Matt and Vanessa Marietti always knew they wanted a business of their own, and time spent in French cafés while living abroad inspired them to make their business plan food-centric.
When they open The Roastery, a café at 2002 Smallman St. at the end of this year, they’ll mark a major step forward for Atelier de fer, the coffee and tea company they opened a little more than a year ago with friends Corey Tiani and Mohit Kudaravalli as business partners.
The space they’ll occupy in the heart of the Strip District, across from the iconic Produce Terminal, was home to 21st Street Coffee until just recently. Marietti signed a five-year lease, with two options to renew. The café will offer light food, pastries from La Gourmandine, wine, beer and craft cocktails.
“It was always part of the business model to bring [the bean-roasting enterprise] to life with a physical location,” he says. “We want the European sense of a café, busy all day. You can get a drink; doesn’t matter if it’s alcoholic. … That area of the Strip is becoming an all-day destination and we want to help with that.”
They’re designing a space with seating for 34 that’s old-school European, he says — egalitarian in nature, open for breakfast, lunch, happy hour and beyond. Marietti wants it to be a place where families grab a bite to eat after church, or couples go for a date. The café will sell dry goods such as pasta, chocolates and spices, as well as bread, meats and cheeses so Strip District dwellers can pick up food on the way home if they don’t want a sandwich or cheese plate made at the shop.
Currently the third wave roaster sells its small-batch coffees and rare teas online and wholesale to clients such as Curbside Coffeehouse in Blawnox, Five Points Bakery in Squirrel Hill, Staghorn Home & Garden Café in Greenfield, and Anchor & Anvil Coffee Bar in Ben Avon and Coraopolis. Its roaster is kept at The XFactory but will move to the mezzanine in the new café so people can see and smell the process.
Marietti doesn’t get hung up on labels such as organic, fair trade or Earth-friendly, but he tries to do business with responsible suppliers offering sustainably-sourced products.
“With certifications, there’s no silver bullet,” he says. “Some places where we buy tea are so remote, in China, Africa and India, where families have produced tea for generations. … There’s a mission piece to this, too — that whatever business we’re conducting is going to leave a positive impact.”
With beans provided through two importers from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya and Honduras, Marietti roasts single-source and blends with names that capture both the international flavor and a little of Pittsburgh’s history.
There’s Eliza Furnace, for example, and Sons of Vulcan, a reference to the Iron City Forge of the Sons of Vulcan, a labor union formed in 1858 by puddlers who stirred pig iron into steel. Among three new blends this winter is Light Up Night, a seasonal blend of beans from Brazil, Colombia and Honduras with flavor notes that Marietti labeled as “big, red, Zinfandel.”
“The taste profile ranges,” says Marietti. “We let the bean dictate. We don’t force it to be a light, medium or full-bodied roast. Coffee beans are sort of like wine. Some are big, bold and flavorful and others are delicate and nuanced. It goes back to the regions where they’re grown.”
The company name, Atelier de fer, is French for iron workshop. “We found something that captured a little bit of whimsy and the aesthetic of French culture, while paying tribute to our Pittsburgh roots,” says Marietti. “Coffee’s a fun product; it’s not purely functional.”
As KraftHeinz Company’s former director of food service for the United Kingdom and Ireland, Marietti worked in and around food for several years, including two years living in London. He earned his MBA at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business and spent years researching before quitting his job to open the company. It’s still small, but growing — last summer they sold on average 100 pounds of coffee a week.
“I’ve met so many talented people,” he says. “The folks at Wigle Whiskey are a great inspiration — they’re passionate, they work hard, and they try to improve and innovate. I think if you have the drive, passion and are willing to take the risk and jump in, most people are successful.”
As construction crews build a new bar, kitchen and seating area at Smallman Street, Marietti spends his days roasting coffee and sourcing ingredients, craft beers and wine for the café. He’s building relationships with local vendors and living his dream, he says.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of coffee and tea — my wife is, too. We’re pretty passionate about it, and coffee is a great business opportunity in this market. The population in Pittsburgh has caught up culinary-wise, but has a little way to go with coffee and the breadth of products. There are a number of roasters in Pittsburgh now, and that’s good for everybody.”