Today’s Local to Know has a unique story on how he fell in love with drinking coffee at a later age. His passion eventually led to the creation of his own coffee shop. In a city full of coffeeshops, he is continuing to take steps to ensure his business becomes a space where people can feel warmth and a sense of community. Meet Milo Speranzo, the owner of Vault Coffeehouse. Read on for more of Milo!
What made you want to get into the coffee business?
I was not a coffee drinker prior to joining the military. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in Colombia, and that is where the love story began. The coffee there was something that was wildly different than what we were brewing at the Air Force base. In my downtime, I started to dig into the growing and roasting process, and my time in Central and South America allowed me to get a deep dive into the subject matter.
In a city full of different coffee shops, what separates Vault Coffeehouse from the others?
I think Vault is a throwback of sorts. When you go to the big box brands there is zero community engagement, and they’re moving more and more towards zero engagement with people in general. We are focused on a version of the “Central Perk” model of coffeehouses.
We want the space to be large and inviting. We want the space to be available for private and community events and we want the actual product to stand out. The coffee brewed at the gas stations and the big brand coffee shops has to be mass produced to keep up with the massive demand. What this means is that very few farms and suppliers can keep up with the demand and typically those suppliers produce a very generic set of coffee roasts in order to ensure there is quantity of supply in a very low cost model.
The Vault is a polar opposite of this model. We work with Commonplace Coffee to purposefully source the beans that deliver the exact tastes and qualities we are going for. This means we pay more for our supply, but it also allows us to deliver a very different experience than the mass producers. We also are anchored in building community. We focus on bank locations in towns that need an anchor tenant, and in our opinion, there is no better anchor tenant than a coffee shop. Our first shop located in Pitcairn has exceeded literally every expectation I have had in early going. I am seeing so much community engagement and pride, which is reinvigorating me more and more every day.
What is it about coffee that brings people together, making it a popular morning beverage?
There are a couple of things, in my opinion. There is the physical reaction to coffee that helps people get going and stay focused, but honestly that is probably reason No. 3 or 4 why coffee is such a pillar of our culture.
Coffee drinkers relate to each other, almost all coffee drinkers have the standing opinion that you can not judge anyone until after their first cup of coffee. Ideas like this build a community of like-minded people that enjoy being around each other. Coffee is also a great excuse. It’s a great excuse to come back to the same place every day and discuss ideas, engage in the community, or just do your daily crossword puzzle in an engaging environment. It’s a great excuse to get out of the house or the office to either escape your in-laws for a bit or to change environments to spark new business ideas.
Can you elaborate more regarding the private gatherings that you offer?
The events are extremely important in achieving our goals. We are currently booking events with local artists, families, community organizations and businesses. We want everything from birthday parties to local political meetings to be held at the shop. The goal is to create a safe space for everyone in the community and we want to make sure that space is something everyone can be proud of. We are currently booking an art opening for a local artist followed by an elementary school jazz concert the next day, and I can’t explain how amazing that makes me feel.
What are some of the most rewarding things about running a business? What are some of the challenges that come with it?
The most rewarding thing for me is building the team that runs the shop and seeing the community engage in a way that it hasn’t been able to in decades. The team we have at he Vault is growing into a family and nothing is more special than seeing people from every walk of life come together in their professional lives and start to build a familial relationship with their peers. It is rare these days that people that work together form strong bonds and enjoy seeing each other every day. I want that for my team, and in developing that, the coffee shop patrons feel that energy and take it into their days.
The community engagement in Pitcairn has far exceeded anything I imagined in such a short time. I am seeing people reconnect at the shop that have not seen each other in years and we are seeing new ideas developed and a new vision for the town occurring right before our eyes. I am so grateful for the town of Pitcairn, the community that raised me in the late ’70s and ’80s, and seeing this type of excitement brings me an amount of happiness and pride I just can’t put into words.
I would be lying if I said the challenges have not been significant. The process of navigating the codes and regulations of complicated jurisdictions like Allegheny County were a bit overwhelming. The process of going from purchasing the building to opening a coffee shop was massively challenging. I was not prepared for the process that I had to go through in order to open the doors. It really makes me concerned about the future of small businesses and ensuring we enable our community members to have the same opportunities as their parents and grandparents. There were certainly times where I almost had to pull back and was rethinking my decision to open the shop. I can say that without the constant encouragement of my family, my friends, the community and my coworkers, I would not have gotten the doors open.
What are some of your other interests besides running a coffee shop business?
I was in the military for 14 years, so that holds a very dear place in my heart. I also currently work for Dell Technologies in their marketing department. My team at Dell, including my leadership, are so supportive of my goals in volunteering and helping the community. It is truly a model for other companies. I love engaging and working with people and my job at Dell and the coffee shop allow us to absolutely get my daily fill of relationship building.
Lastly, where can our readers find you and support Vault Coffeehouse?
Come in for a cup of coffee!!! We would LOVE to have you at 550 Broadway Blvd, Pitcairn PA 15140. Also, please follow us on Instagram and Facebook and also check us out on the web at www.coffeeinthevault.com.
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Interview by Justin Stewart