By Mike Costanza
Henrietta business serves up good coffee and good conversation
Laurie DiProspero looks forward to coming to work every day.
“The first thing that brings me in is I do love people,” said the 63-year-old owner of Union Place Coffee Roasters.
Joe, Laurie’s husband of 35 years, shares that love.
“The people that come into our store, they’re like family,” said the 74-year-old retired software engineer.
Good customer service, combined with a love of the retail coffee business, has helped the Henrietta couple build a thriving concern. Located on the 123-acre Henrietta property of the Genesee Valley Regional Market, Union Place offers a dozen types of Arabica coffee beans, from Columbian to Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, as well as flavored varieties like Italian Cookie. A customer can pick up a bag of fresh-roasted beans or savor a cup of aromatic coffee at one of the outlet’s tables.
Union Place is very much of a family affair. Laurie runs the Henrietta business. Joe mainly does the books, accounts payable and other important administrative tasks.
Nicholas, the youngest of the couple’s three sons, roasts and packages coffee beans and in other ways prepares them for sale. About 80% of Union Place’s business is wholesale.
Laurie came to found Union Place by a kind of roundabout route. After working in graphic design, she stayed home to take care of the couple’s children while Joe worked as a software engineer. When Joe was laid off in 2002, she took a job running the outlet store of what was then Maidstone Coffee, a commercial coffee roaster located in Rochester.
“I absolutely loved it,” Laurie said. “I was always fascinated by coffee.”
Joe found a new job in his field, but Laurie stayed on at Maidstone, learning about different types of coffee beans, the roasting process and other elements of the coffee business. Maidstone decided to close the outlet store in 2013 and offered her a job in marketing. Laurie had other ideas.
“I went home that night and I said to Joe ‘We should make an offer to buy that little outlet store,’” she said.
That’s what they did. In May, 2013, Union Place opened its doors in Building 15 of the Genesee Valley Regional Market. The 1,800-square-foot space was way in the back of the property.
“It was just a warehouse,” Laurie said. “We renovated that, and made it really nice and cozy. People really liked it.”
Business improved and the DiProsperos began looking for a new location that was easier for customers to find. The couple eventually secured a 3,000-square-foot section of Building 9, which had just been built down the road from their original location. When they signed the lease, all the place offered was four walls and a single bathroom. Contractors had to bore a trench through the space’s concrete floor for the water pipes that feed the coffee bar’s sink.
“We spent quite a bit of money to build this place up,” Joe said.
Joe laid out the basic floor plan and did a bit of decorating, mounting the four framed burlap coffee bags that hang high above the front door like small tapestries. He had to use a contractor’s lift to do it.
“We had a lift here at the time,” Joe said. “I said ‘Oh, cool, I get to play on a lift.’”
The DiProsperos cut the ribbon on their new establishment on March 22 of last year.
Union Place’s customers can enjoy a bright, airy space with a coffee bar, shelves full of bags of coffee and several tables for those who want to sit down and have a cup of their favorite drink. Works of art fill one wall, and employees stand ready to serve customers. The layout allows customers to actually watch their coffee being roasted.
Jasmine Cee has worked as a barista for different businesses for about 10 years.
“It’s a really cool way to connect with people,” the Rochester resident said. “Everybody likes to come in and tell their story and chitchat.”
Wayne Harrison got hooked on Union Place about five years ago, when he and his wife moved to Scottsville from California.
“I was looking for the best coffee in town,” the 78-year-old retired general contractor said. “They [the DiProsperos] make really good coffee and we share good conversations about life in general.”
For Nicholas, such conversations are one of the perks of working at Union Place.
“A lot of people have a lot of interesting stories that you wouldn’t think that they’d have,” he said. “People love to tell their stories and usually I love to listen.”
Nicholas, who just graduated from SUNY Oswego with a degree in psychology and a minor in nutrition, finds the idea of eventually running the family business appealing.
“I’d like to be my own boss,” he said.