low for the night. If it’s February, then we’re in Mexico.
Abigale: It depends on the season! In the summer I jump out of bed and can’t get into the Trillium kitchen fast enough. We have a productive day with the rest of the kitchen team in our sunny little space, listening to music and laughing and tasting everything. Then most of us will hang out on the roof, grilling and drinking until the sun goes down. Event days start at 6am and sometimes barrel along at full speed, right up until 1 or 2am. Those can be brutal but there is usually only one or two a week. In NYC I’d sleep until 10 or 11am, maybe take a yoga class, work until midnight or so and then go to bars with coworkers until 3 or 4am. It’s been a big change; I no longer live like a vampire.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Michael: Own a business. Own a home. Handle every aspect of a 200 person wedding, not once but 22 times over the course of a season. Oh, and health insurance.
Abigale: I don’t think I would have ended up running my own business in NYC. Here, the opportunity presented itself in a way that we were able to take advantage of. I also don’t think I would have been a part of any volunteer efforts or community organizations in NYC. Here I feel a responsibility to make this place better because it has been so good to me.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Michael: My home. In the winter it’s inside, at the kitchen counter. In the summer it is up on the roof deck.
Abigale: We used to live on a horse farm on the Passy River when we first moved here. It’s a brackish river that rises and falls with the tide and at high tide we could jump in naked. It was pure heaven. When the tide is at sunset everything is so calm and breathtakingly beautiful. We still make it over to swim sometimes in the summer even though we’ve moved.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
Michael: When I was living in NY, I thought that that was the only place that young, interesting, driven people existed. When I moved to Maine I realized that those people exist everywhere- if you look for it there is energy and enthusiasm and passion in small communities. It doesn’t just exist in major urban centers.
Abigale: That not everyone is a conservative, backwards, hillbilly. We happen to live in a very progressive and creative place, full of people with diverse talents and backgrounds. Some of them have been here all their lives and some just found this place by accident like we did. I was surprised at how embracing this community is in general to outsiders. There is sincere care and concern for the people around you. I have no idea if other small communities are like this, maybe ours is special.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Continuing to refine how we operate our business and tend to our wonderful friendships here.