I have never been to Italy, so it was exciting to prepare this article on the very first US store by the Italian coffee company Caffe Barbera and its American partner Caffe Barbera USA. Started by Domenico Barbera in 1870 in Messina, Italy, Caffe Barbera is now spreading across 5 continents and about 30 countries. Phillip Arcidiacono is here with us today – co-owner of American café. Let’s see what he says:
V. How did the café here in the U.S. come to exist?
A. Hi Max! Well, we opened this one in June, mostly as a concept store to determine what’s going to work, and what’s not going to work because the style of our store is very Italian – nice tabletops, comfortable chairs, elegant but also casual at the same time. Hill Crest, San Diego is an area that I would say is more neighborhood friendly than it is commercial friendly. We are around many great restaurants and great little local businesses, which means that there are tons of customers who are ecstatic about the quality and the flavor of the coffee. I think what really does it for us and is helping us with our business is the fact that we are roasters. We know coffee, we have been roasting it for over 140 years, so we are 5 generations of coffee roasters, and it is still held by the same family and managed in a very close way. The coffee is just fabulous.
V. I can feel a classy and traditional atmosphere in this store. How did the American market react to your concept?
A. All of our cafes around the world are usually really beautiful. With this café here in the U.S., initially it was very hard to see inside and it felt closed in, so we broke the front of the building down and put in all glass. It seemed like the elegant look was a little bit much at the beginning, but once people got in and saw how comfortable and relaxed the setting was with Italian music in the background, they became really comfortable and made us their little destination. They like to come in and sit down, use Wi-Fi and enjoy coffee. What makes us very different is that we serve in porcelain – we want the customer to enjoy a true experience. This is how we do it in Italy. There are a lot of Italians in San Diego, and many of them drive for 20-30 miles from around the city just to have an espresso from us.
V. For those of us who have never had an authentic Italian coffee experience could you tell me more about the difference between an average American shop and yours?
A. The biggest difference for us is that we always want the customer to sit down and enjoy the coffee served in porcelain, the customers like that. We also ask the customer to watch us make the coffee. If they come to the counter, they can see the coffee being made, and our baristas do a very nice job in explaining what is happening – starting from the extraction process all the way to the presentation. They like to watch us. It is very much a show to some degree, but it is also an example of the way it is done in Italy and that bonds the customers to us. Also, another important aspect is that when someone orders something other than espresso, for example a cappuccino, we take care to make sure that when you taste the cappuccino you taste the coffee in your drink first without the need to dig through all the cream and ending up with a moustache before you get to actual coffee. It is all about the right way of preparing it.
V. What kind of customers do you get?
A. We get the full spectrum from teenagers up to the elderly. A lot of business people that work in the area are coming in now, not only for their coffee in the morning, but also for their midday coffees, sandwiches and salads.
V. What kind of food do you serve?
A. Everything is prepared fresh and all done in the store except pastries. We try to prepare our food in the traditional Italian style. So, ham and cheese for example, it is not just a regular ham – it’s Italian ham and good provolone cheese. All of our croissants come from the best bakery in San Diego.
V. As the quality of coffee and skills of roasters and baristas increase, it seems as if the American market is also warming up to the idea of drinking more and more of straight espresso without the need for milky additives, are you also trying to promote straight espresso?
A. Yup, some people cringe remembering their experiences with espresso because they are used to tasting something that is bitter with a strong smell. However, we blend different beans: each type of beans are roasted separately then we put our blend together. So the blend is more traditionally Italian – caramel-like in color and very smooth taste – no bitterness whatsoever. When you taste our coffee it goes around the tongue and then it reaches the tongue’s back side where the flavor really gets absorbed and it is very pleasant. You love the aftertaste.
V. What is the next step for Caffe Barbera’s US conquest?
A. We are currently putting all our franchise documentation in place, and we plan on opening hundreds of places in the US in the next couple of years. Right now, we are just very excited to have opened the first store and have started sharing the coffee with our customers. We are also starting a large distribution business, and we already got quite a few cafes around San Diego that are using our coffee and just loving it.