If you’ve ever spent time in the Village of Greenport, chances are you’ve heard of Aldo Maiorana. And if you don’t know him personally, you’ve probably spotted his curly silver hair through the window of his eponymous Front Street shop, where he roasts coffee each morning.
Those who get their fix at Aldo’s Coffee Company every day recognize him as a smiling barista who greets their children and friends.
But while Maiorana has operated in Greenport for almost 30 years, a coffee shop wasn’t always his plan.
Born in Sicily and raised in France from the age of 9, Maiorana moved to Greenport in 1978 after traveling the world. During his childhood, he worked for a shoemaker and on a farm while attending school, eventually joining the French Navy at 18.
While there, Maiorana worked in the food sector, managing dinner receptions. Despite his background in cooking, however, Maiorana doesn’t call himself a chef.
“I did not go to school to be a chef,” he said. “I’m a home cook. I learned in grandma’s kitchen.”
Similarly, Maiorana said, he’s not a coffee expert. He just knows what he likes. Even so, when he opened his Greenport shop in 1987, he initially focused on specialty foods.
“Times were not very good and we kept changing,” he said.
One thing that was always consistent, however, was coffee. The year he opened his shop, Maiorana purchased a small roasting machine from a California manufacturer so he could make espresso the way he likes it — strong — and serve it that way to customers.
Shortly thereafter, he began studying how to make biscotti. Once he mastered that, he began shipping his products to stores around the country. Today, he is arguably best known for his coffee, biscotti and scones.
Linda Ortiz and Sally Heitel, who have been customers for two decades, start each morning at the shop with Ortiz’s dog Yanquee, who enjoys one of Maiorana’s croissants for breakfast.
“It’s fresher than any other coffee,” Heitel said recently as she sipped on an ice coffee.
“It starts my day,” Ortiz said, adding that Maiorana himself is another reason she always returns.
“I love that man,” she said. “He’s a funny guy and very warm and sincere.”
Although he doesn’t see himself as an expert, Maiorana’s customers recognize and appreciate his craft.
“I come here because he makes the best coffee around,” said Jacqueline Dube of Greenport. “He’s a true artist and he’s a wonderful man.”
Maiorana’s strategy? Simplicity.
“We don’t do any extravaganza,” he said. “We don’t do the syrups or the flavors, the décor in the cup. I’m more interested in the substance, the taste.”
While he drinks only espresso — multiple two-shot cups a day — Aldo’s beverage offerings include lattes, cappuccino and iced or hot coffee.
“If something is good, you don’t need a big menu or a big variety,” Maiorana said. “I’ve been surviving. I’ve been moving forward with just a couple of things because I believe in what I do.”
He arrives at his shop at 5 a.m. during the summer, 6 a.m. in the winter, and starts his day roasting coffee, checking the beans every few minutes until they look just right.
His favorite part of the day, he said, is interacting with customers, particularly children who come in with their parents.
“I like people because communication is the way of life,” he said.“It’s not about buying and selling.”
Even if he’s in the middle of a task when his regulars stop by, Maiorana stops what he’s doing to say hello and give them a hug. The most rewarding part of his job, he said, are the smiles on his customers’ faces — and when they return clean plates.
Maiorana, who works seven days a week, doesn’t wear a watch.
“I don’t look at the clock. I just go and do,” he said.
As far as business goes, Maiorana doesn’t plan to make major changes any time soon. And he doesn’t consider himself a businessman: If he truly were one, he said, he would be trying to do more. Instead, he is focused on doing less, but doing it better.
“It’s about satisfaction. It’s not about how much money you make and what you own, it’s about sharing,” he said. “If you can share what you feel, what you know, what you have, it’s great.”