It is the aroma of freshly roasted coffee that draws one to the small, plain, brown concrete building on Chartiers Street that sits under an Interstate 70 overpass in Washington.
The welcoming aroma can be so strong at times, it can be detected by motorists traveling the interstate, near the Jefferson Avenue exit. It also can serve as an olfactory landmark for people trying to find 19 Co. Company, a micro coffee roaster. And that suits owner David DiOrio just fine.
“We have a good product,” said DiOrio, who started the business in May 2011. “We take time with the beans and we care. We also treat people the right way.”
It is that kind of work ethic that has enabled DiOrio’s 19 Coffee to evolve from one coffee industry veteran’s idea into a viable – and profitable – business that is growing at a rate of 15 percent a year.
DiOorio’s customers now include Merante Brothers Market in North Strabane Township, Trax Farms in Union Township, Orbis Caffe in Mt. Lebanon, and Cucina Bella restaurant in Bridgeville. He also has customers in the Greensburg area and northern West Virginia.
“The first year in business, everyone says the goal is to make it to year two,” DiOrio said. “By the second year, it’s to pay back the business loan, which we have.”
When he graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle in 1989, armed with a degree in English, DiOrio had no idea he would one day be running his own coffee-roasting business. DiOrio, a Wheeling, W.Va., native now living in Bethel Park, went into the teaching and coaching (football) professions and eventually into marketing for a software company.
DiOrio said he lasted four years in the marketing position and grew tired of sitting behind a desk. One day, he said he decided to quit and gave his two-week notice. The timing could not have been worse, he added.
“I had just gotten married and bought a house,” said DiOrio, who told his wife, Ellen, the news while she was out of the country on vacation.
After quitting, DiOrio went to meet with a family friend –who was in the coffee business – for career advice. Instead, he ended up working for him.
“I started out sweeping floors,” he said. “I eventually did sales, and that grew into day-to-day management. But I knew I wanted to have my own company.”
DiOrio laughed when asked why he named his business 19 Coffee Co.
“That number (19) was the one I wore when I played wide receiver and ran track in college,” DiOrio said, adding that he selected Washington as the location for his business because of its proximity to Interstates 70 and 79.
“I knew I wanted to be south of Pittsburgh,” said DiOrio, who has no plans to relocate his business. “A number of our customers are within an hour-and-a-half drive.”
The company is located in a building that once housed a tattoo parlor. The front room has a table where the occasional visitor can enjoy a cup of freshly roasted coffee. The back room is where the action takes place.
Jack Thearle, who has worked for DiOrio for three years and is his only employee, can usually be found at the roaster, while DiOrio is either bagging the roasted coffee or meeting with customers.
Burlap bags stuffed with green coffee beans from all over the world sit along the walls. A table holding packaging material sits in the center of the room, while a table at the far end holds a scale.
About 600 to 700 pounds of coffee are roasted by 19 Coffee in a week. That amount will jump to 1,000 pounds in the fall, said DiOrio, explaining that demand for coffee picks up in August and continues through the first of the year.
“From mid-August until the first part of the year, we’ll be here 6 a.m. until midnight,” DiOrio said.
His company typically has 14 varieties of coffee, including a decaffeinated blend from Peru. Thearle, the company’s official roaster, said its most popular coffee is 19 Bold, a blend of light and dark beans.
“It is a crowd favorite,” said Thearle, who roasts 25 pounds of green coffee beans at one time.
A typical roast takes 15 minutes. The roasting process transforms the chemical and physical properties of the bean, which expands and changes color during that time.
According to the National Coffee Association, a New York trade association, coffee is a $30 billion industry; 83 percent of adults drink it; the average serving is 9 ounces; and more than 400 million cups are consumed daily.
The average adult drinks three cups a day, and most of it is consumed during breakfast hours.
DiOrio said he has no plans for the business other than steady and controlled growth.
“We do want to keep getting bigger and have fun,” he said.