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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Full of Beans: Co-owners Frank and Julie Nesci (right, with baby Anthony) and staff members Jessica Taormino and Tiffany Harbrecht sample the wares at Almaden Roasting Company.

The Anti-Starbucks

Local cafe focuses on people over profits

By Joe Mangelli

Howard Shultz, eat your heart out. There's a local hangout in Almaden Valley where commuters wolf down their morning java and bagel, mothers socialize at noon and laptop impresarios check out their share of the Dow. It's a neighborhood hangout, it's friendly and it's called the Almaden Roasting Company (6055 Meridian Ave., San Jose; 408.323.9294)--the brainchild of Frank Nesci and Chad Dowling, two soccer players who met at Sonoma State, kept in touch when Chad moved on to Saint Mary's and turned pro with the San Jose Grizzlies, and eventually worked together in the Santa Clara County Probation Department for a time. They always had the notion that one day they would create a business that was community based. A coffeehouse was perfect. They learned the "bean craft" working part time in the coffee dens of Palo Alto and saw an opportunity when a video store went belly up at the Almaden Oaks Shopping Center. With lots of family support, they put their effort where their dreams were. "At first we were going to keep the place small and cozy," Frank says, "but we opted for big and cozy." What evolved is a work in progress: comfortable wicker chairs and couches, nooks and crannies. People feel at home here. Weather permitting, Almaden Valleyites can be seen taking in the sun, curbside. Mocha is one of the most popular offerings, made with pure Ghirardelli chocolate. Wisely, they serve House of Bagels bagels. They're boiled, not steamed--like the stuff from the land of True Bagels, whence the Sopranos hail. Lots of people stay through lunch hour, so the partners added reasonably priced quiches (Lorraine or broccoli with cheese, among others) for $2.95. If you wish to go deep, pepper chicken or pesto chicken calzones are also only $2.95. After eight months, plans are in the works for a French press, which will allow patrons to brew their own. "We want to be the best in Almaden," Frank adds. And as for Howard Shultz--the chairman and CEO of that big coffeeshop predator high atop the Space Needle--he's crunching the numbers as we speak, looking for prey. We hope he bypasses this one.

If something stronger than coffee is your thing, Tasters Guild International is also offering a culinary adventure, taking place at the Adobe Creek Restaurant in Los Altos on Feb. 8 and featuring the wines of Handley Cellars of the Anderson and the Dry Creek valleys. The four-course menu includes house-cured gravlax, goat cheese and field greens salad, grilled double-cut pork chops, pear tart and fruit coulis for $85 per person ($75 for members). For reservations, call 831.338.1782.

And here's another grape escape: Mirassou Vineyards is kicking off its Spring 2000 Candlelight Dinners on Feb. 5 among the casks at the winery in the east San Jose foothills. Chef de Cuisine David Page is offering a sumptuous meal featuring seared ahi tuna with leeks, celery-root ravioli, orange crème brûlée and more for $87 per person. To extend the ecstasy, make reservations for the Great Escape package, which includes an overnight stay at the Sheraton in Milpitas. This pre-Valentine weekend includes breakfast, transportation to and from the winery, and a drinkable "welcome" for $350 per couple. For reservations, call 408.274.4000.

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From the February 3-9, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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