The Capital Region’s coffee-crazed community will be expanding later this year, thanks to two brew-literate transplants, who have expertise in not only the making of specialty coffee, but also educating the masses about it. Enter Downtown Troy’s newest business, Jacob Alejandro, which will be piloted by co-owners Jake Griffin-Diaz, a native Alaskan, and his husband, Alejandro, who hails from Guatemala.
Jake got his start in the culinary trade while studying baking and pasty at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, going on to manage the Apple Pie Bakery Café on the CIA campus for two years. He was so successful in the initial undertaking that the CIA asked him to open a second cafe in San Antonio, TX, on its satellite campus there. In just a handful of years, he turned it into one of just two specialty coffee shops in the entire metropolitan area of the massive Texas city. “Coffee can taste delicious; it’s not bitter. It’s smooth, it can be heavy, it can be light, and there are all these flavors,” explains Jake.
For those unfamiliar with the specialty coffee—or “third wave coffee,” as it is sometimes known—movement, it boils down to using higher quality coffee beans, grounds and brewing methods to engineer a flavorful blend unlike the stuff they sell in a can at the supermarket or even at your favorite big-box brewer like Starbucks. The idea is that, if brewed properly, new flavor notes can be brought to the surface from specific coffee beans, notes that might have been lying dormant from run-of-the-mill, fast-food-brewing techniques. It goes beyond simply creating a better cup of joe, though; the making of specialty coffee also involves an education element: in order to do it the right way, would-be baristas need to be taught how to use the speciality equipment needed to brew the coffee, as well as lessons about the coffee’s origins.
After making his way back to New York from San Antonio and slowly moving up the Hudson, first living in Wappingers Falls, then Poughkeepsie, Hudson and finally, Albany, Jake eventually stumbled on his dream city in Troy. At the time he’d moved to Albany, he was working for Irving Farm Coffee Roasters as its Hudson Valley sales rep, service technician and educator, so he was able to make contacts up and down the Hudson and throughout the Capital Region. A client downstate in Ossining, First Village Coffee, connected him with his future husband, who was also consulting at the same shop. Alejandro is no novice in the coffee trade; he has a hospitality degree, which eventually landed him at & Cafe, a highly successful chain of coffee shops in Guatemala. He’s trained hundreds of baristas in the fine art of specialty coffee–making, and he even holds the distinction of being the latte art champion—yes, that’s a thing—of Guatemala.
It goes without saying that it’s a challenging time to be opening a brick-and-mortar anywhere right now, given the pandemic and the strain its putting on businesses that rely on inside-seatings (one recent survey projected that nearly two-thirds of restaurants will not reopen). The couple is hoping to avoid becoming a statistic by not only focusing on selling speciality coffee for consumption, but also teaching the trend to local students and other local small businesses. (They already have an eager client list.) In fact, prior to the pandemic, the couple had launched a series of bracket- and elimination-style “backyard latte art throwdowns” to drum up consulting business and clients. Events were held at local spots such as Albany’s 3Fish Cafe, Schenectady’s Graham’s Coffee Parlor and Saratoga’s own Palette Cafe.
While the COVID-19 crisis has halted the competitions for now, it hasn’t curbed the couple’s momentum, which dates back to their belated honeymoon in Barcelona just before the pandemic hit. “We did a big coffee tour there and were inspired to open up our own shop,” says Jake. “We don’t need a big space; we just need a little [one] that we can serve coffee out of.” And that’s when they stumbled on 274 River Street in Downtown Troy, which most recently had been a paint and sip. (Berkshire Hathaway commercial real estate agent Jesse Tranvaag completed the deal for the en-joe-preneurs. “The amount of interest I’ve gotten from my restaurant listings in Troy has been truly remarkable,” says Tranvaag. “It truly shows the strength and determination of local business owners.”)
The couple is only a five days into renovating the space, which will launch as a hybrid coffee shop and classroom for their specialty coffee courses later this fall. It has its own kitchen, so Jake plans to put his CIA degree into good use, using it to bake pastries for sale in the shop. And the couple even has its own branded swag such as coffee cups and T-shirts. They’re also planning on launching with small, socially distanced classes to start; a to-go program; and possibly even a delivery service, depending on what COVID restrictions are in place in the coming months. “We’ll do anything,” says Jake, to see the business through. “I’ll make baked lasagna dinners and deliver them to keep the space.”