The distinct aroma of roasting coffee beans emanating from Aldo’s Coffee Company has been a staple along Front Street in Greenport for more than 30 years.
It’s around 5 a.m. when Aldo Maiorana arrives at the shop to begin the first roast of the day. His double-shot espresso is in hand as he bakes biscotti and preps the counter in anticipation of the morning’s customers, before returning to the roaster to oversee the beans and greet patrons walking in.
“You have to be present,” he said of the process of roasting his small-batch coffee. “You cannot just flip a switch on a machine.”
That manual process is present in everything Maiorana does at the shop, where he hand-roasts and packages up to 200 pounds a day, while also serving most of the cups ordered in his shop.
This personal touch and the Old World nostalgia at Aldo’s makes it hard to imagine a time when Greenport was without a coffee shop — but that was the reality when Maiorana arrived in the village in 1978. At the time, he recalled, there was only an A&P supermarket (now IGA) that sold pre-ground or instant coffees that came in one-pound cans.
“It was a necessity,” Maiorana explained of opening his shop. “I had to learn and started making coffee, breads and biscotti for myself.”
Born in Sicily, Maiorana was raised in France from the age of 9, spending his youth working for a shoemaker and on a farm while attending school. At 18, he joined the French Navy, serving in the food sector and managing dinner receptions. Even with this background in the kitchen and passion for cooking, he hardly considers himself a chef — though fans of his biscotti and scones beg to differ.
“They are the best I ever had in my life,” said Greenport resident Jean Mellano, who has been coming to Aldo’s for a decade. “One time, he didn’t have chocolate biscotti so he gave me a plain biscotti with a hunk of chocolate. It was a treat. You can’t get that anywhere else.”
Maiorana admits he is no coffee expert either, but he’s firm on how he takes his double-shot espresso: strong; no milk, no sugar. He’s been serving customers this style of unadulterated boldness since opening the Front Street café in 1987.
“I like to taste the coffee,” he said. “I don’t want sugar or milk. I want something of substance, of taste. I look for body and texture … like having a good red wine. You wouldn’t dilute it by pouring in water.”
The organic beans, imported from places like Costa Rica, Bali and Yemen, possess the rich quality Maiorana expects from coffee. Over-complicated drinks are not on his menu. Aldo’s doesn’t offer flavored syrups or much variety on its decidedly straightforward menu of lattes, cappuccino and iced or hot coffee. That is just fine by customers.
“You could never come in here and ask for a ‘tall’ or a ‘grande,’ ” Mellano said with a laugh. “He ran Starbucks out of town a few years ago. He runs a tight ship and there’s no frills.”
Aldo’s has evolved into its status as a village mainstay. Maiorana has long had an eye for niche markets and adaptation, and the business has undergone a handful of incarnations over the past three decades. Back in the ’80s, he focused on specialty foods, offering high-end meats, artisan breads and even wedding catering. He briefly opened a sushi bar, Aldo’s Too, across the street at the current Noah’s location, before deciding to pare down.
“It was a matter of survival,” he said. “You had to learn how to swim in a town where the options were very limited. Then, after the summer, there was nobody here. But I was not really a businessman and I had a dream that I could just have a shop where I’d serve what I liked — coffee and biscotti — and share it with my customers. It was what was missing in my life.”
So Maiorana continues making coffee, shipping it to restaurants and shops across the East End and to loyal customers around the world.
“His coffee is addicting,” said longtime patron Liz Morrison. “I think it’s all the love he puts into it.”