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After Hours: A Coffee-Fueled Journey Through New York

by , April 17, 2014
When Elisabeth Cardiello’s entrepreneur father left her 5,000 percolators, she took over the family business — and launched her own line of coffee along with it.

Entrepreneurship is a unique, 24/7 journey that often blurs the lines between personal life and professional life. Unlike a typical corporate job, there’s no punching out and calling it a day. Running your own business doesn’t come with an “off” switch and entrepreneurs are often at their most productive during late-night conversations and brainstorms fueled by cold pizza or cocktails. It’s also when they’re at their most colorful. In “After Hours,” a new OPEN Forum photo essay series, we tag along for the ride, to capture this slice of entrepreneurial life.

Elisabeth Cardiello has always had entrepreneurship in her blood. Her father, Peter Cardiello, came to the Unites States from Italy when he was 14 years old and lived the quintessential self-made story. A serial entrepreneur, Peter Cardiello launched a number of companies, including his own line of coffee percolators, called the Unimatic, which he patented in 1962.

After her father passed away about three years ago, Elisabeth Cardiello went to clean out his warehouse. As she went through it, she found a closet stacked from floor to ceiling with unsold Unimatics. The more Unimatics she removed, the more she discovered, deeper inside the closet. “You can’t find the walls because, apparently, what I thought was a closet opened up into an entire room, literally, of floor-to-ceiling coffee pots,” she says.

“Getting rid of them would never have entered my mind,” Cardiello says. “It immediately felt like they were my dad’s last attempt to start a business with me. Plus, it presented such a fun challenge.”

Thus began her own entrepreneurial adventure as the founder and CEO of Caffe Unimatic. In addition to selling and promoting her father’s unique line of percolators, Cardiello has also launched her own line of coffee.

We recently followed Cardiello on an evening as she caught up with friends, fellow entrepreneurs, and mentors. They talked coffee, musicals, and Coffee: The Musical.

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2014

6:49 p.m. Cardiello puts the finishing touches on a Unimatic percolator before shipping it off to its new owner. Included in the sack is an instruction manual, a burlap rose, and a handwritten thank-you note from Cardiello. “I want to find each of them a good home. I can’t describe it as a product—they’re little pieces of my heart,” Cardiello says.

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2014

7:05 p.m. Outside the Peter Lik gallery, where she’s hosting tonight’s coffee tasting, Cardiello (center) is accompanied by her intern, Ellen Huffman (left), and her friend, Rachel Mariotti, carrying her Unimatic percolators. When she worked as an analyst at Credit Suisse, Cardiello was regularly met with eye rolls from people who couldn’t relate to her job. Now, when she mentions that she owns a coffee company, “People’s eyes light up, because everyone has this emotional attachment to coffee, or they know someone that does,” she says.

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2014

7:34 p.m. Cardiello holds a private tasting for friends, to give them a sample of her new flavors and to solicit their feedback. A tasting consists of three basic parts. First, the tasters take in the smell of the black coffee. The tasters then take a sip and consider whether they like it or not. Finally, they’re asked to describe what other hints and flavors they detect in the coffee.

“To me, it tastes so different black than it does with milk, the way I normally have it, so to be able to compare [it] to what you normally drink, we did black and then we did however you take your coffee normally,” Cardiello says.

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2014

7:44 p.m. Cardiello pours a cup for her girlfriends, while soliciting their feedback.

Not only does Cardiello sell percolators, but she also has her own line of coffee, created specifically for the Caffe Unimatic percolator. Her friends tasted two of her San Pietro brunetta blends, which are medium blends, plus two new Scura blends. Scura is the Italian word for dark.

“I was thinking of how to have a naming scheme that made some sense and meant something, so San Pietro was my dad’s town,” Cardiello says. She says that future blends will also be named after cities in Italy. She prefers to use Italian names so the ‘members of the Unimatic family,’ as she refers to them, can get a closer look at Italy.

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2014

7:55 p.m. The percolators Cardiello sells are her father’s originals, which were made over 50 years ago. So far, she’s sold approximately 250 of the 5,000 units and has no plans to make more because, she says, “There are only a certain amount of people that can have this experience, in the world, and then it’s over.”

Knowing that, she created her own blend of coffee, to be made specifically in the Unimatic. “The way you roast it and grind it should take into consideration how it’s going to be processed,” Cardiello says.

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2013

8:09 p.m. Whether it’s coffee talk or small talk, it’s all in a day’s work for Cardiello.

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2014

9:21 p.m. Cardiello and her friend, Adam Saynuk, the co-founder and chief creative officer of subscription-box company Pijon (pronounced “Pigeon”), meet for drinks at the lobby bar in the Ace Hotel. Among other topics, they discuss teaching entrepreneurship to Wagner College students, through internships and job placements at Pijon.

Cardiello established a fund in her father’s name at Wagner, her alma mater. Formally known as the Sir Peter Cardiello Fund for Entrepreneurship, it will be used to establish a full-fledged entrepreneurship program at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Says Cardiello, “‘Learning by doing’ is already the school’s motto, so it fits perfectly.”

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2014

9:50 p.m. Cardiello sits down for dinner with her friend Jeffrey Hayzlett, the former CMO of Kodak, who hosts “C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett” on Bloomberg Television. “He’s someone that I very much trust that if I ask the question, I can just trust the answer,” Cardiello says. “And there aren’t many people like that.”

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2014

9:52 p.m. Robert Galinsky, author of Coffee Crazy and creator of Coffee: The Musical joins Cardiello and Hayzlett for dinner. Cardiello sought out Galinsky after reading an article aboutCoffee: The Musical in The New Yorker. It mentioned that Galinsky would be attending “Coffee Fest” at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, so Cardiello went there to meet him and to get her pot a cameo in the musical. He ended up writing her story into the show.

Copyright Jehangir Irani, 2013

9:56 p.m. “For me, happiness is when the lines of work and play blur so much they disappear,” Cardiello says. “You have your own company, you’re working 24 hours a day, but it never feels like that.”

Jehangir Irani is a photographer, a video producer , and an avid storyteller. He has produced work for Glamour, Vanity Fair, and a variety of other lifestyle-centric outlets. Jay’s love of startups came from producing Venture Studio, a talk show on entrepreneurship that was syndicated on Mashable. Jay has traveled the world and, in his spare time, searches high and low for the perfect hot and sour soup.

Photos: Jehangir Irani for OPEN Forum

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What the Unimatic family is saying…

When my husband and I finally received and opened the box with the Unimatic inside and I saw your personalized note, it brought tears to my eyes to know that we actually had in our hands part of your family's history. Thank you for letting us be a part of it!!

- Terry, family member of Unimatic #288

Thank you dearest Elisabeth for being the much needed catalyst for change. For sharing your remedy for our home life that has been suspended after much trial and trauma. We laughed, shared, marveled and lingered the table discussing your father’s creation. We spent time together as a family, enjoying the newness of what is usually the mundane. Creating your shared legacy... a cup of coffee. The Unimatic made our house a home... long gone are the quick days of the Keurig or nearest coffee shop. We look forward to spending tomorrow morning with Brunetta.

- Monica, family member of Unimatic #329

"Thank you so much, I happened to see the program on Netflix called Coffee for All. As you refer to my net coffee pot as a "her" she will be appropriately named "Grace" after my grandmother who gave me my first percolator coffee pot at the age of 18. Now as I brew coffee in the mornings I will think of my grandparents more often."

- Joe, family member of Unimatic #392

"I am truly happy with the Unimatic. A perfect cup of coffee and the story that goes with it even makes it more enjoyable."

- David, family member of Unimatic #418

Coffee has this magic of uniting people. In a world so digital, individualistic, I believe Elisabeth does an extra-ordinary job to reconnect the people we love the most. I could not fail remember the excitement and the happiness of receiving in NYC my Unimatic pot directly from the hands of my dear friend Elisabeth. An unforgettable day!

- Zeca, family member of Unimatic #443

I received this Unimatic as a gift yesterday and I am just tickled! The coffee is amazing and so very worth the wait. I love your story; keep on doing what you are doing - we all need an incentive to slow down.

- Hope, family member of Unimatic #526

I'm not functional until I've had my coffee, so I love coming out to the kitchen and seeing her on the stove! We now have our brave conversations, as we always have, with music playing in the background and the most delicious coffee we've ever tasted.

- Peg, family member of Unimatic #534

I love my Unimatic coffee pot. I love the fragrance of fresh perked coffee. it reminds me of the mornings when my grandmother made coffee. When I read about the Unimatic coffee pot I just had to have it. The aroma of fresh perked coffee in my apartment is wonderful and relaxing. The coffee that I ordered with it is also delicious. I keep my coffee pot on the stove, ready for the next day.!!

- Luisa, family member of Unimatic #603

We are so very happy for the Unimatic that we received yesterday :) This morning my wife bicycled to the local bakery for some croissants, meanwhile I cleaned the Unimatic and prepared for our morning coffee :) The coffee was outstanding and we simply love the Unimatic! We had a good long chat and enjoyed our coffee and croissant outside.

- Sturla, family member of Unimatic #625

I have to say I was emotional when I opened the box and unwrapped the Unimatic. My love of coffee comes from my Mom and Neapolitan grandmother. My fondest memories were in the summer and my parents liked to sit outside in the backyard talking after dinner and I would make coffee for all using that coffee pot. My Italian grandma loved afternoon coffee with anisette, and having coffee when visiting was a time to gather and chat. I hope I can persuade my daughter to slow down and enjoy a cup of Caffè Unimatic with me, she does love coffee.

- Madeleine, family member of Unimatic #630

My husband and I tried the San Pietro Brunetta and it was love at first sip and absolutely the best coffee that we have ever tasted. We can't wait for more...

- Christine, family member

Your Brunetta blend is a delight to the pallet! It is truly a different taste than an American coffee blend...roasting slow makes a better cup using the Unimatic in my opinion. Having the Unimatic with the Brunetta blend has made our mornings more pleasurable than ever....the coffee is rich with flavor as well as the conversation it stimulates while we slowly drink the pot. Thank you for creating the environment for an awesome morning to take place!

- Kimberly, family member of Unimatic #644

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and making coffee in my new Caffè Unimatic pot is the highlight of my meal-making ritual. Lingering over that mug of coffee while I work at my computer seems to “ground” me for the day. So far, I’ve only tried your San Pietro Brunetta blend (which I ❤️!) but I look forward to enjoying your Roma Bionda and Milano Mora blends, too. The big question is, is it ok to have more than one favorite?!

- Maria, family member of Unimatic #647

First of all I love, love my Unimatic! I first saw you on the Netflix documentary and fell in love with your story. I have a very similar coffee connection with my grandparents and I started drinking coffee with my grandma when I was about 5. I love the connection you make with your customers! I ordered my Unimatic and had it delivered to my best friends house to ensure it’s safe arrival. We seasoned it, made a couple of pots and tried different coffees with it. By the time we were done my friends ordered one for themselves!

- Ami, family member of Unimatic #649

I am blown away but honestly my intuition was right and I am not surprised. All the coffees are divine, and the coffee pot makes breathtaking brews.

- Alex, family member of Unimatic #656

I have never tasted or smelled coffee like this before. Even in Italy, I never had such an amazing cup of coffee as this one. Until now, my best cup ever was at Glile in Florence and they have been making coffee for hundreds of years. :+) I’ve been roasting my own coffee for 10 years as I couldn’t find a decent coffee. Now I am questioning my hard earn roasting skills!

- Jeff, family member of Unimatic #670

My wife & I have been thoroughly enjoying our Unimatic percolator. We never thought we would revert back to a method of coffee-making that seemed outdated, but we must say the taste of the coffee from the Unimatic is much smoother and more flavorful. No more bitter coffee for us! The Unimatic has become part of our morning ritual and we are enjoying every cup.

- Manny, family member of Unimatic #674

She arrived yesterday afternoon. We carefully unwrapped her packing and set her up to ‘season’ her, to then prepare her for her inaugural pot of coffee. She’s absolutely beautiful and we’re thrilled to be part of the Unimatic Coffee family. Thank you for the prompt shipment, great communication and, of course, the wonderful coffee!!!!

- Dorothy, family member of Unimatic #676

My Unimatic is my favorite thing I have bought in a long time. It is absolutely beautiful and brings me joy. I love the sound of the perk, I love how beautiful it looks on my table and it makes great coffee!! I love it!❤️ I speak Italian, have traveled to Italy Many times and have many friends in Italy. Every time I use it, I slow down, enjoy the conversation and feel like I’m in Italy!

- Shannon, family member of Unimatic #689

I must say, I love my Unimatic. The coffee is so pure, no burned taste, just perfection. I am the only caffeine consumer in our home which creates leftover coffee in the pot. I let it cool down and pour the remainder into a Mason jar and then straight into the fridge. Later in the day or the next morning I reheat a cup of it in the microwave and am good to go. Aesthetically, the pot looks nice sitting on the kitchen counter awaiting its next trip to the stovetop. So....A+++ on the Unimatic! Your father created a great percolator that solved the problem of over brewing. Also, the opening and unpacking of the box upon arrival was like Christmas morning! So much fun. You have done a brilliant job by including so much joy with the arrival of the Unimatic at one’s home.

- Jack, family member of Unimatic #703

First when I opened the package it was beautiful and I could tell just from that, how you value your product. Presentation does count and yours was perfect! I have been drinking coffee for years and I really thought that I knew what coffee tastes like. But sometimes in your life, you have a ""WOW"" experience that you will never forget. The first cup from the Unimatic was the FIRST TIME I ever tasted coffee!!! I really mean it! It was sooooo smooth and flavorful. I don't remember how I found your product but I equate that to finding a gold nugget amid a ton of rocks!! What a find...

- Robert, family member of Unimatic #708

From the moment I decided to purchase a Unimatic, even before watching the Netflix special, I had a feeling that this was more than “just a coffee pot.” The whole experience, from the website to the TED talk, to watching “Coffee for All,” to your Instagram, to the service I’ve received from your has all been wonderful.

- Stephanie, family member of Unimatic #714