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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…

"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

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