By Craig Smith
Rick Molinari, owner of Molinari Caffe at 828 Brown Street between Third and Second in downtown Napa, painted “Pazienza,” the Italian word for “Patience,” on a wall in his home. He ponders it every day, reminding himself that things will eventually return to normal for his business. Although Molinari Caffe sustained relatively little damage from the 2014 earthquake, his business hasn’t been the same since it hit.
Many people suffered damage from the quake and most have put their lives back in order. Molinari Caffe lost glassware and some duct work from the HVAC system was jarred loose, but otherwise they came through it unscathed, and were able to open a few hours later. But when inspectors came through and looked at the damage to the buildings next to him, which were quake-devastated, they closed the cafe for fear that a neighboring structure could topple onto them. Then they closed the street as well.
The building neighboring Molinari Caffe to the north, the Alexander Square building, may have been the most photographed building from the earthquake. It’s been surrounded by tarp-covered scaffolding since, which completely blocks the view of the Caffe from Second Street. The building to the south was also badly damaged, and tarps covering it block the view from Third Street. Brown Street was completely closed for months. It’s re-opened as more narrow, with K rail in place that blocks the entrance to the deli completely, except from the intersections seventy-five feet away. The courthouse directly across the street will be closed for years, and is completely fenced off. Molinari Caffe is the proverbial island unto itself. Still, the Caffe is open six days a week, although business is way off. Molinari looks forward to the day the construction on each side of him is finished and the street re-opened, if he can survive that long.
Molinari dreamed of opening a coffee shop twenty years ago, but as it often does, life got in the way. Several years ago, while working in San Rafael, Molinari befriended Alfred Peet understudy John Weaver, the master roaster at Peet’s Coffee for twenty years, who is now roasting his own coffees. Five years ago, Molinari lost both his father and uncle within six months of each other. That was his “life is short” wake up call, and his dream of opening a coffee shop was re-awakened. Molinari visited coffee shops all over the country, taking ideas from places he liked. Blending what he learned, and with help from
partners John and Michael Brown, Molinari Caffe became a reality.
Molinari Caffe is one of the few places where people can purchase Weaver’s full line coffee and tea in bulk, including the rare Jamaican Blue Mountain. Molinari refers to it as, “Heaven in a cup.”
Molinari is crazy about good coffee, and believes nothing should ever have to be added to a cup. He uses everything—his cold-coffee is yesterday’s blend, which he says is better with age. He also developed a Nutella coffee, his own signature drink. His food menu includes half a dozen sandwiches, including a sandwich of the day, but he’ll make anything you want.
Molinari’s food output is limited by the size of his kitchen, which led to a brilliant idea and several creative partnerships. Using Molinari’s recipes, Alexis Baking Company prepares pasta, chicken and potato salads for Molinari. Both ABC and Sweetie Pies provide baked goods, and Bui Bistro makes soups. The Caffe features Zoe’s meats from Santa Rosa and Kohler Chocolates. Molinari Caffe is a coffee shop, but it’s also a deli with a lot to offer.
Molinari is very proud of his Molinari Private Reserve, a wine-infused coffee that’s available in regular and decaf. Molinari T.A.P. (Tastings and Pints) is a program he introduced last year. Wednesday nights from 4:30 to 8:30, Molinari features a small production local winery, paired with charcuterie and a relaxing place to kick back after a day of work. Thursday nights will focus on local beers. The program will begin with a brew from Scott Kendall of Carpe Diem and Jason Holman from Holman Cellars.
Molinari is committed to keeping the business going. “This place is home to everybody, staff and customers alike,” he said. He hears encouragement from all over the Bay Area. “I’ve had people from Corte Madera, San Francisco and Sacramento tell me they love our coffee shop, and can’t believe all we’ve had to endure.”
The coffee is good and hot, the food offerings are great, and the entertainment is fun. Visit Molinari Caffe now, and help keep the dream alive!
828 Brown Street, Napa | (707) 927-3623 | molinaricaffe.com
Open Monday – Friday 7AM – 5PM | Saturday 7AM – 4PM