Downtown Oakland’s newest high rise will also play host to its newest coffee shop. Mr. Espresso, an Oakland business since 1978, will open its first brick-and-mortar cafe on the first floor of the new 1100 Broadway building this May. The company has been distributing Italian-style oak wood roasted coffee to Bay Area retailers, cafes, and restaurants, such as BAIA and Ariscault Bakery in San Francisco, for nearly 45 years, and is now ready to join the cafe market, too. “The cafe itself will have a nod to Italy, as far as the service format,” Luigi Di Ruocco, who is going to manage the Mr. Espresso cafe, says. “It will be a high end cafe experience, and a bit different.”
The shop, called the Caffe, will open in the new 18-story office tower, the Key at 12th. The development incorporates the historic Key Systems Building, a national landmark, into the design. 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 plan is to make the 1,200-square-foot space feel like an Italian coffee bar with little room to sit but plenty of room to stand and drink espresso.
Carlo Di Ruocco, originally from Salerno, Italy, founded Mr. Espresso in 1978, but these days he’s more behind the scenes while his children, Luigi and John Di Ruocco, and daughter, Laurence “Laura” Zambrano, tackle the challenge of opening the new shop. Luigi Di Ruocco, who also opened the Coffee Bar with two locations in San Francisco’s FiDi, says the shop was designed and ready to go before the pandemic even hit. “We had this opportunity at the beginning of 2020,” Luigi says. “Pre-COVID it was a textbook can’t-lose location. We jumped in, and, while we have a strong reputation, we are looking to get our coffee in front of consumers directly.”
Once upon a time in the 1980s, Mr. Espresso had a showroom in Alameda, a place to check out espresso machines and grab a bag of beans. The wholesale business took off, so around 1990 the Di Ruoccos closed the shop. Now the family is ready to try their hand with a new generation and in a new space. “We want it to feel like it does in Italy,” Di Ruocco says. “It’ll be a place for a quick chat, a conversation, in the heart of downtown.”