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|Articles - May 2012|
|Monday, April 23, 2012|
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By Linda Baker
On a rainy Monday morning, Din Johnson, owner of Ristretto Roasters, is sitting in his newest café located in the Schoolhouse Electric building: a chic renovated space featuring old-growth beams, brick walls and a coffee bar fashioned from repurposed metal. Open since December, the café in Northwest Portland’s industrial district is the third for Ristretto, which got its start in the Beaumont neighborhood in 2005.
“We’re not mapping out a plan saying, ‘We have to be downtown, we have to be in Northwest,’” says Johnson, 45, describing the company’s organic growth strategy. “It’s more we team with local people we respect who have great ideas.” Johnson does prefer to site his cafés in undeveloped areas such as the industrial district, he says. “Those are the neighborhoods we want to be in — where people don’t have things.”
Portland has no shortage of cafés and businesses that roast their own coffee; one count puts the list at 40. But in that crowded category, Ristretto has carved out a niche as one of the few that is expanding and creating simultaneously high-design and community-oriented coffeehouse environments. “My biggest thing is making good coffee approachable,” Johnson says. “I want people to try new coffee without being intimidated by the people behind the counter. That’s my motto and that’s how we’ve hired people.”
Last December, restaurant guide Zagat named Ristretto one of the 10 “coolest independent coffee shops in the country.” The coffee itself has earned national accolades: “What to buy now,” proclaimed national food magazine Bon Appétit. Despite the hip factor, Johnson himself seems steadfastly down to earth. A former contractor, the Portland native had roasted coffee at home for years before deciding to turn his passion into a profession. “People thought I was nuts,” says Johnson, noting that at the time, Stumptown Coffee was thought to have cornered the artisanal roasting market. On its first day, Ristretto’s Beaumont café, located “off the beaten path” on Northeast 42nd, earned a grand total of $56.
Seven years later, Ristretto, which grossed more than $1 million in revenues last year, has three cafés, a separate roasting facility in Northeast Portland, 25 employees and 30 wholesale clients. “Relationship-based” partnerships helped fuel that growth, says Johnson, whose wife, writer Nancy Rommelmann, does the accounting. Architect Jeff Holst, a regular at Ristretto’s Beaumont café, designed the second café located on North Williams Avenue, a bright and airy space that helped usher in Portland’s current modern coffeehouse aesthetic. For the Schoolhouse Electric coffee bar, Johnson hired Accelerated Development as the designer; the firm is the remodeling arm of Bamboo Revolution, a materials supplier that provided the bamboo for the Beaumont site.
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