Matt Milletto is a busy man, balancing the needs of the American Barista & Coffee School, Barista Exchange and Water Avenue Coffee. We met with Milletto on April 19 at Water Avenue Coffee, and he shared insights at why he’s been successful in the coffee world.
With all you have going on with the Barista School, Barista Exchange, with Water Avenue Coffee, how is it that you’re able to find balance and prioritize?
I think prioritize is a great word. What I’ve really learned in the past couple years is how to really prioritize my time and also to empower my employees to be decision makers, to be proactive and really to allow me to feel comfortable in delegating responsibilities and giving ownership over what they’re doing. It’s been great. In the Barista School, I have a great team and a new Director of Training and lead trainers. Now I feel completely comfortable, to where I’ve been able to juggle a lot of other things. Water Avenue Coffee, my business partners Brandon Smyth and Bruce Milletto – my father – we all have our different roles in the company. We oversee different areas. I keep my focus on the retail coffee bar.
What do they spearhead?
Brandon is the head roaster and does all the green coffee buying and sourcing and spearheads the wholesale coffee program. He’s also been able to bring on some great people to work in wholesale to really make things stay afloat, so he can really focus on bringing in exceptional coffees and tending to our direct trade relationships with farmers. And then Bruce definitely has an overall role, the visionary and marketing.
Your father has been in the industry for years,
Yeah, he founded Bellissimo Coffee Advisors and started in retail over 20 years ago, moved into 100% education, media production, creating books, DVDs, educational materials. Nine years ago, we started the American Barista & Coffee School, and it was kind of a natural progression, partly to diversify, but also to really walk the walk of what we teach for people looking to open retail coffee businesses, and micro-roasters, by doing it on our own in the worst economy, in the most competitive city in the United States, and be very successful within a year and a half of opening.
Was it a given that you’d work with coffee for a living, or did you consider other careers?
No. I went to college and spent my last year of college studying in Italy, studying art, painting, and moved back and really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was in Italy for over a year, so when I moved back to the U.S., all I wanted to do was curl up in a bit of culture shock. Having an art background, I started doing a bit of graphic design. I started a three-person web design firm where we would do a lot of graphic design, web design, and through Bruce and some other avenues, we started doing a lot of work for coffee companies, espresso machine manufacturers, e-commerce websites, and always had a foot in the coffee industry, but I was missing retail. I bartended under Jeff Morgenthaler down in Eugene for awhile and then managed a coffeehouse and wine bar. That was the culmination of my retail experience, having managed other businesses in college and what not, but I really just wanted to stay in coffee for the rest of my life, so I moved into a consulting and training role just 10 years ago. This month is my 10-year anniversary as a consultant/trainer and now Vice President of Bellissimo and the School. I always missed that retail, so sitting at a desk was something I enjoyed. I enjoyed helping people, but it was a dream to work with Brandon, who’s been a friend since high school and also Bruce, to open our own retail and roasting business, to have a full spectrum of the coffee industry all under one roof.
What’s your favorite aspect of the coffee industry?
Each aspect that I work in has its really exceptionally gratifying areas. When we’re teaching in the school, to see the passion people develop in a short time, and the understanding of what great coffee is, and the whole process, and go back to small towns and cities where coffee’s just in its infancy, and open up amazing coffee bars, and share that knowledge, is one of the most gratifying things I can do. With my website, Barista Exchange, as well, it’s providing a resource for all these people that may not be in the Barista Guild and be able to come to trade shows and be part of the coffee community where they might feel crazy to be this passionate about coffee, but they can be friends and communicate in an open forum where they feel like they’re part of the industry. I love it when people come up or go to a party at a trade show and say, “Gosh, I really didn’t know I was invited, but it’s because of the Barista Exchange that I met friends, and I’ve been able to feel like I’m a part of something.” And then with Water Avenue, it’s just been the most amazing experience, working with my baristas, working with our wholesale team, working with Brandon, my business partner, who I’ve learned so much about coffee processing and sourcing and roasting. There’s never an end to what you can learn in coffee. I feel like I really have a much more comprehensive background than I’ve ever had. And to be part of the local business in Portland, and the economy. We’ve created 15 jobs in the last year and a half. We work with some outstanding wholesale accounts around town who are really excited about using great coffee. Again, we love to empower people to serve great coffee.
The perception of Portland is that there’s a specialty coffeehouse on seemingly every other block. Is the market saturated, or is there still room to grow?
INTERVIEW CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE
Barista Exchange Jobs
October 17, 2016 at 2:53 AM
[…] Water Avenue Coffee – With all you have going on with the Barista School, Barista Exchange, with Water Avenue Coffee, how is it that you’re able to … We’ve created 15 jobs in the last year and a half. We work with some outstanding wholesale accounts around town … […]