Ditta Artigianale was founded as a micro roastery in the Italian city of Florence in 2013. The company operates three cafes as well as online retail and wholesale.
Co-founder Francesco Sanapo has three national barista championships under his belt. His scope of activity is ever-expanding, with his recent endeavors including a self-made documentary series that follows him as he tours coffee origin countries. But his underlying belief has remained the same all along. We’ve spoken to Francesco to find out the philosophy brewing within his company and its name Ditta Artigianale, or “a factory of artisans.”
Reinventing the image of artisans
If you have stereotypical ideas about artisans – quiet, hard to please and introverted –, then you’ll be surprised to meet Francesco, the man who founded “a factory of artisans,” Ditta Artigianale. A charming, friendly, and at times playful smooth talker, Francesco often appears, and sometimes even posts selfies, on his company’s social media. But that is only one aspect of who he is.
“I want to be someone who embodies and promotes a new model of artisans that fits the current era. There are less and less artisans in the coffee industry, and they are losing the luster of their former glory. That’s why I want to revive the value of artisans once again.”
At Ditta Artigianale, newly joined baristas are not allowed to touch espresso machines for at least six months. Under this rule, all new baristas go through a period of intensive training to accumulate skills, knowledge and experience needed to serve the best cup of coffee.
Yet, Francesco focuses on so much more than just skills. Here at Ditta Artigianale, even those who aren’t directly involved in coffee, from chefs to marketers to waiters, are required to receive coffee training.
“We use coffee training to educate staff about the spirit of care as artisans. I want them to recognize the value of coffee and deepen their understanding of it. We hold a company-wide meeting every three months to explain the importance of caring. I advise them to pay attention to even the smallest of their own actions because we are responsible for everything we do.
The important thing is to have an artisan approach, making the best use of all your knowledge and learnings to pour love and passion into what you do. This attitude is the foundation of our company, and also of artisans of the new era.”
Making the industry a better place
This motto is also a principle Francesco lives by.
“I spend three to four months a year in origin countries. If you want to know whether a producer is someone you can work with, there is no better way than to visit and speak directly with him. Sometimes I build relationships with producers by sitting down for dinner and having beer together. We need to face the same direction if we are to work together and make our partnership a success.
Specialty coffee is special not just as a drink but in its entire process, from producers to the cup. That’s why I pay a fair price to everyone including coffee pickers. A fair price is a price that makes everyone involved in the supply chain happy. I also respect this earth, which produces coffee. The world has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. And there is an urgent need for us to do business in an ethical and sustainable way.”
Ditta Artigianale’s cafes not only use recyclable paper cups for takeout but also encourage customers to eat and drink inside. The company also sells original bamboo cups. With these cups, customers can get 50 cents off their drinks.
“After I had my first son, I started to think that I must leave a better planet for his generation. Now, an emergency alarm is going off in my head. Ever since I founded Ditta Artigianale, I’ve always focused not just on serving a delicious cup of coffee, but on improving my approach that leads up to the cup. And that philosophy exploded after becoming a father.”
Francesco’s emphasis on sustainability permeates every small detail of his work. For instance, he pays his staff a salary that’s around 20% higher than an industry average. His employees also receive two consecutive days off every week, something not so common in the industry. Ditta Artigianale also provides its members with mental health support by an in-house psychotherapist.
Always yearning to make the coffee industry a better place, Francesco goes beyond the role of a typical business owner. A self-proclaimed coffee expert, Francesco also produces the documentary series “Coffee Hunter” with a team of cinematographers, editors and sponsors he put together himself.
In the series, Francesco visits origin nations in search of the best coffee and interacts with locals. The first two episodes, featuring his visit to Uganda, were aired on Italy’s national TV channel at the end of 2021.
“It is a food channel. So I received a lot of reactions from patissiers, chefs and sommeliers. It was great that I was able to connect with people in areas where I didn’t have many connections before. I plan to start the same project in Colombia in 2022.
I’m an ambitious person who always wants to grow. I started my career as a barista. But that doesn’t mean I have to end my career as a barista. I want to set an example for young baristas who are full of hopes for the future.”
Ditta Artigianale runs three cafes in Florence, a famous tourist destination also known as the bustling center of culture and art. The company plans to open two more shops in the city in 2022 before expanding into other regions. What is driving Francesco to make his business bigger?
“There is increasing awareness of specialty coffee in origin countries. Many young people have a desire to grow specialty coffee, hoping to do something different from their parents. But they don’t have a market to sell specialty coffee to, nor do they know how to sell it. That’s why I need to communicate with the general public and spread the value of specialty coffee.
I don’t see this as work anymore. It is an obsession. Specialty coffee is such a tiny world. I need to change that.
I need to tell people what we do, what it means to buy coffee from producers and what baristas are. I believe that educating people about these things will eventually help them find the best cup of coffee for themselves.”
Passion is contagious
Francesco entered the coffee world because of his father. When he was 14 years old, his father took him to his coffee bar in Puglia, southern Italy. That experience offered young Francesco a glimpse into the hospitality industry.
“I used to help my father when he needed a hand. I was there enjoying meeting new people rather than working. I believe that meeting new people is the most beautiful thing in life. Meeting new people helps us grow and gives meaning to why we exist on this planet.
But my father, being an artisan himself, never let me touch his espresso machine for six years because he thought I wasn’t a full-fledged barista yet. That was frustrating. So I used to sneak into the bar and make espresso with the machine when he wasn’t around.”
Francesco moved to Florence when he was 20 years old to start his life afresh, and joined the coffee industry, a world that was always close to him.
A turning point came around 2005, when he was 25 years old. An encounter with specialty coffee prompted him to change his approach. And he started working as a coffee consultant, taking charge of quality control and staff training at medium and large coffee companies.
But that job couldn’t fulfill his wish to introduce new approaches to coffee to Italy and give the drink a new value. This experience ultimately led Francesco to found Ditta Artigianale, with the ambition to put up the Italian flag in the world of specialty coffee.
Italy once prided itself in the fact that there was no Starbucks cafe in the country. Howard Schultz, the former chairperson responsible for the company’s massive international success, drew inspiration for Starbucks cafes from an espresso bar he visited when he traveled to Milan in 1983 for the first time. In a country steeped in coffee traditions, spreading specialty coffee was no easy task.
“New things always threaten people who want to preserve tradition, or invite pushback. A single cup of espresso at my cafe costs twice the price of average shops. Some customers have confronted me about it. And I often received complaints that our coffee was too fruity.”
An episode with one customer, a man in his 70’s, is still vivid in Francesco’s memory. The man, who visited Ditta Artigianale a few days after its grand opening, came in, placed one euro coin on the counter and ordered coffee. But alas, one euro wouldn’t get him any coffee at Ditta Artigianale.
“I’m sorry, sir. Our coffee starts from 1.5 euro a cup. But let me explain the reason behind the price,” Francesco told the man.
But the man, becoming too infuriated to listen to a single word of Francesco’s, yelled all kinds of expletives in Italian before spitting out as he left, “This store will have been gone in six months. This store and your concept will fail!”
Six months later, Ditta Artigianale was still alive and kicking. One day, Francesco saw the man walking outside, apparently peeking into the store. Francesco asked a colleague to take over the espresso machine and went out to talk to the man.
“Please give me five minutes. Let me explain why this store hasn’t failed, and what we do here.”
Sitting together over espresso, Francesco told the man about everything that goes into a single cup of coffee. His passion apparently won the man over, and he is now the most frequent customer who visits Ditta Artigianale every day.
Continuing to rewrite history
A three-time winner of the Italian national barista championship (2010, 2011, 2013), Francesco came in last place in his debut competition. It was a crushing defeat that served him a rude awakening. But Francesco was undaunted; the loss only ignited his passion. His competitive nature spurred him to work harder still and hone his craft, turning this setback into a source of motivation, and ultimately into the accolade as the national champion.
Francesco has one unforgettable memory. After winning his first championship, he called his father right away. And when Francesco jokingly said, “Dad, I’ve become the No.1 barista in Italy! Can I touch the espresso machine now?” what he heard in response was sobbing from the other end of the line. Because Francesco had never seen his father cry before, this memory was deeply etched in his mind.
“My father is a traditional and conservative person. So he paid attention to the smallest of details when making a cup of coffee. To him, making coffee was something of a ritual. And he poured all his experience and knowledge into it. There are certain things you need to change to adapt to the current era. But my father’s belief – Without experience, you can’t serve the best coffee to your customers – is still true today.
Simply put, my mission is to respect history, create a new chapter in history, and keep rewriting it. To pass on history to the next generation, you have to keep studying and continue to grow. What our generation needs to do is to carry on the history and tradition created by our parents and our grandparents.
But to do that successfully requires different promotion and marketing strategies because nowadays you can buy anything just with the click of a mouse on Amazon and have it delivered to your doorstep. Florence is home to many long-beloved craftsmen who sell unique knives, wallets and leather products. But it takes a lot of time and effort to go there and buy their goods. And they are more expensive than their counterparts on Amazon.”
In this era of instant gratification, where consumers have more choices and tend to opt for convenience over character, tradition is in danger of disappearing in just about every field. That is precisely why we need someone like Francesco, someone who recognizes the value of things, promotes it and shares it with people. Francesco’s message has a timeless, universal truth, especially coming from a man who has always pushed his boundaries, carving his way from a barista to a coffee expert.
“Even in my personal life, I try to use products that have a story behind them. That’s not to say that all things I own were made by small-scale artisans. For instance, I buy wine made by a large-scale vineyard. That’s because it’s a dynamic company that uses a different approach from old-fashioned businesses and farms. For me, the keyword is ‘care’. What matters to me most is whether a product was made with care.”
Originally written in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi
Photos by Nedo Baglioni
I like the coffee my wife makes for me at the beginning of the day. I drink it with my family. My wife always complains, “You are the coffee champion, aren’t you? Why am I making coffee for you?” For me, my first coffee of the day carries the message, “This is the start of another beautiful day.”
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