BEANS WITH MEANING
The oldest coffee-roasting house in South Australia has the Italian blood and family values running through its veins.
The aroma of coffee has the power to evoke vivid memories. Especially for Fulvio Pagani, the man who founded Rio Coffee after moving to Australia form Sondrio, Italy, in 1955. Adelaide coffee consumers have a lot to thank him for. In 2017, Fulvio was honoured in the Golden Bean Hall of Fame for his contribution to the coffee industry for over 53 years.
“I was 22 when I came here”, he says over a cup of the good stuff. “there were too many people on the boat – more than 1000”. The journey took 38 days and Fulvio shared a room with 25 people. “I was excited – I was a young man so it was an adventure”.
Fulvio spent 33 days in an immigrant camp and from there went to Whyalla, where he stayed for five or six months. Hen then went to Mildura to pick grapes, and finally Adelaide where he played soccer for Juventus (now Adelaide City).
He was quite the fullback. “On 24th May 1958, I was on the front cover of the Advertiser” he says with a grin. During his time on the soccer field, he won eight South Australian league titles and seven Federation Cups in 14 seasons. He also laced up his booted for the national team, alongside the Australian soccer pioneer Joe Marston.
His other love – in addition to wife Mary – was coffee. Back then, it was virtually non-existent and most of what was consumed was percolated. He saw a business opportunity and ran with it. Rio Coffee started in 1964 out of a small warehouse in Trinity Gardens. By 1966 Fulvio was importing coffee machines, biscuits, pasta and chocolates and delivering his coffee in a small blue Combi van. Over time, his coffee production increased from 30 kilograms per week to more than five tonnes. Friends became customers, and customers became friends…. some have been loyal Rio Coffee consumers for more than 40 years.
Since 2004, Rio Coffee has been managed and run by Fulvio’s son in law, Michael, with the assistance of Fulvio’s daughters Vanessa and Patricia. It was a time to decide weather to sell and retire or invest and expand. They chose the latter.
“We said yes,” Patricia says “We wanted to take on that challenge”. It wasn’t without hiccups. “There are many times when you’re in business and you think, “Oh God, is this all worth it!?” Ultimately you just keep on going through sheer determination”.
Rio Coffee’s headquarters is located on Nelson Street, Stepney. It’s a hive of activity; the beans are all roasted and blended by hand onsite. Baristas are onsite to pour coffee for customers perusing the goodies at the onsite European grocer.
The business has grown substantially. The purpose-built roastery and retail showroom is a smorgasbord of Italian and Australian gourmet foods, imported beverages, giftware, domestic and commercial coffee machines, grinders and barista accessories. Behind the scenes, two giant roasters roast 200kilograms of coffee per hour.
Despite the growth, some things will never change. They still roast their own coffee using traditional, artisan techniques, and have a focus on customer service.