We featured Austin Ferrari’s café in this month’s issue of Barista Magazine, and in part two of this “10 Minutes With,” we delve deeper into the beginnings of his San Francisco café, Provender Coffee, and what he looks forward to in the future.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos by Nick Keating.
This is the second in a two-part series. Read part one here.
Ashley Rodriguez: What made you decide to open a café? What were some of the biggest struggles you faced?
Austin Ferrari: My business partner Aran Healy came to me with the idea to open Provender in 2015. I kind of looked at him and thought, “Dude you’re nuts,” but then I thought he is right. The neighborhood at the time (Potrero Hill) was lacking in really good coffee. It had Farley’s, which we love, but they serve something so different.
I knew we wanted to do food in-house, so I asked my brother if he would help and go in on the project. My other business partner David Tullis helped us build the coffee shop out (with the help of our amazing friend Daniel Ewald. He is our architect and that place would’ve never happened if it wasn’t for him).
We opened about three months after, and it was tough. I was in France on a wine trip and as soon as I got back we opened the next morning. I felt dead! I told myself, what am I doing? I literally would not sleep some nights because there was so much going on. I was taking care of Hillside and at the same time hiring for Provender and making sure everything is 100 percent. It was a nightmare.
AR: Tell us more about your café. Why the name Provender?
AF: Provender (pronounced Pro-Vender or Prah-Vender) is in Potrero Hill on 18th Street. We went through several names, but we wanted something with meaning and history and soul. Provender means food, or provisions, and is mainly used in terms of animals or livestock. Potrero means pasture in Spanish. There were literally two pastures here, the potrero viejo and potrero nuevo. Both were ejidos, or land for use by anyone, much like a commons. So, we figured the name was kind of fitting.
We now serve Andytown Coffee Roasters, which I love. We have a relationship with the owners and the managers there and I love it. That’s what I look forward to when I purchase things—having a relationship and knowing where my product comes from. Same way I think when I buy wine. We make all our pastries in-house and we serve toast as well. Yup, avocado toast, and it’s good!
AR: You’re originally from Cincinnati. Do you have plans to bring your style of coffee and service there?
AF: Ah, Cincinnati. I definitely have plans to go home. Actually, not just myself, but also my brother. We have been working on a few different business plans for projects we want to do in Cincinnati. The first of them will be our barber shop/coffee shop that should be opening soon. It will be called Ferrari Barber & Coffee Co. in dedication to my great uncle and grandfather. They took the place over in the 1960s and my brother and I want to keep it going. We are also working on a coffee shop dedicated to our mother. It will be called Mom ’n ’em Coffee.
I have a few restaurant plans in the works too, and maybe two to three more coffee shops. For us, we want to try and do one thing at a time, and do it as perfect as possible. We look at the longevity in our work—not for the present but for 50 years down the road. I have learned a ton in San Francisco that I want to bring to Cincinnati and share. But I think the biggest lesson I have learned from Cincinnati is that I need to be humble. Sometimes I can get out of hand, but ever since I opened Provender I view things a whole lot different—be smart, kind, and just positive, and have an open mind.
AR: You’re not just a coffee expert but you’re also a wine aficionado. Tell us about how you got into wine. What similarities do you see between coffee and wine?
AF: I love both coffee and wine. I feel like each and every day, they’re such a huge part of my life. Obviously I work with each, but I honestly don’t think I could live without either.
It is crazy to think this, but growing up we always had a garden and my nonna had tons of tomato plants. Every time I see grapevines, it reminds me of her and how much work is involved in making this plant grow and how you can manipulate or affect it by adding something or taking something away. So I started tasting tons of different wines and picking out what I loved the most and what I like to drink the most. I then learned about additives and how some wineries are different than others by what they might use in the soils. It reminded me of my grandmother. We let the tomato plant grow naturally in manure and we made tomato sauce with it and we then jarred it (without additives). Wine to me should be treated similarly.
All of this and seeing this growing up now affects me today with my work in wine and coffee. Wine and coffee are pretty origin-specific. They taste like where they come from. They are all seasonal and have a vintage or harvest date attached. They have notes (or flavors to them), some having more acid and some not. Take an Ethiopian natural coffee compared to a Gamay from Fleurie in Beaujolais. Both are so specific to where they come from (and how they are made). The Gamay can be light and fruity and elegant to drink when it is made through carbonic maceration. The same with the coffee if it is air-dried on African beds. It is amazing what I have learned about the two drinks. I love it.