Article written by Stavros
Just recently a friend of the Journal reached out and told me about one of their hometown friends that started a small batch, coffee roasting business. Tony Ponte, a Torrington, CT native and grandson to Italian immigrants started his business based on his experiences around the intimate connection that comes from sharing a cup of coffee with family and friends. Thriving out of Brooklyn, NY, Grazialla Coffee Co. strives to create a community around great tasting, small batch coffee, that is sourced responsibly through importers that have a deep connection and understanding of the conditions of the farmers that work to harvest the beans.
The company is named after Tony’s maternal grandmother who spent her first 30 years of life working on the family farm in Southern Italy before immigrating to Connecticut. Her story of hard and honest work is what contributed to Tony’s desire to support coffee importers that source in a sustainable manner that treat farmers fairly. His familial roots in Italy and Connecticut are what have contributed significantly to his desire of making Graziella Coffee Co. a business that has a significantly positive impact on their customers as well as their supply chain. After we reached out, Tony provided us with his story around the company as well as his upbringing in New England. He also humored us and answered the age-old question of which lobster roll is better, the hot buttered CT style roll or the Maine style lobster salad roll.
“Growing up in our family meant being blessed with immigrant grandparents who were farmers in southern Italy before coming to America. As you can imagine, sharing a cup of coffee with them wasn’t about breaking down flavor notes or considering the acidity. In the morning, it was the utility of that first cup that mattered. Usually paired with something simple like toast with butter, coffee was the fuel to kick start the day. In the evenings, and particularly during family gatherings or when guests were over, a Bialetti moka pot came out and small cups of espresso were passed around as conversation carried on at the kitchen table for hours. Some drank it with sugar, while others poured in Sambuca, an anise-flavored liqueur that paired well with the deeply roasted coffee pulled from a cabinet or freezer. The smell of Sambuca and espresso carries fond memories of family, which brings me to one of the reasons I got into coffee in the first place – coffee creates community. Whether it be with family, friends, or people we’re just getting to know, sharing a cup together gives us the opportunity to connect in a world that is growing ever more digital and disconnected. Coffee brings us together.
When my grandparents left the small town of Pontelandolfo in Campania, Italy they headed to Northwest Connecticut and settled in the city of Torrington. Many others from their tiny town of about 2,000 people also chose Torrington and the surrounding area to settle down and start new lives. In fact, Pontelandlfo is the “sister city” of Waterbury, CT, a relationship that inspired many Italians from that town to settle in the Northwest corner of Connecticut.” … “If, for some strange reason, you ever find yourself driving North on route 8 through Connecticut and you’re coming up on Torrington, hop off the exit. Stop in and grab a sandwich at Jimmy’s store or Alfredo’s deli – trust me on that. If it’s night time, grab a pizza from Marzano’s, Roma, or a veal parm grinder with roasted peppers from Anthony’s. Did I mention the northwest corner is full of Italians?
Though I’m living in Brooklyn, NY now, Connecticut and New England will always have a place in my heart. It was difficult to appreciate the beauty of Connecticut while growing up there, but it’s something I can’t help to notice every time I head home. The rolling hills, the lakes, trails for hiking and biking are never more than a short car ride away. Some of my best memories from childhood were visits to Tyler Lake (Goshen, CT) or Highland Lake (Winsted, CT), and hikes up to the peak of Bear Mountain in Salisbury, CT – talk about a picturesque New England town. After the hike, it was customary to stop in Toymakers Cafe in Falls Village for a burger or rueben and a soda. Unfortunately, Toymakers has closed its doors permanently after 18 years in business. My childhood was also filled with many trips down to Westerly, Rhode Island where my father was born. Many of his cousins and relatives still live there, and nowadays taking trips to Misquamicut beach are always moments of happy nostalgia. This might be a good moment to take a stand on the lobster roll debate – it’s hot & buttered without a doubt. Oh, and just in case there are any questions about my loyalty to New England, let me clear the air; New England clam chowder is far superior to Manhattan clam chowder.” – Tony Ponte
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