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Life on the 49th Parallel · 15.11.07 by colin newell

49th Parallel Cafe on West 4thLife for Mike Piccolo, of 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters in Vancouver must seem idyllic. Having been a chef for over 20 years in the Vancouver food community, his departure from that World into the World of specialty coffee must have come with some surprises.

Food World, it would appear, is all about the hours. A short day in Chef-land is about 10 to 14 hours… a day… sometimes everyday… for weeks. Heck, I have a hard enough time focusing for 7 hours on anything. I did write for 7 hours once… but not in a row.

Mike Piccolo, on the other hand, is a study of youth and patience. In a business that seems to gain more energy everyday – it’s a wonder that he can find solace in this choice of career. But he does.

Specialty coffee is the rising star in North America right now – as it has been for the last 10 years or more. The kind of energy that fuels the likes of 49th Parallel Coffee roasters, Ethical Bean in Vancouver, Hines Coffee (and others) knows no bounds. And yet family run companies like Murchie’s fail to harness this phenomenon – and ultimately fail.

So what does Mike Piccolo and his family have that the others do not? Simple; Generosity, family values and a scalpel sharp business acumen to boot.

Mike is part of a family circle that includes Vincent Piccolo, the elder brother and Sammy Piccolo, the younger. They are the creators of Cafe Artigiano – a family success story. And although these Boys are all different and talented in their own special way, their assorted gifts compliment each other in such a way as to give them the Midas touch.

Mike Piccolo’s day job is attending to the coffee roasting facility. At the heart of this operation is a coffee roaster that can roast about 160 pounds of coffee at a time – in a rough measure, that is a burlap bag of green coffee every 25 minutes or so. The facility is a blend of the old and the new. A conveyor system loads the roasters hopper in about 6 minutes or so. The load of coffee can be manually or automatically dropped into the roaster by a proprietary computer system. The roasted coffee is quickly cooled and collected through a column of air through a device called a de-stoner. Believe it or not, despite the rigorous inspections that green coffee goes through, there still is the odd rock, twig or bottle cap that gets in the mix – and you do not want to run a bottle cap through your burr grinder, trust me!

The roaster is gas fired – which in itself is a fairly clean process. But roast coffee is a very aromatic thing and even small amounts of the smoke can carry in the wind a long way. As a result, 49th Parallel run an afterburner that incinerates a lot of the particulates in the exhaust gas that would, well, make the neighborhood smell like coffee – all of the time. It is also more eco-friendly to do this – and it contributes greatly to the overall cost of the product.

But that is what you do when you want to be the best.

So, Mike Piccolo takes all this in his stride. One gets the impression walking around the facility that this is a totally family oriented operation. Everyone seems happy and busy.

For Mike Piccolo, his World begins after 7 in the morning and he may start to wind down later in the afternoon. A far cry from the World of Chef-land by a long shot. He has a young family to think about and life is more about Dolce Vita that making a killing overnight.

I think his brothers might agree. I sampled several coffee at the 49th Parallel Cafe on West 4th in Vancouver while Vince Piccolo looked on. If it is possible for Vince to be interested in something other than his satisfied customers, it could well be his staff and the environment in which he works.

The staff at 49th Parallel represent the ideal in coffee World. Beyond the basics of good pay and some benefits (oh yeah, and a great work environment) they are the messengers of the specialty coffee medium. They are fully engaged, informed and 100% dedicated to customer satisfaction and customer education.

As I sipped their single origin espresso, an Australian called Mountain-Top, I could not help but be somewhat skeptical and sardonic. I reminded Vince Piccolo that Australia is not the ideal growing environment for coffee. Needless to say he was quick to shut me down – and rightfully so. Open up your mind Colin, he was saying symbolically… Open up your mind.

In over 30 years of playing with and writing about specialty coffee, I think what I do know could fill an 8 ounce Euro Cappuccino cup at the 49th Parallel Cafe… and what I do not know could fill a 70kg Bag roaster.

But this is what the Piccolo family are all about – Customer Satisfaction and Education.

  1. did not like them.

    i will stay with my jj bean

    sam franko    Nov 26, 05:26 pm    #
  2. I love the coffee and the decor, but some of the staffing is pretty awful. The dude with the glasses who wears deep v-necks that show his chest hair is so standoffish and arrogant I can barely get an order through without walking out. The last time I was in the person I was with said “I can’t believe you put up with that” to which I replied “I just wanted the coffee.” Fixing the staff will make 49thP a great 4th ave newcomer, but for now it’s 4th or 5th choice due to the staff.

    Todd    Dec 18, 03:48 pm    #
  3. I think this is the absolute best cafe I’ve ever been to. I don’t know where the above comments come from. Probably coffee competitors I bet!

    The staff there in my opinion are very professional and courteous. The guy with the v-neck is actually the nicest guy I’ve met! You guys should get a life.

    — sean    Dec 18, 04:29 pm    #
  4. Be nice you guys – everyone is entitled to an opinion… keep in mind: I have a trigger finger on the edit button.

    Colin    Dec 19, 08:09 pm    #
  5. I’m an admitted espresso snob. This place has the best espresso and espresso beans in the city in my view. I’ve never noticed whether the staff are good or bad – can’t get past the amazing espresso.

    Tanner    Dec 28, 04:00 pm    #
  6. Just got sent some Epic espresso and I’m liking it.

    I was looking for a good supply from a Canadian supplier as I had a terrible time with Coffee Klatch……..

    gordo    Jan 27, 09:14 am    #
  7. I’ve had nothing but great interaction with the staff including Vince. I can’t believe how great the espresso they pull is—the Australian single estate has an unbeatable aroma which I never knew could exist in a coffee. I buy all my beans there now.

    — Mattias    May 20, 08:06 pm    #
  8. My mom has a little cafe in Yaletown called The Raging Bean Cafe. It’s located at 1239 Pacific Bulv. She carried direct trade Intilligentsia coffee. Plus, she only serves the best food, for instance…Grounds for coffee Cinnamon rolls, Siegel’s Bagels, Patisserie Lebeau Waffles and amazing panini sandwiches, homemade cookies and the best muffins around. Check it out if you get a chance.

    alberta mayne    Sep 10, 10:03 am    #
  9. Patisserie Lebeau Waffles! Yum – yum yum yum!
    They are over near Pine Street and down from Broadway, yea?

    colin    Sep 10, 12:17 pm    #
  10. Yes, and now my mom carries them at The Raging Bean cafe in yaletown too.

    alberta mayne    Sep 10, 01:30 pm    #
  11. I want to work there, does anyone know if they are hiring?

    — Libby    Jun 29, 06:15 pm    #
  12. The coffee shop played offensive music. When I told the owner he apologized and sent us 20 dollars. But the sales manager kept harassing us and trying to get revenge. This cafe is bad tasting coffee and is very expensive There are many good cafes in Vancouver which have lower prices and nicer staff

    Please don’t give your business to 49th Parallel Coffee

    alisonlard    May 10, 10:25 am    #
  13. Thank you for your comments Alison – sadly bad stuff can happen at any cafe or restaurant – owners and partners cannot control the place all the time — and you are right – everyone needs to find the space that they are the most comfortable in. By all means – find your favorite – there is lots to pick from in Vancouver.

    Colin    May 10, 11:14 am    #
  14. What high school did Mike Piccolo go to!

    Vivian cruise    Oct 13, 02:09 pm    #
  15. Mike’s High School?

    Gee. I don’t know. Maybe you should try Facebook.
    I wrote this article over 8 years ago… can hardly remember the visit much less asking which school he went to…

    Colin    Oct 13, 02:37 pm    #

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