Take a first look at the new Mr. Espresso Café in Auckland

Interior view of the cafe by Mr. Espresso. Credit: Jones | Haidoo

Cafe for Mr. Espresso
1120 Broadway (Ground Floor to Key at 12), Auckland
Expected opening: September 2022

There’s no shortage of excellent coffee shops in Auckland, but the news back in March of another one still managed to spark interest in Java fans. That’s because this, planned on the ground floor of a new high-rise building in downtown Auckland, is the first home of one of East Bay’s most iconic brands: the 45-year-old Mr. Espresso.

You know Mr. Espresso, of course, and you’ve likely come across his beans. Born in Salerno, Italy, elevator repairman Carlo Di Rocco founded the company in his Alameda garage in 1978, a few years after he emigrated to the United States. An import company that aimed to help local restaurants serve Italian-style coffee drinks, a novelty at the time. After that, Carlo began roasting acorns in the machine showroom. The coffee he created was a huge success, and he became an institution in cafes and restaurants in East Bay and beyond, as well as a grocery store and bodega. You might have a bag of Mr. Espresso beans in your pantry right now – I definitely do.

But even though the company (which Carlo has since inherited to the next generation) is about 45 years old, its beans have always been offered by others in East Bay. Decades after starting the company, Carlo’s son Luigi Di Rocco opened a small chain of elegant stores called Coffee Bar in San Francisco, in an effort, as Di Rocco told Nosh in 2014, “to sell our own coffee in a more modern context.” There has never been a cafe bearing the Mr. Espresso brand anywhere, before now.

That will change in September, when Caffe by Mr. Espresso at 1120 Broadway in a new 1,200-square-foot space. Originally slated to begin work in May, “typical construction delays” brought back that schedule, De Rocco told Noch this week. “As you can imagine, things are going a little slower because of COVID.”

Luigi DiRuocco Coffee tasting at Mr. Espresso’s Auckland residence. Credit: Nader Khor

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When planning for Caffe began, downtown Auckland was very different from what it is today. “We signed the lease for the first time… in January of 2020, just as downtown Auckland was experiencing a boom in development,” De Rocco told Lenoch.

While the pandemic has halted much of that boom, De Rocco remains hopeful, saying the place remains “a great opportunity to own our first coffee shop in a busy neighborhood away from the roastery.”

One reason to believe in its success, in addition to the prestige of the Espresso family name, is Caffe’s distinctive style of service. Architect Hulett Jones, his firm jones | Haidoo behind designing the space, explained it to Noch this way: “Instead of standing in line behind someone and waiting for your order to be delivered to the cashier, one simply finds an open space at the bar,” he said, eliminating the café situation line. “It’s a lot like ordering drinks at a bar,” Jones said. “The servant comes to you.”

Caffe’s layout also means that lingering laptop users must choose another location to fix their Java. Other than the massive wooden counter, made by Gregory Hay Designs, there’s not much room to stop and smell the cream.

This is also by design, as the space is “influenced by the enduring tape of Italian coffee culture,” Di Rocco said, which means customers are expected to get their orders and go, rather than settling in for long. It’s a model that de Rocco thinks will work in downtown Auckland, “where we think people are going to move,” he said. “We wanted to create a place that was interactive and boisterous.”

He expects these orders to include “traditional espresso drinks with some delicious and enjoyable signature brews, as well as unique coffees that customers may not have tried before,” de Rocco said. For dining, Caffe will offer “simple, high-quality café fare, including pastries, a few breakfast items, and fresh salads and sandwiches.”

This may be the program of food the Italophilus family may have in Nosh readers with an eyebrow, as some would argue that while espresso drops quickly with their bel bae expertise, the sandwich eaten on the run is not. But De Rocco is ready to object. “We know the industry well and have a unique vision and approach to specialty coffee,” he said, reminding Noch that Mr. Espresso has been in business for longer than most major coffee destinations in the region. “This is a continuation of the Italian-style espresso tradition we inherited when we started the company in 1978, blended with contemporary coffee culture in North American style.”

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