by Joshua Jerome
BARRE — Downtown Barre is home to one of the greatest things in Central Vermont, Espresso Bueno. The café is owned by Elizabeth Manriquez and this July during the Barre Heritage Festival, she will be celebrating her ninth year in downtown Barre. Raised in Seattle where coffee shops are ubiquitous, it was not until moving to Virginia when Elizabeth became a barista. In 2002, she and her young family moved up to Vermont and worked at several coffee houses and it soon became apparent that she wanted to own a café. After purchasing a home in the Granite City, Elizabeth put together her business plan, identified a location in downtown Barre and opened Espresso Bueno in 2007.
She created something very different for downtown Barre and it quickly became a location where business meetings were conducted and offered a casual environment for friends to gather. She spent six years in her original location introducing Barresians to cortados, macchiatos and the red-eye before outgrowing her original space. A larger space to grow into was identified and a successful Kickstarter campaign helped to launch her move into their current location. As Elizabeth told me “we wanted to be able to offer more food and the larger space allowed us to do so.”
Elizabeth developed breakfast and lunch menus to go along with her pastries and instituted a policy of buying as much local and organic products as possible. Just about 75 percent of her food is local or organic and nothing is fried. I asked Elizabeth what makes her coffee so good? She said “it’s the beans and the freshness.” Every week she gets a delivery of coffee beans from Vermont Artisan Coffee and every week they use all of the beans up. Elizabeth also explained to me how important it is for coffee to be consumed within 30 minutes after it’s been brewed. “This is why we serve our coffee behind the counter as we keep our brew batches small and change them out every 20 to 25 minutes.” As someone who spends a lot of time in Bueno I’ve seen the lines grow incredibly long and nobody minds waiting, because of how good the coffee is.
It’s not just coffee that keeps people coming back, but the eclectic mix of entertainment too. Espresso Bueno has something going on every Friday and Saturday night and their craft beer list and bar offers consumers many options. For nearly five years, starting at their original location, Bueno has been hosting comedy shows that have seen Vermont’s funniest comedians put their act to the test. Solo musical guests and duos play often and their most popular event, Worst Song Ever, draws such a crowd and participation by singers that you need to sign up in advance. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about as no words could do it any justice, but there’s a trophy and it’s coveted by many.
Elizabeth spends much of her time in the kitchen and gives herself one day off a week. She has two children, Elysia who is 17 and Elias who is 11. Juggling kids and business is hard she said, but “it’s totally worth it.” While not working or watching young Elias, Elizabeth enjoys roller derby and the camraderie with her teammates. I asked her what her favorite coffee drink was and simply put she said “iced Americano.” Why iced I asked and she said “we get so busy that any other coffee drink would turn cold anyway, so why fight it.” She also went on to explain that the double ristretto espresso shot in the Americano contains the oils that heighten the taste and fragrance. And “that’s really the most important thing about coffee, the taste!”
Elizabeth has seen a lot of change in downtown Barre over the last nine years and she is encouraged about the economic growth with new businesses and younger families and artists moving into the community. “It’s great for Barre and Central Vermont” she said “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
The author is executive director of The Barre Partnership.