Retailer / Roaster Profile: A Taste of Italy in San Diego

by Maxim Vershinin
Photography by J. Katarzyna Woronowicz/J. Kat Photo, Inc.

  • Retailer Profile

Cafè Barbera Logo Vector_RedI 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.

Café Barbera

Hillcrest, 3614 5th Avenue,
San Diego, CA
619.683.CAFFE (2233)
Phillip Arcidiacono

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