Paul Odom, whose family owned Seattle's Coca-Cola franchise, was in his early 20s back in 1992, when he launched a coffee company named Fonté. The timing was perfect: although Starbucks had been around for a while, the specialty coffee phenomenon had not yet taken wing. He hired a full-time Master Roaster, Steve Smith and committed Fonté to serving a variety of exacting clients (top hotels, famous chefs and restaurants worldwide) with small-batch, custom-roasted coffee beans. After twenty years of building relationships in the Emerald City, he's ready to expand beyond it.
Odom has had a sales team in New York for the past four years. One additional assignment, he tells Eater: find a spot for a Fonté Café and Wine Bar in the Big Apple. He's not discouraged by the relative lack of success encountered by Seattle's Via Tribunali on the Lower East Side. He won't comment, on the record, about what they did wrong, but says, "We're going to do it right. There's so much more we can do."
"Nobody does a café like this in Seattle," Odom says, glass of Prosecco in hand to celebrate his company's 20th birthday, "but you can't pay the rent if all you serve is coffee."
He's particularly thrilled with his specialized selection of charcuterie. And yet, in Europe, this is what a café is all about. "We needed to look at this space as more than just a coffee roaster."
[Photo: Ronald Holden]