#Caffè Umbria – a little slice of Italy in Portland, Oregon
As you walk into Caffè Umbria it feels as if you have entered a small Italian café, as if you have entered another world. Once you arrive at the counter and have a cup of espresso, you are even more convinced. The flavor of the coffee mixes with the surroundings and you are momentarily transported to Italy.
One of the central figures behind this experience is Pasquale Madeddu, an Italian man who was born in the town of Golfo Aranci in Sardinia. Pasquale’s story has elements of the story of many of the successful Italian businessmen who have come to the US, but I always find it interesting to know what drove them to come to America, and then why they stayed and developed a thriving business.
Pasquale trained at the Scuola Alberghiera in Camogli, near Genoa. He worked on a cruise ship for several years that sailed the Mediterranean and the Americas; later he went to London to study English.
Pasquale met his current wife Karen, an American from Portland, Oregon, on one of the cruises and that bond formed the impetus to come to Oregon in the early 1980’s. At the beginning of his career Pasquale worked two jobs, his night job as a bartender and his day job selling coffee produced by a local Northwest Italian coffee roaster. At that time, the roasting company had a small chain of stores that sold Italian-style coffee, which was owned by an Italian, Umberto Bizzarri. Eventually the chain grew to 21 stores and Pasquale was the US Sales Director. That chain was eventually sold, leaving Pasquale with the opportunity to branch out. He told me that during his years working with the coffee company he had learned a lot about coffee and had really loved having the opportunity to bring the authentic Italian coffee experience to the American audience.
Pasquale told me that the rationale to form the current Caffè Umbria came not only from his desire to stay in the coffee business, but also from his desire to find work/life balance and to focus on the important things in life, like family. Fortunately, the business has become quite successful and the smile on Pasquale’s face reflects his contentment with the decision. The Portland retail store was opened in 2007, but the wholesale business was established in 2002 with partners Emanuele Bizzarri (Umberto’s son) and Jesse Sweeney. They chose to reference the region of Umbria in the name of the company because the Bizzarri family hails from Perugia, but also because Umbria is a relatively well-recognized region of Italy by the American public.
The story of the coffee business warrants another article, which I will write soon. But, the key element in the coffee that Pasquale serves is that they adhere strictly to the Italian methodology for roasting and blending coffee. His company has steadfastly stuck with this traditional process in the face of increased competition, especially in the form of the huge growth of the American-based companies that now roast some high-quality coffees. The fact that he has a wholesale clientele spread over several states with more than 700 clients is testament to the fact that there is an appetite in America for this truly Italian style of coffee.
If you are ever in Portland, Oregon and want to experience a little taste of the dolce vita, just swing by Caffè Umbria!
Ci sentiamo presto, Lina