Caffe Roma Press Room

Coffee Journal - Winter 1997-98 -
Favorite Mail-order coffees

Greetings from middle America. I say that based only partly on the fact that our offices reside in Minneapolis, middle of the central time zone, middle of the road, and a very centered sort of place, actually. Not coincidentally, I'm also immersed in the responses to our survey of last issue on mail-order coffees, which came from nearly every major market. And so, in a very literal sense, I am in the middle of CJ readers' minds—an interesting place to spend time.

The response to our first survey (favorite mail-order coffees) has been both enlightening and encouraging. The big scoop: All politics aside, diversity rules. '[he enjoyment of coffee is indeed a highly personal ritual, from the beans to the brewing to what you want in or with it. I suspect that those roasters who got more than a few votes numbered among the responses which came in clusters by groups of caffeinated friends or co-workers. Peet's, Caffe Roma and Mile High Coffee Club were among those whose devotees wrote in in the greatest numbers.

Your favorite coffees ranged across the globe, from Espresso Ticino (Flying Goat Coffee) to aged Sumatra (Armeno Coffee) to Ethiopian Harrar (Mile High Coffee Club). You were willing to pay an above-average price for above-average beans, all the way up to $19.95 lb. for Pele Plantations' Day's Estate Kona. Most respondents reported grinding their own beans, which came as no surprise— but that several of you also choose to roast your own beans did, for it shows just how much you care about the end product. Drip brewers were used about 2 to 1 over other methods, although a substantial minority prefers a French press, and many also use their espresso machines on a daily basis. As for favorite accompaniments, your answerswere all over the menu board. Perhaps one reader, partial to Peet's Major Diekason's Blend, said it best: "This is a trick question, right? Anything's better with this coffee!" —Susan Bonne

Food & Wine Magazine: May 1997

Caffe Roma Coffee Roasting Company, 526 Columbia Ave; Perfect Italian coffees, metting place for old-time North Beach Residents.

In Search of a Decent Cappuccino - Pacific Seattle Times

Looking for just the right mix of espresso coffee and foam to warm a cold winter day? Follow this trail by a real cofee fan.

"I once took the last of my savings to fly to San Francisco for this very reason.My opinion was confirmed by a flight attendent who agreed that the best cappuccino to be had in the U.S. was at Caffe Roma. Of course, the Italians arguing at the next table helps.

one of the joys of the Caffe Roma's cappuccino is it's cappuccino cup. It uses dark brown and white round ceramic cups made in Italy Cappuccino receptacles are probably as important to cappuccino drinkers as schooners or mugs are to beer drinkers. The drink simply tastes better when sipped over the edge of a smooth ceramic cup. Clear glass mugs or trendy narrow cups just don't compare, and the custom pottery-type cups seem to negatively influence the flavor of the coffee. Any serious espresso bar can order the traditional brown on the outside and white on the inside cappuccino cup with a saucer from a variety of coffee supply importers. But even a plain heavy white ceramic coffee cup with saucer will do.

The Boston Sunday Globe - June 7, 1992
Only in North Beach a restaurant that seasons garlic with food.

crafts from Italy's hill towns. The recession, earthquake and a lot of other things made for a slow '90-'91," Savio said, "but business is coming around. With air fares dropping, we are expecting an improved off-the­street trade from tourists."

Not far from Molinari's, a mouth­watering purveyor of Italian food, Jerry Dal Bozzo (owner of Calzone's Pizza) and three partners have opened the "The Stinking Rose: A Garlic Restaurant" (at 325 Colum­bus) where "we season our garlic with food."

Dal Bozzo and friends spent 10 years conceptualizing a fantastic garlic restaurant, an eatery that would glorify the humble, health-giv­ing herb known to early Romans as "the stinking rose." Last July, cli­ents trying to ward off vampires or lower their blood pressure, or what­ever, were led by the nose to the new North Beach eatery. (They say that chewing caraway seeds and parsley helps eliminate the garlic odor.)

"Beach Blanket" reigns To sweeten the cultural menu, the merchants of North Beach are serving up more than tiramisu for dessert. And while the San Francis­co Opera celebrates Rossini's 200th birthday with a big summer festival and hundreds flock to "Tony n' Tina's Wedding" at the First Con­gregational Church (at Post and Ma­son one block west of Union Square), North Beach's longest running revue, the wacko "Beach Blanket Bab­ylon," is packing Club Fugazi (678 Green St.) for its 18th consecutive year.

The San Francisco Art Institute on Chestnut Street has played a prominent role in the North Beach community since it was established in 1871. Just as essential to the arts community has been City Lights, the book seller and publisher at 271 Co­lumbus and Tosca, the opera bar.

The Broadway North Beach The­ater (a comedy club) at Broadway and Montgomery still has 'em laugh­ing and The North End Caffe on Up­per Grant has poetry readings Thursday nights. Jazz at Pearl's pro­vides the music lover with a very de­cent marquee of emerging and es­tablished jazz musicians, as does En­rico's Tuesday through Sunday nights (on Mondays it's opera). Jazz will be the thing, too, when The Bra­va Caffe on Union and Powell is opened in August; and in Ed Moose's (a former owner of the Washington Square Bar and Grill) new restaurant in the square, also scheduled to open in August.

North Beach, often referred to as the heart and soul of San Francisco, may have been down, but never out and despite an 'international reces­sion, the dynamics of "the old neigh­borhood" are working well. It has taken a lot of hard work, cooperation and money, but North Beach, the Little Italy of the West, continues to flourish.

A COUPLE OF COFFEEHOUSES - Travel & Leisure March 1991

The coffeehouse is the social nucleus of North Beach. Misunderstood geniuses nurse their dreams in some 25 North Beach cafes-or caffes-as the beatniks did in the Fifties. Into this laid-back scene the Caffe Roma (414 Columbus Ave.; telephone 415-391-8584) introduced a gleam of elegance: light-flooded picture windows, a patio and murals of rosy cherubs baking, serving coffee, rolling dough and scattering candies in a Titian­esque nirvana that melts into the ceiling and the coffee scented air.

Owner Sergio Azzollini and his wife, Angela, opened the

Roma 16 years ago after falling in love with the murals, painted in the early 1900s when the building housed the Nebbia Pastry Shop. They've restored the murals twice since launching their big coffeehouse in the sky. To sit down to the sublime eggplant parmigiana, pasta primavera or succulent pizza is to join the angels. A meal for two costs about $40 without wine.

Roaster-Retailer Blends Patience with Heritage, Passion
Specialty Coffee Retailer, July 1995

After spending his formative years in Rome, Italy, Anthony Azzollini developed a deep respect for coffee roasters and baristas. Today his espresso bar is one of the most popular in all of coffee-rich San Francisco.

Caffe Roma, North Beach, San Francisco
by William P. Boudewyns

San Francisco's North Beach district is often called the "Little Italy of the West." The neighborhood has always been a hotbed for Italian restaurants, with espresso bars opening well before the specialty coffee industry hit its nationwide growth spurt. McDonalds and Starbucks aren’t allowed in North Beach due to a neighborhood zoning ordinance banning corporate chains from the area. Caffe Roma, San Francisco, is one of North Beach’s espresso fixtures. Opened in J 989 by Anthony Azzollini and his father, Sergio, the business not only beat the nationwide specialty coffee trend to the punch, it has experienced the massive growth Seattle enjoyed during the past six years.

Anthony Azzollini was born in America, went to Italy when he was five years old, returning when he was II. "I grew up in Italy, making coffee since I was 10 years old at espresso bars south of Rome," he recalls. "I became very curious at a young age about coffee. They explained coffee to me and I grew a love for it." Anthony Azzollini points to this early experience as the real foundation for his successful specialty coffee operation.

Roasting, Service Keys to Success Anthony Azzollini's business, however, grew slowly. He says Caffe Roma was popular right away, due mainly to the tedious preparation of coffee drinks and friendly customer service, but it took time to build loyalty. "You can develop a lot of loyalty with coffee customers and wholesale accounts by treating them right, giving good service and equipment, really servicing them and saying, 'What can I do to make you happy with Caffe Roma? How can we help your restaurant succeed?' That helps everybody and the customers love that attitude."

Six years ago he purchased a Probat UG-22 shop roaster to control the quality and composition of his espresso and coffee blends. "It's hard to jump into this business with a roaster," he says. "I did it because it was the only way I could really have control of the coffee. I've had advice from roasters all over the world and we've taken our time. Under my close eye it took my roastmaster three years to learn right. One of the things you have to learn in this business is the ability to he passionate with your work, especially when you're roasting, and intuition is most important."

Anthony Azzollini says that while the San Francisco specialty coffee market is saturated, there is room for businesses that understand the market's tastes. "There is still a steady growth rate in the Bay area," he says. "It feels like the San Francisco market is moving toward more European-style coffees, sweeter, smoother coffees. Everybody here likes good coffee, now it's a matter of what types they like." Anthony Azzollini has developed several special blends, including Sicilian Gold, a dark-roasted blend created by an elderly Sicilian friend of the family.

Experience Required

Anthony Azzollini is very close with most of his employees, mainly because they are family members. Caffe Roma's roastmaster is Azzolliini's brother-in-law, one sister is the business manager, the other is the retail manager. "We're really a family here, and that's important because we work well together and the customers pick up on it and love the atmosphere it creates," he explains. "Our associates are part of the family, too. Everyone enjoys it here which makes a fun environment for the customer. I think that's one of the main reasons we've done so well." Sergio Azzollini, Anthony's father, is deeply involved in the business, both in operations and creating blends and new food· ideas. Both of Anthony Azzollini's parents are chefs, and owned a restaurant for 19 years.

Employees have to meet some rigid standards before being considered for a job at Caffe Roma. "The first thing I look for is experience," he says. "I care about my business-it's really my life-so I hire people who have the same passion for coffee I have. I have to be able to trust my employees with my business-I want them to treat this place as if it were theirs."

A three-pronged test is administered after Anthony Azzollini approves of the applicant. Screened applicants are tested on general coffee knowledge, differences in coffee characteristics and a preparation quiz.

“Tony says, 'I'm not hiring you yet, but I'm going to train you,” Irene Azzollini, retail manager or Caffe Roma, says. "If he's comfortable with the person, he'll give them a trial period usually a couple of days and by then you know whether they'll work out or not."

Once hired, new employees are under Anthony Azzollini's close supervision. "Once they pass the tests, I keep them close by me to teach what they don't know," he explains. "They have to have something different, passion maybe. Like I said, I want them to treat the business as if is theirs."

Anthony Azzollini got into wholesale coffee sales almost immediately after he began Caffe Ron roasting. Caffe Roma's reputation has caught the eyes of major hotel, white-linen restaurants and upscale restaurant chains. To handle the explosive wholesale side of his business, Anthony Azzollini recently purchased a massive $120,000 computerized roaster made by STA Impianti, an Italian roasting equipment manufacturer.

Reputation is Best Promoter

Anthony Azzollini says his wholesale business is expanding so rapidly due to his espresso bar's reputation for quality. "People know we sell the best," he says. "I try to be really selective of the people I do wholesale with. I know that sounds hard to believe, but it has strengthened my reputation. I really want to stay in business for 30 or 40 years and being selective has given the business a lot of strength."

Anthony Azzollini cites the quality of his coffee and his public relations and advertising efforts as the foundation of reputation building. 'We've been here for a long time, so people know us anyway, but whatever I can do for PR, I do," he says. "Every customer I talk to is important to me-that's one of the reasons we're successful. I advertise in all of the highly-populated areas in the Bay area, which has especially helped with getting wholesale accounts. A reputation is something you build and we've taken great care and time to do that. We've taken it slow and built up

one customer at a time. I love what I do, that's why we're successful."

Caffe Roma's interior decor was designed to lend a warm, European atmosphere to the espresso bar, according to Irene Azzollini, merchandise and retail manager. "We have a really beautiful decor here, it's very warm," she says. "We have Casablanca ceiling fans and nice lamps hanging in the retail area. The roaster is maroon and brass in the front of store, and the whole area is trimmed with mahogany. It's a very European decor." The bar is furnished with marble tables, wooden chairs and, in the future, Roman-style couches and coffee tables. Dark woods and marble-tile flooring complete the Italian espresso bar decor.

Coffee accessories are sold at Caffe Roma as a service to customers. "I don't get a big profit out of merchandise," he says. "I think it's important that my customers have the right tools to prepare my coffee. The right tools such as a French press are really important-you can make a great cup of coffee with them at home and it's fun to use, especially when you're entertaining." Azzollini carries Faema home espresso machines and burr grinders. Krups espresso machines are also available along with Bodum French presses, Italian pottery, mugs and a host of small "gadgets," according to Irene Azzollini. While he makes some

Expansion Tempered with Patience

Keeping track of a burgeoning wholesale operation and retail espresso bar is difficult, Azzollini admits, but computerization and point-of-sale tracking eases some of the inventory control burden. "We do have computers that keep our wholesale in line, and we'll probably have to move to something computerized for the bar pretty soon," he says. "We keep track of inventory pretty well. I'm here all the time, so I keep a pretty good eye on things."

Unlike many specialty coffee retail operations, Anthony Azzollini has no ambition to take his coffee to the nation. Instead he is exercising patience, shopping for good markets and waiting for good locations to open up. He has narrowed his search to upscale Marin County and Sonoma County in the San Francisco Bay area. Anthony sums up his business plan and philosophy with an Italian proverb he learned at an espresso bar near Rome: "He or she who goes slow goes a long way."

The Boston Globe - March 1997

Tony Azzollini, proprieter of the popular Caffe Roma Coffee Roasting Co. (525 Columbus Ave. in North Beach), recently opened "SoMa Roma" at 885 Bryant St., oposite the Hall of Justice.

Gourmet Magazine June 1997

The Azzollini family, one of three custom coffee roasters remaining in North Beach (they supply some of the city's choosiest restaurants), operate a new full-service cafe in the South of Market district as well as the older Caffe Roma Coffee Roasting Company in the thick of things on Columbus Avenue. To the beat of Italian disco music and the whir of ceiling fans you sip your smooth espresso at a marble-topped table amid sacks of coffee beans, feeling as though you're in a chic torrefazione in an Italian city. And if the hour is too late for coffee, you can order beers or wines by the glass.

Coffee Journal - Autumn 1997

Walk in the front door of Caffe Roma down the block and members of the Azzollini clan arc likely to greet you with cries of "honey," "sweetie" and "darling." Even if they don't know you. That kind of charm is hard to resist. Papa Sergio started roasting beans in North Beach a decade ago, but these days, cafe duty is in the capable hands of young Azzollinis Tony, Lisa and Irene. Irene's fiance, Frank, mans the shiny red Probat roaster at the front of the cafe. The decor at Roma is mod Italian, the perfect backdrop for the gen-Xers who come to talk sports with Tony. For the best people-watching, sit at either the small coffee bar or one of many marble discs spread about the gleaming Italian tile floor. Performers from the Beach Blanket Babylon revue down the street pop in throughout the day for a quick java jolt-, (show-stopping hats are left back at the theater, sad to say). Local politicos and restaurateurs like it here, too, as do older neighborhood denizens. Maybe it's the coffee, which truly is a taste of Rome.

Sunset Magazine - December 1999

North Beach is the unofficial coffee capital of San Francisco. It's hard to say which of the sidewalk cafes here is best, but a couple of the tops are Caffe Roma (526 Columbus Ave), always redolent of roasting beans and passionate conversations...


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