Cait McFadden, a Phoenix School of Law student, entered One Coffee Co. on a Wednesday morning. As she ordered her coffee, she mentioned she had a migraine from end-of-the-school year stress.
The owner, Damian Serafine, disappeared into the backroom as McFadden sat down next to Brenna Gringrich, another Phoenix School of Law student, at one of the black, wooden tables. As the two talked about final projects, Serafine returned with a bag of ice and a couple of muddy-red Advil pills.
“Damian takes care of me,” McFadden said, laughing. “He’s my male nurse.”
McFadden and Gingrich are both regulars who come in at least four times a week to the red, black, crème themed coffeehouse, located on 1 N. Central Ave. Gingrich said she enjoys the friendliness of the staff and Serafine, who is often found behind the red counter bar wearing a black shirt and jeans.
Serafine’s desire to connect with customers is partly what prompted him to open up One Coffee Co. two years ago even though he runs the coffee bars in the Phoenix Convention Center, Symphony Hall, and Orpheum Theater. The speed oriented and conventional based business didn’t fit with his idea for a coffeehouse.
“I appreciate it, and I love it, but it’s not what I’m about,” Serafine said.
Serafine’s coffee career began in 1990 as a barista in a New York coffeehouse called Java Joe’s. It didn’t take long before Serafine fell in love with every aspect of the coffeehouse atmosphere before arriving in Phoenix three years later.
“It (coffee) reminds me of wine,” Serafine said. “It has some of the same things going on, like with different climates and how that affects the grapes, and it’s the same thing with the beans.”
Serafine opened a coffee cart on Central Avenue and Monroe Street in 1995, and he said his first shop, Roma Coffee, was the first coffeehouse in the downtown Phoenix area. Serafine had partnered with Daniel Wayne, but the two eventually separated. Wayne now owns Lola’s. Beforehand, the two introduced the coffee scene to Phoenix, even before Starbucks—the well-known coffee shop Serafine intentionally liked until they became more commercialized.
“The baristas there shouldn’t even be called baristas,” Serafine said. “It’s kind of like the McDonald’s of coffee.”
An Aramark general manager, who was a regular at the coffee cart, offered Serafine a job in 1995. Serafine helped open coffee services in places such as the Herberger Theater and Scottsdale Center for the Arts.
Because people who order coffee in the Convention Center stay for a relatively short time, Serafine said he wants everyone who enters his space to have the full coffee experience with One Coffee Co. The slogan, “One love, one life, one coffee,” emphasizes the interconnectedness Serafine aims for. Serafine said he thought of the saying one day and decided to stick with it.
The coffeehouse’s main graphic, or a tree extending its roots, also conveys the idea of Serafine’s slogan. It’s found throughout the shop, on the wall, counter, even the door. The open space invites people to sit and chat over specialty lattes, mochas or homemade pastries. The coffee itself contributes to the color scheme of reds, browns, and blacks as the typically brown coffee dawns a red straw.
The signature blend, Sofia’s blend, is named after his daughter, and he said he’s worked on perfecting it for the majority of his career. Serafine roasts the beans from Passport Coffee himself and describes it as very smooth with incredible crema.
“I’ve got great crema,” Serafine said, in a mock Italian accent. “I could drink it all day long.”
Besides the coffee and atmosphere, Serafine makes an effort to have his baristas be friendly and connect with the customers. He said he despises baristas having a condescending attitude to the customer.
Serafine has succeeded with that goal so far as The Downtown Phoenix Partnership presented One Coffee Co. with the Friendliest Baristas award as a part of the Downtown’s “Best of…” awards.
“It’s weird,” Serafine said. “Nice people like other nice people.”
Brandi Porter, an Arizona State University sophomore and One Coffee Co. barista, said she decided she wanted to work at One Coffee Co. the first time she walked in the shop a year and a half ago. Porter said Serafine’s treatment of the staff as family is one reason she enjoys working with him.
“Here it’s, ‘Oh, you’re hungry? Yeah, eat something here!’ And I don’t have to pay anything.” Porter said. “He does that with his friends and family too if they come in, but with us it shows how he respects us.”
Serafine’s family-attitude extends to customers, especially regulars. Serafine jokingly punches Gingrich as she offers him Snickerdoodle cookies she baked earlier that day.
“He’s genuine,” Gingrich said. “He’s caring and compassionate, and he’s very loyal to the product and loyal to the company.”
– Alicia Canales