For Vince Camiolo, co-owner and roaster of One Up One Down Coffee(OUOD) in Trenton, New Jersey, these words continue to serve as not only his business’ slogan but his mantra for adapting to the unprecedented territory of operating a small business during COVID-19.
Having roasted coffee for nearly a decade, Camiolo had long found a passion for the specialty coffee business. What started as a hobby, roasting coffee using a popcorn popper in his home 10 years ago, transformed into a side hustle in 2015 when Camiolo began his online coffee subscription service. After years of pushing his coffee-roasting passion to the side, it wound up taking shape as his full-time career when he and his wife brought their ideas to Trenton, opening their first full-time roastery and cafe.
The modern, warm coffee spot was brought to life at a less-than-convenient time, opening its doors for the first time in the midst of the pandemic. As a number of business owners came to find out, COVID-19 quickly brought a wave of challenges to small businesses everywhere–and One Up One Down Coffee was no exception.
Although the cafe is open, with capacity limits in place, Camiolo noted that having too large of a crowd hasn’t exactly been an issue for the gourmet coffee spot. Having opened for business during the onset of the pandemic, a majority of the surrounding businesses and institutions that hosted much of their anticipated clientele–such as the high school directly across the street – had closed just as soon as OUOD opened.
“The most challenging part [of owning a small business] is just not knowing what to expect, especially opening during the pandemic,” Camiolo said. “It was just kind of an experiment to have a business in this location. We don’t know, like, are these numbers, pandemic numbers? Are these numbers what we should expect in a normal year? What should we prepare for in the future, a month down the road or six months down the road? So, the biggest challenge is just the uncertainty.”
Initially, Camiolo adapted to COVID-19 precautions and brought his business online, where customers could virtually place their orders during the beginning months of the pandemic. As guidelines began to shift, the cafe soon reopened its doors for take-out orders, until fully reopening for in-person dining last summer.
“All the plans that we had for having special events and stuff like that were just—they just evaporated,” Camiolo said. “It’s just been like a day-to-day thing. We’re having to accept having to take it one day at a time and trying to stay lean and adaptable. That’s just kind of the goal, to stay adaptable because you know, we have no idea what to expect.”
Alongside the uncertainty of the pandemic, OUOD faced yet another bumpy path recently when the cozy coffee spot was broken into around 8 p.m. on Nov. 18, before being hit again several days later. According to a post on their Instagram page, the cafe’s “point-of-sale system is gone” following the break-in, but they will continue to roast and brew coffee as they work through the damage caused by the violation.
“You have to look for the positive,” he said. “We have a slogan for the businesses–find balance; move forward. So, it’s always like, just trying to look for ways to take advantage of your situation. There’s always a positive spin or there’s always something to do.”
Following an outpouring of support from local community members and frequent customers on social media, the cafe has remained resourceful, re-opening its doors for business only one day after announcing the second break-in on Instagram. “Find balance; move forward” has remained true for the local spot, yet again, as they took to their social media to address the intruder directly, stating:
“Despite breaking into our shop and stealing from us, you seem to have showed some degree of respect. We sincerely appreciate that. Maybe the perceived respect is because you’ve been a guest at the cafe. Maybe you’re a decent person finding yourself in a desperate situation leading to this poor choice. Regardless, your choice to take advantage of a small not-exactly-thriving business shows your potential for decency has plenty of room for development.”
Though challenges have continued to inevitably arise, Camiolo also expresses that it hasn’t all been bad. To Camiolo, the pandemic, like many unprecedented situations, was a lesson in adaptability. The pandemic allowed the cafe co-owners to focus on perfecting their offerings, with ample time to grow their online business, work out operational and logistic knots and experiment, freely, without fear of the potential consequences that could arise from having a greater volume of business.
Now open seven days a week–Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.–the local roastery and cafe offer in-person dining and orders for pick-up or delivery to Trenton locals. The cafe’s expansive menu typically includes matcha lattes, cappuccinos, cortados, and drip coffee, among a variety of other options. However, because of the recent break-ins, many of the cafe’s usual menu offerings may be temporarily unavailable.
Alongside these services, OUOD continues to provide their “Coffee Club” online subscription, offering members a variety of exclusive perks, including a new, limited-edition coffee supply each month, as well as 15% off of online and in-store purchases.
Camiolo encourages Trenton locals to stop by, noting his love for the diversity and sense of community that the city residents continue to bring to the cafe.
“The best part to me is just the diversity of people that come in,” Camiolo said. “The people of Trenton come from such a wide variety of backgrounds, and it’s fun to sometimes see strangers from these disparate backgrounds engage in conversation and find some kind of common ground. That’s by far been my favorite part—just seeing people interact that may never have run into each other before.”