Vincenzo Saccuzzo founded Saccuzzo Coffee Co. more than 30 years ago with the goal of bringing flavorful, balanced, and full-bodied espresso to the United States.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke to Vincenzo and one of his sons and business partners, Marco Saccuzzo, about the company’s evolution and how they’ve maintained success in Greater Hartford.
NAN PRICE: Let’s talk about the evolution of Saccuzzo Coffee Co.
VINCENZO SACCUZZO: In the 1970s Antonio Tortorelli and I teamed up and started a business in East Hartford. We worked with a company in Italy that was building espresso machines. They would ship the partially built machines to us and, because of the difference in electronic components, we would finish building them here.
The problem was, it was a low-demand market. In the United States, no one really wanted espresso machines in the 1970s and 1980s.
NP: So what did you do?
MARCO SACCUZZO: The Italian company went out of business, Antonio went back to Italy, and my dad stayed here and basically built up the business from some spare machine parts.
NP: And that was the start of Saccuzzo Coffee?
VS: Yes. It was 1981 when I started my own company called Inter-Continental Imports. We bought espresso machines already built from Italy and then sold them for commercial use here in the United States.
MS: But with the rise of the Internet in the mid 1990s and so many more people selling espresso machines in the United States, the espresso machine market was saturated.
VS: So, in 1995, I decided to build a modern Italian roasting factory in Newington. I wanted to concentrate on the coffee—something we could control and something where we could create and sell our own brand.
From there, we started selling fewer and fewer machines and more and more coffee.
NP: Tell us what makes your product unique.
MS: We hand select our coffee beans and then we blend them and delicately roast them in small batches at our facility in Newington. Our focus is on consistency. The skill comes in with getting a very consistent product and having it taste the same from batch to batch.
We source our coffee beans from all over the world. My dad spends countless hours trying to find the exact taste were looking for in the coffees and blending to perfection.
VS: I have the know-how. Most micro roasters just buy one coffee and roast it. That’s a no-brainer. Anyone can do that. The real skill comes with getting a consistent blend and getting the same taste profile.
NP: Who is your clientele?
MS: The majority of our clients are coffee shops throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. We have a training facility here, so I make sure our clients know how to use the equipment and how to properly make an espresso, cappuccino, or latte. I try to answer any of their questions. I’m like an on-call physician.
NP: You’re The Coffee Doctor!
MS: I have been called that!
NP: Saccuzzo Coffee also supplies gelato ingredients.
MS: Right. We sell gelato ingredients all over the country. We’re the U.S. representative of a company called Torronalba. We import artisanal gelato ingredients—all-natural flavors like hazelnut and pistachio from Sicily—and we sell them to gelatorias and pastry shops all over the country.
NP: It’s a family business—how many employees do you have in total?
MS: I have two brothers, so there are four of us running the business, we’re all involved in it and we all try to do equal shares. We also have three additional employees.
VS: We’re looking to hire somebody else. We’re looking to grow. We recently hired A Little Bird Told Me, a local social media company, to help do some marketing for us to help enhance our image.
MS: We could have the best coffee in the world, but if people don’t know we have it, don’t know who we are, or don’t know where we are, it’s kind of a hard sell.
VS: It’s all about perception. The quality is there, we just have to have the perception of wholesome and good. We spend a long time choosing the coffee and roasting it to perfection. We turned an art into a science.
NP: A lot of time with food and beverage companies it’s about getting someone to taste it—
VS: But with coffee, it’s very subjective.
NP: That’s true.
MS: Nowadays, people are more aware of different-tasting coffee and have a much better palate for food in general.
NP: So, how has the business grown and adapted with that and remained innovative?
MS: We’re constantly coming up with new blends to meet our customers’ needs. We’re always doing market research, getting feedback from the coffee shops we sell to, and trying to stay one step ahead.
VS: We go to shows in the United States and Europe to learn about new trends. We go to the Specialty Coffee Association show and talk to the roasters—that’s the way you learn.
NP: What does the future look like for you?
MS: We want to continue to grow our wholesale business. And possibly open up a retail shop in the future.
VS: I just want to move to Florida and retire!
NP: Tell us something we don’t know about what it’s really like to run a company and be an entrepreneur.
MS: You have to learn how to do everything from accounting to web development.
NP: So how has your background prepared you for that? Do either of you have a business background?
VS: I have a Business Administration degree from Italy.
MS: I’m very curious. I learn as I go. If there’s something I don’t know, I will research it and try to learn how to do it correctly.
NP: Any entrepreneurial advice?
MS: Don’t give up when things get difficult or you fail. Just try again.
VS: That’s what I keep telling my kids. The only people who have failed are the ones who haven’t tried.