Ristretto and the Steampunk, the Closing of One Door and the Opening of Another

Din Johnson Owner Ristretto Roasters Portland

Din Johnson

Every so often in life you come across two people who just seem to belong together. That is the case with author Nancy Rommelmann and Ristretto Roasters owner Din Johnson. She is a powerhouse of enthusiastic energy, always up for new adventures, quick to support the people and causes in her life and passionate about living. Din is a quiet giant, but just as passionate. When he finds something he’s interested in, it’s all or nothing; slowly but surely he’s going to learn everything he can about the subject, buy the best equipment on the market, and completely immerse himself.  And so, it is no surprise that they have become Portland’s power coffee couple, two very different people, yet after all these years together, they still sparkle when the other enters the room.

When I first met Nancy back in 2004, I was invited to their NE Portland house for dinner.  While she cooked, we sat in their kitchen and talked about my new food blog, their adjustment to a sketchy neighborhood, and her long career as a writer. As she bustled around the kitchen she was having a difficult time finding enough counter space for the various pots and pans. It wasn’t because the room was too small – the old kitchen counter must be 20 feet long. It was because almost every square inch was covered with small coffee equipment.

When I asked her about it, Nancy shrugged. “My husband likes to experiment with coffee. Din’s been trying different ways of roasting at home. His dream is to open a coffeehouse someday, which means he probably will.”

She was right.The first café, on NE Fremont Street and 42nd Avenue, was pocket-sized, 600-square-feet, including bathroom, storage room and an initial roasting room complete with a vintage L-12 Probat roaster. It was a comfortable place to while away an afternoon, Din dragging 150 pound sacks of green coffee by your feet, the smell of roasting coffee permeating everything. Back at home Nancy was always baking for the cafe, quick to proffer her latest cookies, vanilla and brown sugar scenting the walls; a heady mix of coffee, chocolate and love. And gin. Lots of gin. I lived close by, so when I visited I always walked, and hours later would weave my way down the sidewalk, little bag of warm pound-cake in my hand.

Ristretto Roasters

Ristretto Nicolai

The second café on N. Williams was also an unlikely location. When Ristretto committed in 2007 to anchoring The Hub (a complex that would eventually house Tasty N Sons, Lincoln, and a dozen other businesses), the only open retail within three blocks was Pix Patisserie, a corner bodega, and a lawnmower repair store. But Nancy and Din Johnson live in the area and recognized the neighborhood’s potential.

In 2010, Ristretto opened a dedicated coffee roasting facility, several blocks from Portland’s Rose Garden. Committing to open a third café in Industrial Northwest in 2012 was another roll of the dice that has paid off. Though a little off the beaten track, the beauty of the building as well as the integrity of the other artisan tenants, including Schoolhouse Electric and Egg Press, has proved a massive draw, to arts communities, to film and television crews, to locals from The Pearl and NW 23rd.

Now their lease on the original 42nd street location has come up, and they have decided not to renew as it’s just not big enough to fill their needs. Instead, they are relocating it to 555 NE Couch St. at 6th. The cafe will close with a celebration on April 28th to thank their Beaumont neighbors for their years of support.

Northeast Couch presents its own unique growth possibilities. One block south is East Burnside, with its thriving dining and nightlife scene (Le Pigeon, The Farm, Kir Wine Bar, Rontom’s, Sizzle Pie, and the Jupiter Hotel). Alma Chocolate in January 2013 opened a production facility and event space on NE Couch and 6th. Northeast Couch has also in the last year become a one-way street, heading west. Last year’s traffic reports show at least 14,000 cars per day driving past on the morning commute (read: prime coffee drinking time), directly in front of the new café, which sits on a corner for maximum exposure.

Steampunk Coffee BrewerThe new space which is being designed by Accelerated Development’s Keith Shrader who also designed the Nicolai store, will have more room for education, a much larger seating area, and they hope to eventually server beer and wine. The Couch store will showcase the first Steampunk brewing system in the Northwest.

The creators of the Steampunk, Alpha Dominiche, based in Salt Lake City, chose Ristretto to showcase the first Steampunk in the Northwest, where it will debut along with systems in New York, Los Angeles and Portland. Winner of the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America’s) Best New Product 2012 award, the Steampunk is a sleek new siphon system.

From CafeCulture,

The Steampunk is an industrial 4 group coffee plunger, but it actually works more like a semi-automated siphon brewer. Water from the 20 liter boiler is mixed with steam and air and introduced to the borax glass crucibles to mix with the coffee. When read, the barista introduces a small amount of cold water into the bottom, and the coffee is siphoned out. The plunger is then removed with the spent grounds, and it’s ready for the next brew. Configuration of each parameter for each of the four brewers is managed on an integrated touch screen.

The brewer allows the barista to use either metal filters for more of a French press mouth-feel  or paper filters for a super clean cup. I’ll be interested to see if I can tell the difference.

The new shop will be open August 3rd, 2013.

(If I was ever going to write a children’s book, “Ristretto and the Steampunk” would be the title)

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. says

    Oh great! While there are some great things in our neighborhood, a nice coffee shop that I can stop by on the way to work and have meetings at occasionally will be real exciting.

    • says

      i’ve been getting my morning cup on my way to work at the beaumont store, my neighborhood coffee shop, since shortly after they opened. your gain is sadly our loss.

  2. Nate Snell says

    Love Ristretto! So happy to see the continued success they have had through a commitment to high quality, integrity and thoughtful expansion. I say thoughtful as their growth plans have always given strong consideration to increasing the holistic value of the neighborhood itself and also other local businesses, not just expansion for profits sake. Way to go Nancy and Din!

  3. DICK ROMMELMANN says

    A Biased Poster: I’m proud to state that I am Nancy’s dad and Din’s father-in-law. I have lived in Portland on two occasions for short periods of time and witnessed their growth and ingenuity. I have provided some financial assistance when needed and they are rigorous in re-paying. Another thing I know is that Couch St. in not pronounced like the item of furniture it is spelled like but more like Cooch, thereby validating my credentials. Din and Nancy, all the best on your new venture. DAD

  4. Picklopolis says

    A great addition to inner NE. Food dude, If you can’t tell the difference between French press and paper filtered, just wait til you get to the bottom of the cup.

  5. Don says

    This STINKS….I’ve been a loyal customer of their Fremont store, stopping several days a week on my way to work and wandering to it on the weekends. I hate to see them leave…..Beaumont will be much worse off without them…..BOO! BOO! BOO1

  6. Spencer says

    Being a frequent patron of Ristretto on N. Williams, I can tell you that this is going to be a great thing for the Lower Burnside area. The best coffee in Portland comes to what is becoming a destination neighborhood. Living just off N. Williams but working in the Central Eastside, Ristretto will always be close-by and I’m just thrilled to hear of this!! Now, we just need more lunchtime options in the Lower Burnside area — plenty of places for dinner of course, but just a few for lunch or even breakfast.

  7. Someone says

    Laying off the employees AND abandoning the neighborhood that supported them from the start…sounds wonderful!

    • pdxyogi says

      Please spare us the hysterical drama. No one owes anyone anything nor is entitled to anything. I’m sure they were paid as promised and given notice. They were “employment at will” meaning either party may terminate on zero notice. Get over it.

      • puddlestomp says

        What pdxyogi said, squared. Seriously. Ristretto is a great little Portland business that helps the local economy and treats their employees well. If a lease no longer makes sense and they are investing capital in a new space that employs more people, then so be it. They have a right to run their company in a manner of their choosing. Get over yourself and go to Pip’s Original on 47th/NE Fremont ( Extracto ) or Jim & Pattys. 50th/NE Fremont. A couple blocks won’t kill you.

        • pdxyogi says

          Were we talking about the only doctor in a small community who suddenly picked up and moved out in the dark of night for a better opportunity without making a good faith effort to find someone to replace him and to warn the community and provide referrals for services elsewhere, then yes, that is “abandonment”. The doctor would be hauled up on charges before the ethics board and face license sanctions.

          But a small privately-owned business that creates local jobs, that is about to create even more jobs, gets clobbered for having the temerity to move two miles down the road? And the butt-hurt neighbors will have to walk five blocks further to get coffee elsewhere? Oh the humanity! Tell me, butt-hurt neighbors, had you known they would “abandon” you at some point in the future, would you have boycotted them all these years? No? Yeah I didn’t think so.

    • says

      It is my understanding that it has been leased. Thank you all for the lovely comments! We look forward to seeing you at the new cafe, and until then, at Williams and Nicolai. BTW, for those asking about other great coffee in the Beaumont neighborhood: Pip’s Donuts on Fremont and 47th is pouring Extracto and making fantastic homemade donuts before your very eyes! Also, Bacchi’s Italian Deli, on NE Sandy and 66th, is serving Ristretto x

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