Cafe Excellence, A Generational Journey of the Valerio Family from Early Pioneer Purveyors in the Coffee Business to Micro Roasters of Fine Specialty Coffees Today
Coffee was always the pivotal part of beginnings for Joe and his bride, Angeline (Tornetta) who began Joe’s Luncheonette, selling hot cups of ‘Joe’ along with pastries and hearty sandwich mid-day favorites, to the industrial town hungry workers, meatballs in sauce, sausages and peppers, peppers and eggs, each served through the half-open glass take -out window encased with an outer wood ledge. Behind the take-out window provided a small space of a room where each and every weekday evening Angeline would prepare all of the food needed for the next day’s luncheon crowd.
A worn, blurred photograph captures a moment in the journey. A time not unusual for newly married couples of generational immigrants to begin their family life living with parents, an opportunity to embark on the dream of entrepreneurship, and setting forth a new path for family generations to come. Sacrifices had to be made, hard work committed, and then, importantly, with initiative, was a vision.
Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, a working-class diverse production community hosted immigrant sections of people including many Italians, Irish, Slovakians, Ukrainians, and some Polish, each not uncommonly residing in nationality pockets of neighborhoods eventually assuring the creation of culturally designated Catholic Churches while working collectively together in broad varying trades among the local factory and manufacturing plants and companies.
Always thinking ahead, Joe reflected on something that might also make him money even while sleeping in this busy industry environment so he then began purchasing coffee vending machines enabling purchases for employee coffee breaks any time of the day. During the day, through the continued daily food preparation of Angeline at the Luncheonette, Joe transitioned a stainless steel, metal cart on wheels piling selections as a portable food truck adorning a bright red metal canister resembling an oversized canteen filled with hot brewed coffee poured from the spout beneath.
Eventually, as the enterprises of Joe and Angeline grew, Joe began selling his vending machine business and with a partner then purchased a large Bridgeport industrial building, formerly, Minners Candy. Affording plenty of room for rental businesses, one of the spaces was then utilized to continue the coffee business where Joe ground the coffee beans selling scoops in small pale brown paper bags, in addition to hot coffee sales and the breakfast, luncheon, and pastry selections now grown and developed into Valerio’s Industrial Park Catering ensured by the continued efforts of Angeline.
Always foreseeing and weathering the landscape of changing times, Joe kept a grounded man, especially when it came to raising the three children of him and Angeline. Anthony Valerio, the youngest son of the couple recalls that from the age of eleven, he would join his father at work every Saturday, cleaning and repairing the coffee machines at the time when his father had become among the early pioneer purveyors to businesses in the coffee industry. “Each week” Anthony, shares “I would tell my Dad what would make the coffee pots better, what could and should be done, and each week my Dad would explain to me that when I was old enough and when it was my turn in life that I could invent or make my own coffee machine, but for then, I was to do things as they were done.” Some years later, though not through invention, Anthony, now CBO (Chief Bean Officer) of the family’s Cafe Excellence Micro Roasters of Fine Specialty Coffees would continue to take a particular interest in the type of pot of which coffee was brewed and served.
“I had the example of a tremendous work ethic through my father.” Said Valerio. “He was a tough disciplinarian expecting everything from sweeping the floor to earning your way working from the ground floor up, you didn’t question, you had respect, and you really wanted to do good for him.” Although Anthony’s oldest brother Joe Jr., was ten years his senior, he too also followed the script as the family business was concerned. Ingenious too was Dad continually observing the boys’ interests and traits, placing them each into separately distinctive roles as a means to continue the rewards of the family business in harmony between its members that continues today.
While initiating the business development among these early pioneer purveyors of coffee to businesses since 1966, Joe noticed the changing focus of the business to a larger company, more corporate-focused climate and so in an effort to appear more aligned in this orientation Valerio’s business name was changed to AVM Services, along with a created bold, maroon colored and lined, strong appearing brand insignia. All the while the Valerios still provided an expanding service of coffee machines that by then had transitioned from the strolling big red canister to the Bunn vaculator and the use of pre-measured, pre-packaged bags of coffee to companies and businesses.
Throughout his high school years, Joe’s son, Anthony Valerio took on the next of his apprenticeship training in the coffee business by making coffee deliveries throughout Philadelphia, South Jersey, and Delaware. Following graduation, Joe Sr. assigned him then to the coffee service accounts. “This was a time” recalls Anthony “when you could still walk into any company, make a cold call, and say hello to a smiling, pleasant, receptionist who would really welcome you.”
Despite having years of background learning and training in the coffee business Anthony now admits “I was really still too young for taking on the business coffee service.” Despite his youth, compared to his older, growing competitors in the field, and not unlike his father, Anthony did however, foresee another changing climate, and he knew that to succeed he needed to be different.
Just as his childhood spirit expressed through those Saturdays spent cleaning the office coffee machines, one thing that never changed for Angeline and Joe Sr’s son Anthony, was his desire to create something better in the coffee industry. Anthony began sourcing out better quality coffee beans, and better grades, though more expensive. He studied, he read every coffee book he could find, he read about the different types of coffees, and their origins, and began visiting a lot of small roasters while continuing to keep his eye on both institutional and specialty coffees.
A member of the National Coffee Association, Anthony became acquainted with Julius and Joanne Shaw, owners of the Coffee Beanery. Joanne had a coffee shop that offered the type of source quality that appealed to Anthony and this is where, having a sheer passion for coffee, Anthony also became fascinated with brewing in the newer thermal, glass air pots that kept coffee fresher tasting, never bitter or stale. He also learned that adding a bit more coffee and using coarser grinds offered a richer flavored brew. This is where Anthony would also create a more mature, knowledgeable, advanced pitch to companies for the family coffee business offering better-tasting specialty coffee served in thermal carafes that would cost a bit more, but, would ultimately save companies money avoiding the many tossed-out bottoms of the heated glass carafes of a hot beverage due to developing bitter, burnt taste sitting even for short amounts of time on office coffee burners. Anthony figured that in using the thermal style air pots, even in charging a certain percentage more for finer quality coffee, since all of the coffee would be used that companies could actually purchase twenty percent less.
Enthusiastic about the retail store growth with his Coffee Beanery friends, the Shaws, Valerio did a short stint in retail himself opening a small coffee shop while developing plenty of early-trend coffee enthusiasts, providing the opportunity to educate people on different roasts and brews. “In those days, people would ask for an espresso but they wanted milk, so they really wanted a Cappuccino.” He said. “This was a time before Starbucks when people knew they wanted some type of different coffee but they just didn’t know what it was or how to ask for it.” This experience also provided Anthony the opportunity to become further immersed in different flavors of beans from varying origins as well as beginning to create his own different recipes experimenting with blended combinations. “If I really liked a blend I created then I would give it a name and offer it as a selection again.” Said Anthony.
Eventually, Anthony went back to coffee office sales selling a wider range of products, only this time he looked more towards ‘Branding.’ As AVM Services transitioned to Cafe Excellence, Anthony looked to make the company brand specific, including, specifically designed packaging, along with roasting their own sourced coffee beans and blending them. This initial roasting process began through a coffee friend in Minnesota where Anthony would send the sourced beans for roasting, traveling back and forth between states for a couple of years to the then-existing Valerio family coffee company headquarters in Oaks, PA.
A property sales transaction opportunity precipitated the move of Cafe Excellence to a larger space located off a main road in an industrial park in Audubon, Pennsylvania. The facility, already flameproof, fitted with sprinkler heads, an existing door for retail sales, and not requiring renovation, explained Anthony, enabled it practical for each of the processes within the modernized coffee service to efficiently function in one place, sourcing, roasting, blending, flavoring, grinding, and sales of all of the choice combination blends available at Cafe Excellence today, plus, their newly created line, specialty teas. You can read more about the Cafe Excellence specialty teas and tea cupping on Spiced Peach Blog here.
The generational journey of the Valerio Family from early pioneer purveyors in the coffee business to small batch micro-roasters of fine specialty coffees has transcended the times, and coffee being the second largest world commodity next only to oil, the love and everlasting business of coffee always remain, as thus do the fruits and pride from early days of sacrifices made, hard work, commitment, initiative, and, always a vision, of a young second-generation immigrant couple so many years ago, Joe and Angeline Valerio of Bridgeport. Today, the family of Cafe Excellence sources only the best, most flavorful of coffee beans, those grown at 3,000 feet above sea level, with the ripest fruit and ensuring respectful care throughout the brewing process. Servicing company businesses and restaurants, Cafe Excellence also has a retail store at the facility.
The coffee beans now sourced by Cafe Excellence include a variety of countries of origin, Sumatra and Java in Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Tanzania, and Kenya in Africa, and, Costa Rica, where Anthony traveled and engaged in the coffee bean harvest, picking the beans alongside the workers, observing, listening, and learning, from the ground level up, just the same solid, basic lesson he learned from his Dad, Joe, now so many years ago.
The romance in the world of coffee continues to daily blossom for Chief Bean Officer of Cafe Excellence, Anthony Valerio who now says, “Oh I just love the look, the sounds, the feel, and how they take those beautiful beans and roast them, the amazing aromas filling the air, it is just really so romantic to me, I just can’t wait to jump out of bed every morning, every day is just so interesting.”
Cafe Excellence, Micro Roasters of Fine Specialty Coffees is located at 2675 Eisenhower Avenue, Audubon, PA, http://www.cafeexcellence.com