Take a First Look at Oakland’s New Mr Espresso Caffe

A rendering of the interior of Caffe by Mr. Espresso. Credit: jones | haydu

The Caffe by Mr. espresso
1120 Broadway (ground floor of Key at 12th), Oakland
Expected opening: September 2022

Oakland has no shortage of excellent coffee shops, but news last March of yet another managed to pique the interest of java fans. That’s because this one, planned for the ground floor of a new skyscraper in downtown Oakland, is the first location for one of East Bay’s most iconic brands: Mr. Espresso, 45 years old.

Do you know Mr. Espresso, of course, and it’s probably already found its beans. Born in Salerno, Italy, elevator repairman Carlo Di Ruocco founded the company in his Alameda garage in 1978, just a few years after immigrating to the US. importer aimed at helping local restaurants serve Italian-style coffee, a novelty at the time. So Carlo started roasting his own beans in oak in the machine showroom. The cafe he created was a hit and became an institution in cafes and restaurants in the East Bay and beyond, as well as a bodega and grocery store staple. You can have a bag of Mr. Espresso in your pantry now – I certainly have.

But while the company (which Carlo passed on to the next generation) is nearly 45 years old, its beans have always been served by others in the East Bay. Decades after the company started, Carlo’s son Luigi Di Ruocco opened a mini-chain of posh stores called the Coffee Bar in San Francisco, an effort to, Di Ruocco told Nosh in 2014, “sell our own coffee at a more modern context. ” But there has never been a coffee branded Mr. Espresso anywhere, until now.

That will change in September, when Caffe by Mr. Espresso is due to open at 1120 Broadway in a new 1,200-foot space. Originally slated to begin serving in May, “typical construction delays” have delayed that schedule, Di Ruocco told Nosh this week. “As you can imagine, things are moving a little slower due to COVID.”

Luigi DiRuocco tasting coffee at Mr. Espresso in Oakland. Credit: Nader Khour

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When planning for Caffe began, Downtown Oakland was very different from what it is today. “We signed the contract for the first time … in January 2020,” Di Ruocco told Nosh, “just as downtown Oakland was experiencing a surge in development and activity.”

While much of that boom has been contained by the pandemic, Di Ruocco remains hopeful, saying the location is still “a great opportunity to have our first coffee shop in a busy neighborhood blocks away from our roasting plant.”

One of the reasons to believe in his success, above and beyond Mr. Espresso is Caffe’s distinctive style of service. Architect Hulett Jones, whose office jones | haydu is behind the design of the space, he explained to Nosh like this: “Instead of lining up behind someone and waiting to deliver your order to the cashier, just find an open spot at the bar,” he said, eliminating the cafe situation from the line. . “This is much more like ordering drinks at a bar,” Jones said. “The server comes to you.”

Caffe’s layout also means that laptop users should probably choose another location to get their java fix. Aside from the solid wood counter, which is being made by Gregory Hay Designs, there’s not much space to stop and sniff the cream.

This is also planned, as the space is “influenced by the permanent bar of Italian coffee culture,” Di Ruocco said, meaning diners should take their orders and go, rather than settling in for the long haul. It’s a model that Di Ruocco believes will work for Downtown Oakland, “where we think people will be on the move,” he said. “We wanted to create a place that was interactive and lively.”

Expect these orders to include “traditional espresso drinks with some fun and delicious specialty drinks, as well as unique coffee options that customers may not have tried before,” Di Ruocco said. For eating, Caffe will serve “simple, high-quality coffee fare, including pastries, some breakfast items, fresh salads and sandwiches to go.”

That’s one food show that might make readers of Italophilies on Nosh raise an eyebrow, as some argue that while an espresso is quick to mock their bel paese experiences, a sandwich eaten on the run is not. But Di Ruocco is prepared for that objection. “We know the industry well and have a unique vision and approach to specialty coffees,” he said, reminding Nosh that Mr. Espresso has been around longer than most of the region’s biggest coffee destinations. “This is a continuation of the Italian-style espresso traditions we inherited when we started the company in 1978, blended with contemporary American-style coffee culture.”

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