Din Johnson is a risk taker. When Ristretto Roasters first opened in late 2005, in a tiny slice of a spot on very un-hip NE 42nd Ave near Fremont St, there were whispers of, “Who are these outsiders who aren’t from the Portland coffee scene? They’ll never make it in THAT location. They are insane to open a roastery in such a saturated market.” And so on.
Well, six and a half years later, now with three cafés and robust wholesale and online retail businesses, Ristretto’s risks have paid off.
Owner and roaster Din Johnson, along with his wife Nancy Rommelmann and a tight staff of roasters and café workers, have put together a business model that works and would be the envy of many cities. A native Portlander, Johnson started roasting beans on his own in Los Angeles, circa 1998. The effort was truly on a micro level, in what his biography describes as a “tin can.” In 2004, he moved back to Portland, and worked his way up to a vintage Probat L-12 roaster, a roaster until 2010 on display and in-use at the Beaumont café. In 2008, he jumped on the chance to open in the new “Hub Building” on burgeoning N. Williams. The new store acted as both a community and retail anchor for neighboring businesses, attracting customers near and far for its covered patio, airy and sophisticated atmosphere and friendly service. In December 2011, in their biggest and boldest move yet, Ristretto opened a third café adjacent to the stunning new Schoolhouse Electric showroom. Ristretto describes the building, located in a somewhat isolated part of the NW Industrial District, as having “a design library and walk-in bank vaults… The space holds promise to be a local and national design hub, a very cool space unlike anything in Portland.” With wi-fi throughout the building and a large conference table for laptop use, the café is developing a solid following. Indeed, the design of Ristretto’s last two shops utilized some of Portland’s shining stars, such as Harper Bates of Holst Architecture, and Keith Shrader and Scott Davidson of Accelerated Development.
Yet the design and Ristretto aesthetics are just the icing. It’s the roasts where they shine. Focusing on single-origin, medium-roasted coffees, Ristretto is doing a wonderful job of converting the “dark roast” masses into loving a mellower, subtle cup of joe. Johnson sources all his coffees, and like others of this passion, changes them with the seasons, availability, and Ristretto’s current tastes and interests.
The menus feature the standard espresso drinks, iced coffee, and teas we’ve come to expect in a city with this caliber of cafés. But Ristretto, unlike some others, also has a penchant for extremely good baked goods, and feature only the best. They were one of the first to feature the now-coveted Nuvrei Bakery, and more recently were the first in Portland to feature treats from Kim Boyce’s Bake Shop.
Ristretto is now one of the biggest roasters of the Portland bunch. They prove that having a strong personal compass and taking risks on locations that others might pass up, is sometimes the wisest move of all.
You can see a 60 second video by Ristretto here.
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