Ten years ago, Deborah Di Bernardo left a job at a mainstream coffee roaster to start her own coffee business, Roast House. Don’t be fooled by her small stature: she’s a dynamo. Early on, she lugged huge thermos of coffee to Saturday tastings at grocery stores, bicycle rallies and community meetings - Di Bernardo was everywhere.
Roast House coffee is fair trade, shade grown and always organic. The coffee in the bags at the store is the same as the coffee brewed at 1st Avenue Coffee.
“Many places you can buy the organic beans, but you can’t get the same coffee brewed at the espresso bar,” Di Bernardo said. “Sustainability is my passion. This is the only coffee we do.” To-go cups, straws, lids and napkins are all recyclable.
At the same time as Roast House took off, Di Bernardo found out she had cancer. After treatment she changed her eating habits drastically - and now she bakes most of the treats for 1st Avenue Coffee.
“We are a gluten-free bakery,” Di Bernardo said. “We have some gluten things but they are made somewhere else.” Keto and vegan donuts are available as well.
When COVID hit and slowed down restaurants and coffee bars across the country, Di Bernardo hunkered down to weather yet another storm. She limited store hours, reduced business to take-out only and made it work.
A group of devoted but properly distanced neighborhood regulars can still be found at 1st Avenue Coffee every morning.
Di Bernardo said that sustainability is so important to her because rising temperatures across coffee growing regions are threatening some of the most delicate - and delicious - coffee strains with extinction.
“Especially organic coffee plants are very sensitive,” Di Bernardo said, “They could be extinct in 20 years.”
1st Avenue espresso is brewed on four energy efficient, high-tech Modbar espresso heads, each with its own boiler. “It’s a very energy efficient system because we aren’t constantly heating up a huge boiler full of water,” Di Bernardo said.
When business was shut down, 1st Avenue Coffee was just beginning to build its catering business, by being part of the First Friday Art Walk and hosting a women only Coffee Club.
Now the coffee house has launched a coffee growler to make it easier for customers to get larger quantities of coffee.
“We love being here downtown and being part of the community,” Di Bernardo said. “This has turned into everything we wished for and more.”