Luigi Di Ruocco couldn’t have anticipated how a slow permitting process and all the various impacts of the pandemic would keep him from opening the doors to his new coffee shop. But after more than a year, he’s opening the doors to the first permanent retail space for his family’s 45-year-old coffee roasting company Mr. Espresso. Named the Caffè, the shop takes over the first floor of the new 1120 Broadway development the Key in Oakland. There’s a full menu of coffee drinks and high-caliber pastries and Italian sandwiches, to boot. The entrepreneur says it’ll be a huge relief to swing those doors open on May 22. “I’m excited to have this process over with,” Di Ruocco laughs. “But I’m excited to see how customers interact with the space.”
The handsome space gleams with a 17-foot-long coffee bar made of two huge slabs of oak. The wood complements the general aesthetic of the cafe; the countertops are all made of copper, and a blonde palette made of dozens of finely-cut wooden slats rises up to the tall ceilings. “It’s a different kind of coffee shop,” Di Ruocco says. The cups and plates, for example, come from Habibi Ceramics in Campbell, California, where the artist helped blend old-school Italian aesthetics with sleeker Bay Area looks. The idea is to invoke Italian coffee bars — where the owner says it’s common to pay at the door and wait at the bar — while keeping the space contemporary, meaning all the business at the Caffè happens right by the luxe Faemo espresso machines.
That duality of modernity and old-school customs is similarly reflected in the menu. Guests can order single or double espressos, something a bit more uncommon in most U.S. coffee shops these days, where doubles are increasingly the norm. That said, there’ll also be matcha lattes with green tea from Asha Tea House, golden lattes with turmeric from Oaktown Spice, and mochas with chocolate from Berkeley’s own Tcho. Riding that bothness once again, the Nocciolatte made with hazelnut praline paste is a very Italian recipe brought to life to appeal to specialty coffee fans. Di Ruocco describes the menu’s approach writ large as Italian-inspired flavors converted into contemporary coffee drinks.
To that end, decadent pastries are coming in from the French Spot — chef Vincent Attali from the French Spot cut his teeth as a pastry chef for Mourad — in San Francisco and biscuits and bread from Acme Bread. But the shop will make loads of its own items, too. Pollara Pizzeria owner Jon Smulewitz consulted on the food program. Italian sandwiches will feature heavily, including the prosciutto cotto with stracchino cheese on pizza bianco Acme bread, alongside veggie and mini options. Butterscotch and horchata syrups and bases are made on-site, too.
Maybe obviously, though, coffee is the star of the show at the Broadway shop. Ground Control will provide smart brewing for the drip, whipping up single-origin coffees alongside classic dark-roasted, full-bodied coffee. In Italian, Luigi says “top” is common for “best,” so the shop will call its strongly-brewed drip offering “Top Drip.” In that same vein, the shop will draw six-ounce coffees brewed at double- or triple-strength coffee called “sugo,” which translates to sauce or juice in Italian. Imagine a Turkish coffee, but light- or medium-roasted with just as much oomph. Channeling these unique aspects of the traditional and the contemporary, Di Ruocco hopes the Caffè will be a one-0f-a-kind experience for Oakland’s caffeine-seekers and fans of Italian cuisine alike. “We wanted to create a unique coffee gathering place,” Di Ruocco says. “And there’s nothing quite like it.”
The Caffe will open Monday, May 22 from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.