The second largest city in Spain, Barcelona boasts a temperate climate year-round, and is home to many parks and squares lush with greenery, all of which lure tourists and people looking for a fresh start in life. Roastery and coffee shop Three Marks Coffee, founded in 2018, sits close to the city center.
The store’s name is simply a nod to its three co-founders: Happy Manager Marc Aguyé, who oversees store management; Marco Paccagnella, who is in charge of brand marketing; and Marco De Rebotti, who is responsible for all things coffee.
Aguyé and De Rebotti were originally co-workers at a coffee shop, and Paccagnella was one of its regular customers. Three Marks Coffee is the product of a chance encounter of the three men with similar names, and same ambitions.
Though De Rebotti now says he believes in the power of teamwork, he initially planned to open a shop by himself. His discovery of coffee dates back to his stint as a hairdresser in London when he was in his 20’s. And ever since, he has been captivated by coffee. In our interview, De Rebotti has shared with us how he arrived at where he is today.
Good people create good vibes
At Three Marks Coffee, we try to serve all customers with the same attitude and build friendly relationships with them. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to a select clientele. Rather, we wanted to give our shop an intimacy that lets people of all walks of life feel joyful and at home, from the elderly to youngsters.”
This philosophy behind Three Marks is reflected in its recruitment policy.
“We focus on applicants’ personality. We don’t ask about their skills and size them up because they can acquire coffee-related knowledge and techniques after joining us. We can teach people how to make coffee, but we can’t teach them how to be a nice person. This is important because good vibes of a place come from good people.”
With an emphasis on teamwork, Three Marks gathers its entire staff for workshops once or twice a week. Having drinks and pizza with his staff after the workshops and deepening relationships is part of the job, De Rebotti says.
“All our staff look forward to these gatherings. They come back the next day feeling closer together than the day before. I think these opportunities also help them focus on their work. Above all, it is a great asset for us to see that they are proud of being part of Three Marks.
It is a coincidence that we co-founded the company. But with the three of us combined, we get to see things from a broader perspective and achieve a lot more than by ourselves. We believe in the power of teamwork partly because we all have played team sports like soccer and basketball.”
Going back to roots
De Rebotti, who has the air of an artisan, previously worked as a hairdresser. Chasing a dream to hone his skills and work on fashion shows, he moved from his native Italy to London in 2004 in his early 20’s.
But as a foreigner in London, he didn’t have anyone to turn to. No family members. No relatives. No friends or acquaintances. Engulfed with loneliness, De Rebotti often frittered away whole days sitting on a sofa at a cafe and browsing the internet. One day, a cup of cappuccino he had at a cafe grabbed hold of his heart.
“It tasted better than cappuccino in Italy. I thought to myself, ‘Something is going on here.’ I felt a strong desire to create a fashionable, cool place myself. That’s perhaps partly because I’d always admired friends and relatives who ran restaurants and bars back home.”
It was only natural that specialty coffee grew more and more fascinating as he delved deeper into coffee. The more he learned about it, the more allure he found about this bounty of nature.
“I’d always thought coffee was dark and brown until I looked at a photo of coffee cherries for the first time. And that image brought to mind tomatoes I grew up around.”
When De Rebotti was a child, during summer breaks, his grandmother would come over from her house nearby and wake him up, urging him to help her with vegetable harvest. That picture of coffee cherries brought back these memories with fond nostalgia.
“Coffee gave me a chance to go back to my roots,” De Rebotti recalls.
Coffee added a moment of solace to De Rebotti’s day. But it wasn’t enough to soothe away his lack of motivation on his job as a hairdresser – even though he achieved his ambition of taking part in Fashion Week.
“I didn’t like the atmosphere at work. I couldn’t find joy in working with people with different values. Over time, I began to itch to create something from scratch, surrounded by people with ways of thinking similar to mine.”
After moving to Barcelona, De Rebotti looked for a job, without success. Determined to turn over a new leaf and venture into an unknown world, De Rebotti shifted his attention to coffee. It was around this time he happened to come across a tidy, cool coffee shop.
De Rebotti wasted no time asking its owner to hire him. But having just opened, the store didn’t have much financial wiggle room to employ extra staff. The owner told Rebotti, “I could let you work here and teach you how to brew coffee.”
De Rebotti welcomed this suggestion with open arms. After all, he had already made up his mind to open his own shop in a few years.
“That shop was like an academy for me. I wanted to make as much contribution to the store as possible while doing as best I could to absorb skills and knowledge.”
“I spent three and a half years working at that shop. I had a very fulfilling time there. Though I started with no experience in the coffee industry or restaurant business, I was able to experience many things from roasting to serving customers to cupping.”
During those three and a half years, De Rebotti worked a separate job at a coffee bar to gain the skills to brew coffee faster. For De Rebotti, who couldn’t find life’s purpose in the hairdressing industry, the world of coffee gave him a long-coveted sense of belonging, filling him with the joy of following his passion.
“90% of people in the coffee industry are nice. I would happily cheer on other roasters in Barcelona if they set out to sell their coffee abroad. Or if a new grinder comes out in the United States, I’ll be glad to use it.
Specialty coffee is such a small world that it has a lot of room for growth. That’s precisely why we shouldn’t stay cooped up in our own world but instead grow together, making this community bigger and better. I believe that’s the more desirable path. I think this mindset is something shared by other people who came over to this industry from different sectors like design and finance.”
It’s been about three and a half years since Three Marks opened in Barcelona in 2018. Regular patrons who live nearby are “grateful for not having to travel some distance to the city center or elsewhere to get good coffee,” says De Rebotti. Three Marks’ broad fan base is visible in its Instagram account, which has a following of over 10,000 users.
“We might open a few more shops in the future. But our mission will remain the same – to always deliver the best of everything, from customer service to the taste of coffee. We hope to visit origin countries more often, test various kinds of coffee and have more direct trade.
Before the three of us started Three Marks, we promised to each other to make a special cafe. We wanted to achieve a high level in everything, not just the taste of coffee but also how we serve customers, how we present coffee and what music to play in the shop. Our ideal is for each of us to concentrate on our own strengths and perform our work to perfection.”
The three co-founders actually didn’t have an intent to team up from the get go. The trio was rather the product of a serendipitous encounter of three men who happened to have the same ambitions. De Rebotti says even if he hadn’t met the other two co-founders, he would probably have opened his own shop.
“I love coffee, after all. I love its taste, and it makes me feel better. I’m attracted by all the elements behind a cup of coffee, including the producer, machines and packaging designs. This industry entails many professions, such as green coffee buyers, makers of coffee bags and other merchandise as well as marketers, not to mention roasters and baristas. That’s one of the appeals of the coffee industry.
Of course, now that I run a business, my feeling is a little different from when I started out, because passion alone won’t be enough. Sometimes I feel a bit depressed when I face financial difficulties. But my love for coffee has remained just as strong. Even today, I’m always on the lookout for new cafes, new varieties and new recipes, letting my heart guide me where it may.”
For De Rebotti, spending a day off at home doesn’t mean a day entirely away from coffee. He calls it a hobby to read books written by coffee experts and listen to podcasts about coffee. When he discovered coffee in London, it must have soon become a precious thing he couldn’t live without.
“Thinking about coffee has a positive impact on myself and our business. It’s a happy time. On the other hand, it’s not healthy to keep thinking about work every day. Though it’s difficult, I think I should disconnect a little more from work on weekends and spend as much time as possible with my family.”
Originally written in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi
Photos by Tomas Ledesma
My favorite time is when I make my first espresso of the day. I prepare it at the roastery every morning, looking toward the port outside the window. As an Italian, I love espresso. It gets me ready to start another day of work.