Mr. Espresso, an Oakland-based, family-run company that has been roasting and distributing Italian-style oak wood roasted coffee to Bay Area retailers, cafes and restaurants for 45 years, will open its first cafe, The Caffè by Mr. Espresso, in downtown Oakland, Monday, May 22, 2023. Mr. Espresso was founded in 1978 by Carlo Di Ruocco, a native of Salerno and the original “Mr. Espresso.” The company continues to be a family affair, with Carlo’s wife and the family’s three adult children all actively involved in the day-to-day business operations.
“After 45 years of supplying coffee to some of the best cafes and restaurants in the Bay Area, we thought it was time to open our own brick-and-mortar,” says Luigi Di Ruocco, co-owner of Mr. Espresso. “We believe we have created a beautiful space that celebrates our commitment to great coffee and brings a bit of Italy to downtown Oakland.”
The Caffè will build upon the family’s Italian coffee legacy with a nod to both Italian coffee culture and the modern American coffee drinker. The 1,200-square-foot coffee bar will be one of the first retail projects to open at The Key at 12th, an 18-story office tower on Broadway.
Upon entering The Caffè, guests will be greeted by a 17-foot-wide wood slab bar crafted out of a centuries-old Valley Oak that was felled by the wind in 2009 then carefully dried for later use. The wood was sourced from Arborica, a specialty sawmill that utilizes salvaged logs from Northern California to make magnificent cuts and sculptures. Above the bar is a hanging wood installation that was created by the designers at jones | haydu and assembled piece by piece. The use of wood throughout the cafe is an homage to the oak wood that is still used to roast Mr. Espresso beans.
The entire cafe space is oriented around the bar, with its coffee equipment and baristas at the center of the action. From wherever they stand, guests will see gleaming, Italian-made Faema E71e espresso machines – some of the best in the business – and unique brewing machines from West Oakland startup Ground Control, which invented a sophisticated brewing system that siphons coffee through a glass bulb at the top of the machine. Not only does it make exceptional coffee, according to Luigi Di Ruocco, it’s “a bit of a show.”
Other unique touches include handmade ceramic coffee cups designed by ceramic artist Nadia Elgan of Habibi Ceramics in Campbell, Calif. Elgan has been working closely with the Di Ruocco family to craft these one-of-a-kind, earthenware coffee cups that are pleasing to the eye and comfortable to hold but also conduct heat beautifully and enhance the drinking experience. “My goal was to create pottery that embodies the Mr. Espresso story,” she says. “We went through many iterations to make sure each vessel was just right.”
Food & Drink
Italian coffeehouse culture is slightly different from American cafe culture. The Caffè aligns itself with the Italian style, which is to order and drink your coffee while standing at the bar. The Caffè is unique in the Bay Area because it has no table seating and no ordering queue. There are a limited number of stools at the back of the bar.
In addition to serving typical coffeehouse drinks, The Caffè will offer sips of the unexpected, like Nocciola-tte made with hazelnut praliné paste, Butterscotch Latte, Horchata Cold Brew and the Italian chilled and shaken espresso drink, the Shakerato. There will also be drip coffee, cold brew and a Golden Latte featuring Oaktown Spice.
The Caffe will offer Italian-inspired items from consulting chef Jon Smulewitz of Pollara Pizzeria. Items such as Prosciutto Cotto Sandwich with Bellwether crescenza cheese, prosciutto cotto, tricolore mix, agrodolce onions on pizza bianca from Acme Bread, Butterbean Salad with marinated artichoke hearts, roasted bell peppers, agrodolce onions, and frisee, and Farro Porridge with cooked farro with cinnamon, cardamom, honey and macerated fruit offered in the grab-and-go case. There will also be fresh pastries from The French Spot in San Francisco available to order at the bar.
Bags of Mr. Espresso’s award-winning coffee will also be available for purchase at The Caffè.
Both The Caffè and The Key at 12th have successfully integrated history and modernity into their identities. When Carlo Di Ruocco founded Mr. Espresso in 1978 with his wife Marie Francoise, he leaned into his mechanical and electrical background and his strong Italian heritage to bring Italian coffee culture to the Bay Area, selling espresso machines and producing distinctive coffee using traditional wood roasting techniques. The Caffè will stay true to Mr. Espresso’s Italian origins and strong California roots while catering to the preferences of the modern-day coffee drinker.
Will Miller, Partner and Director of Asset Management for Ellis Partners added, “Like Ellis Partners, the Di Ruoccos have a deep and long-standing commitment to Oakland. The Caffè will provide a fantastic amenity to our tenants in the 340,000 square feet of leased office space above The Caffè.”
So named because the development incorporates the historic Key Systems Building, “The Key at 12th” was developed by Ellis Partners, a Northern California real estate investor and developer, and Intercontinental Real Estate Corporation. The Key Systems Building dates back to 1911 and became the headquarters for the Key System Railway, which transported East Bay residents locally and across the lower deck of the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, in 1943. The building was shuttered following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. As part of the comprehensive renovation project, the historic portion was integrated into the office tower.
The Caffè by Mr. Espresso is located at 1120 Broadway, Oakland, California, just steps away from 12th Street BART station. Initially, the Caffè will be open Monday through Saturday and will serve a limited selection of sandwiches and pastries.