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Serafine brews up coffeehouse at the East End

Rochester Business Journal
May 16, 2014

At East Main Street and Windsor Street now sits Press Coffee Co., a 1,400-square-foot coffeehouse that aims to bring a new take on coffee roasting to Rochester’s urban scene.

“I just want it to be successful, but I’m not greedy,” said owner Damian Serafine. “What’s more important to me is people coming in and having a good time in the shop. I’ve opened quite a few shops, and I know what I’m capable of and what people like.”

Serafine has a history in the coffee business here and in Phoenix. He returned to Rochester in August 2013 with the desire to open a coffee shop here. His family has a presence in the local restaurant industry, including his brother Jerry, who owns Restaurant 2Vine on Winthrop Street.

Press Coffee occupies the front of the 23,000-square-foot building, whose architecture dates back to the late 1880s. It is one of the traces left of renowned architect Harvey Ellis’ design.

The space occupied by Press Coffee had been vacant for 10 years. It took four months to renovate the space, which previously housed the Cathay Pagoda restaurant.

Owner John Nolan has been renovating the building for roughly three years. Surrounding the coffee shop is new housing, the Windsor Lofts renovated by Nolan, and up the street is the Chester F. Carlson MetroCenter of the YMCA.

Serafine, 49, a Rochester native, helped to open Java Joe’s, now Java’s Cafe on Gibbs Street, with his cousin, Joseph Palozzi, in 1991. He was drawn to the process of roasting coffee beans and learned firsthand the components of running a coffee shop.

In 1993 he left Rochester for Phoenix. He and his friend broke ground with the first coffee cart in Phoenix in 1994 after realizing the coffee scene there was non-existent. In 1995 Serafine landed a contract with the Phoenix Convention Center to run all of its coffee service.

He opened City Central Coffee LLC inside the Phoenix Convention Center and Symphony Hall, which led to operating the full bar service as well as the coffee bar inside the Herberger Theater and the Orpheum Theater in 1996.

The next year Serafine expanded to the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, where he opened a coffee bar. He also expanded to the San Carlos Hotel, where he opened a full-service coffeehouse. He spent 20 years in Arizona, switching from coffee to real estate for three of those years before switching back to coffee.

Serafine wants Press Coffee to become a vital part of the neighborhood. One way he is integrating is by displaying the work of local artists. Every 30 to 45 days, local art will be rotated through the shop. Hand-painted accents also line the interior, including a mural of the city across the bar.

“It seems like people are starting to come back downtown, and it’s nice to be kind of on the ground floor of that,” said Leah Rapp, Serafine’s niece and barista at Press Coffee. “It’s exciting. (In) most cities, it’s all Starbucks because there’s no room for the independent.”

Press Coffee will have a limited food menu, including panini, salads and baked goods such as scones or cookies. All baked goods are made on site.

“I hate long menus, especially in a coffeehouse. I want the coffeehouse to smell like coffee, not food,” Serafine said.

Roasting is a major factor in quality, he said.

“I don’t think you should own a coffee shop if you don’t roast,” he said. “It’s seldom people roast; it costs more, and you have to know what you’re doing. That’s my thing. If you own a winery or you’re bottling wine, you should own a vineyard.”

Despite a handful of downtown coffee shops such as Java’s Cafe, Spot Coffee and Joe Bean Coffee Roasters, Serafine does not worry about competition.

“When I do things, I worry about my place and how it should be and how I want it to be,” he said. “I never worry about the outside forces. If you worry about those, chances are you’re going to close. You worry about your own thing, and you wish those other people good luck.”

“I want every coffeehouse here to do well, but I’m just worried about mine.”

Returning to Rochester after 20 years, Serafine was not sure what kind of coffee business he would find.

“It was incredible,” he said. “I really didn’t think it was as cool as it was. … I think Rochester is doing really well with the coffee industry.”

Nolan considered other proposals for the space, including a microbrewery, but his gut told him that many would not work.

Some options “would imbalance the neighborhood,” he said. “(The microbrewery) just didn’t feel right. We were in the final stages, we were ready to sign a deal, and we realized that there’s no going back on those things; there’s no changing your mind a year later.”

Serafine’s proposal stuck out because he had a strong vision and the coffeehouse would complement the neighborhood’s ambiance, Nolan said.

“I like his style,” he said. “I think he had a very specific vision; he saw the building from an interior perspective before we really had done any work on the space. It’s the right density, it’s the right hours, (and) we’re just happy to have a nice anchor that we think brings a lot to the table.”

He added: “I think the students and the neighborhood as a whole will really embrace it.”

The shop is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

“I think what they bring is something that isn’t currently out there,” Nolan said. “He brings a real quality of product. He’s got a long history in coffee, and as we know, every cup of coffee isn’t created equal. I really think it puts a face on Main Street in that neighborhood that really was lacking.”

5/16/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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