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Local 'coffee whisperer' Simone Vetrano to change locations

Vetrano has been a barista at Foodland's espresso stand for 13 years

Posted: September 3, 2013 - 7:16pm  |  Updated: September 3, 2013 - 11:01pm
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Simoné Vetrano greets Bobby "Baldini" Reynolds at the Foodland IGA espresso stand on Tuesday where she has worked for the last 13 years. Vetrano is moving to manage R Espresso on Hospital Drive next week.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Simoné Vetrano greets Bobby "Baldini" Reynolds at the Foodland IGA espresso stand on Tuesday where she has worked for the last 13 years. Vetrano is moving to manage R Espresso on Hospital Drive next week.

For nearly 200 Juneauites each day, the morning starts with Simoné.

For more than a decade, Simoné Vetrano has served up joe to a loyal base of customers at the Foodland IGA espresso stand. Labor Day morning was no different — she greeted the stand’s steady stream of patrons with the cheerful recognition they’ve grown to love and expect.

“Nate, how are you doing?” she called to a man who approached the counter as she started whipping up his usual.

Nathan Rivas has been a customer of the stand for 13 years — as long as Vetrano’s been working there. He’s also been her Food Services of America representative for just as long.

“We’ve been through a lot, Nathan and I, over 13 years,” Vetrano said.

“Yes, we have, and I love you, Simoné,” Rivas replied as he grabbed his drink.

Vetrano said she can count about 20 current customers who have been frequenting the Foodland stand for all of her 13 years there. She said seeing her oldest friends each day makes her job the best in the world.

“There’s not a day I don’t look forward to seeing these people,” Vetrano said.

But as of Wednesday, Sept. 11, she’ll be changing locations, taking a management position at coffee shop R Espresso on Hospital Drive. The change comes in the wake of Foodland’s decision to trade its espresso stand for an in-store Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. location. The move “just fits,” Vetrano said. She’ll be manning the shop from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekday.

She’s already making changes at R Espresso. She and owner Tim DeHart decided this week to change the brand it serves from Heritage to Raven’s Brew Coffee, a Ketchikan company.

DeHart said having Vetrano on board will maximize his business’ potential. It’s gone through some hard times, he said.

“I know Simone can — she has do much talent and stamina,” DeHart said. “I know this is my standout.”

On Labor Day at Foodland, a young couple approached the espresso counter. Before the woman could order, Vetrano was already cooking.

“Mocha with hazelnut? Grande, right?”

If she can, Vetrano greets each customer by name. She said she has about 70 percent of her customer’s names memorized, and about 80 percent of their drink orders.

“My good memory — my boyfriends hate that about me,” Vetrano said, laughing.

Her memory and quick hands are what landed her the job at Foodland all those years ago, she said. She had been bartending at the Triangle Club when a friend suggested she try making coffee, something she’d never done before. She started at the cafe part-time and fell in love with the work, she said. Multitasking, chatting up customers and thinking ahead five drinks at a time now come easily to her.

“When I have a crowd of people and I’m at the machine, it’s like a ballet for me,” Vetrano said.

Making coffee was one of the few careers she hadn’t tried. Vetrano has worked in the oil fields of Montana. For years, she was a commercial shrimper, making trips from Key West, Fla., to Baton Rouge, La. Since moving to Juneau in 1998, she’s bartended at nearly every establishment in town. But of all her adventures, as she calls them, nothing compares to the thrill she gets when she’s in her groove at the espresso counter.

“Shrimping was tame compared to my busy times,” Vetrano said. “When I have 20 people in line and I know they only have a 10 minute break, that’s when I’m at my best.”

Despite her adventurous spirit, Vetrano only considered leaving Juneau after the Foodland stand closes down “for about 30 seconds.” Her daughter and granddaughter recently moved here from Florida, and Vetrano is enjoying the luxury of having loved ones close by. She’s not planning to leave the city — especially the people — she’s grown to love for a very long time.

“Maybe after I dance at my granddaughter’s wedding,” Vetrano said.

Monday at the Foodland espresso counter, a customer asked for $3 cash back while paying for her coffee, meant to be a tip for Vetrano.

“That’s as much as your drink costs,” Vetrano protested.

“Well, you’re worth every penny,” she responded.

Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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