By John Gregory
Pappalecco is a coffee shop and restaurant that exudes the culture and feel of the Italian coffee experience. On April 27, Pappalecco will celebrate its 10-year anniversary at its Little Italy location at 1602 State St.
Enter the unpretentious establishment which sits on a corner and one is likely to be greeted by an employee with a big smile.
“We are very selective [when hiring employees],” said owner Francesco Bucci in a warm Italian accent. “We want everybody to be happy. This is ultimately a people business.”
Bucci explained the flavorful encounter he and his employees strive to provide customers each day — mostly centered around the Italian ritual of sipping good coffee or espresso along with tasting creamy, rich gelato.
“In Italy, gelato, coffee and desserts, croissants, eggs — that’s the life of a coffee shop,” he said. “What we are doing is to bring, here, the Italian — especially the Tuscan — coffee experience.”
In Italy, it’s common for people to enjoy a good cup of coffee while savoring a cool spoonful of gelato, Bucci said. But there is more.
“You can also mix them and the drink is called affogato,” he said. “Affogato means drown. It’s one of the most popular desserts or coffee drinks, you know. It’s really in between. It’s very, very nice. I recommend it.”
Bucci sad he was in the restaurant business in Tuscany for about five years before he moved to San Diego. His family ran a gelato shop in Italy. Their recipes were given to them by a man who was about to retire, Bucci said. His gelato place, one of the most popular in Tuscany, are where the recipes Bucci brought to San Diego came from and he uses them to this day. The staff makes its gelato from scratch using five main ingredients: low fat milk, fruit, sugar, water and nuts.
Now, Bucci, his brothers and a few of their friends own five Pappalecco establishments in San Diego County. The others are in Cardiff by the Sea, Hillcrest, Del Mar and Kensington.
Pappalecco also offers salads, panini, croissants and breakfast items. Their food is made fresh each morning at a main kitchen located in Point Loma, then transported to each of the Pappalecco neighborhood locations.
Bucci speaks about coffee as if it were an art form and he very thoughtfully describes American coffee as opposed to the way Italian coffee is served.
“[Italian coffee] is special because it is really different from American coffee,” Bucci said. “I don’t know why Americans tend to burn coffee. I think — and I’ve been thinking about it a lot — it’s because it is very diluted, there’s a lot of water. It’s not really concentrated. But many people … like to drink coffee with something else, at least milk. Now, it’s not that we don’t do milk in coffee. We do it, but proportions are always in favor of coffee.”
Bucci said he tried coffee or espresso from a popular coffee house chain in America, but did not enjoy it.
“It’s just not drinkable as it is,” he said. “You have to put sugar in it or milk or caramel or vanilla and so on. If I have an espresso here, now — no sugar.”
Pappalecco customers are very loyal and some have been coming in since it opened, Bucci said.
“People have come here since day one,” he said. “They still come here and they still come here a lot. We’ve been brave. We’ve stuck to the original model — the Italian coffee shop. Either you like it or you don’t like it. We’re not for everybody. We are for people who like us.”
—John Gregory can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.