Her look — tattoos, jean shorts and messenger bag —says urban, hipster, coffee shop frequenter.
But her stress levels and newly sprouted, albeit sporadic, gray hairs, (her words, not ours), say coffee shop owner.
Melissa Baruno is only 33, but she’s already cemented her place in the Philadelphia business world.
Her checkbook reflects the difficult climate of urban entrepreneurship, yet her attitude and positive outlook perhaps explain her success.
Baruno owns 1 Shot Coffee, a small, New York-style café on tiny George Street in the ever-blossoming Northern Liberties.
The location, 217 W. George, has been the coffee shop’s home for less than a year. Previously 1 Shot operated out of a storefront in the Liberties Walk shopping plaza, the commercial strip that is credited with helping to jumpstart Northern Liberties’ business district.
Baruno originally opened her business back in December 2005, when the neighborhood was still in its gentrified infancy.
“It was under the radar for about two years,” Baruno said of the original location. “It was like a no-mans land.”
Baruno, who spoke with the Star Aug. 4 at her new location, said she had always wanted to open her own business.
The Connecticut native previously worked for her dad’s accounting firm, commuting to and from her then-home in Brooklyn, New York.
But eventually she tired of the gig and wanted to try her hand at a new profession, and a new city. So she ventured down to Philly and quickly fell in love with her new home.
“It’s a nice melting pot, it’s a nice blend of people,” she said of Philadelphia. “Very agreeable.”
With 1 Shot, she has been able to live her dream of being a coffee shop owner while at the same time relishing the ability to help others.
Each of her 17 employees receive benefits in addition to compensation, something Baruno said reflects her desire to take care of those she depends on.
“Obviously, you want to survive and pay your bills,” she said, “[but] I want us to have a relationship.”
Because she takes such good care of her employees, Baruno said she experiences very little turnover.
In addition to her dedication to her workers, she also takes pride in serving her customers only the best. This includes the Stumptown Coffee brand as well as sweet treats from other Philly businesses. The latter includes cookies made by the famed 4th Street Bakery in South Philly.
1 Shot serves up a variety of food and beverages, from coffee and tea to sandwiches, yogurt and specialties like vegan brownies and small cakes.
One thing Baruno is especially proud of is the fact that hers is the only coffee shop in Philadelphia that has two floors, or, at least, she claims. (She admitted the Starbucks in South Philly might be split-level, but her business is still in a unique position).
The new shop differs from the old one in ways other than the two-floor setup. It also has an entirely new décor, accented by things like bookshelves, exposed brick and ductwork, and a 1972 Honda motorcycle, (a non-working one, that is), that sits in the middle of the upstairs floor.
The cozy atmosphere, which is a cross between a retro log cabin and a European cafe, also contains old photos and paintings, throwback couches and seats as well as wood paneling on the walls that makes one feel they’re in the middle of a New England-based Stephen King novel.
As for the nuts and bolts of opening her own shop, Baruno didn’t sugarcoat: it’s not the cheapest thing in the world to run a business in Philadelphia.
Before opening, she had to shuck out $15,000 for a fire-suppression sprinkling system as well as an additional $10,000 for outdoor seating. (The latter wasn’t required, but Baruno said she felt it would offer a nice touch for customers).
“Every minute is invaded in my head with this space,” Baruno said, referring to the stresses that come with being one’s own boss.
But the benefits tend to outweigh the cons, she said.
“Is this your place?” one customer asked Baruno as he walked through the upstairs. “Very cool.”
Baruno was happy to receive the compliment.
“This really is a labor of love on a daily basis,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
As for the costs, Baruno was able to save big by using friend labor and bartering with others. The layout was designed by friend Chris Sheffield, who Baruno called “No joke. He’s an amazing designer.”
Sheffield also designed the nearby Arrow Swim Club, she said.
And her friend Mike Baker built the two bookshelves that give the upstairs floor a comfy feel.
Baruno also had some savings that transferred over from the prior shop, money she was able to put into the new space.
For now, saying she’s pleased with the way things turned out is an understatement.
“This is the shop on crack,” she said with a smile. “This is the dream shop.”
To learn more, visit www.1shotcoffee.com.••