No Fuss

Originally Posted on The Yale Herald - Medium via UWIRE


It’s a 10 minute shuttle ride from the center of campus to 290 Winchester Avenue, also known as Fussy Coffee. The entrance is lined with several bikes, benches covered with black umbrellas, and a few chairs. The row of bikes could speak to the distance people travel to visit, the presence of the West Rock bike trail to the left, or the nature of regular student customers. The coffee shop’s logo on the glass windows demands attention: two snake-like arms link together to form two circles, a heart with “NH” lies in the center, and below it, a twinkling Illuminati-esque eye. A person is already sitting outside, snapping a picture of their coffee that will most likely end up on social media. It’s 10:30am, the day is just beginning, and Fussy already has a few customers typing away on laptops, talking to friends, and drinking coffee. Joe Ballaro, one of the owners, is brewing a fresh batch of coffee before he goes outside to meet me on a bench. Ballaro seems more than happy to talk about coffee, and doesn’t take very long to warm up to our conversation.

* * *

Fussy has been open for about four months, and is one of many competing coffeehouses in New Haven trying to offer something beyond the usual franchise experience. Ballaro co-owns the shop with his brother-in-law David Negreiro (the two also have a bar called Bar 140 in Shelton, CT), and the two built the coffeehouse “from the ground up,” as Ballaro puts it. Fussy Coffee’s official Google statement describes it as a “third wave coffee shop offering a full espresso bar, beer, wine, liquor with a full kitchen and outdoor patio.” The menu boasts a variety of international coffees from Kenya to Ethiopia, and seasonal items like Pear Almond Coffee Soda and Turmeric Spritzer, differentiating Fussy from the typical coffee franchise.

Ballaro reflects on his and Negreiro’s journey with subdued pride. The two crafted the menu themselves, and Ballaro pauses to highlight how they created their very own pumpkin spice recipe. Even though he acknowledges the craftsmanship involved, he admits that the whole thing “sorta just happened.” Their combined interest in coffee carried the enthusiasm and energy through to Fussy’s opening. But it wasn’t all serendipitous — it is clear Ballaro has done his homework, as he stops to explain the different waves of the coffee revolution. The first wave of coffee involved brewing at home; the second wave was the rise of franchises like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks; and the third wave included fair trade, direct relationships with farmers, and an emphasis on the act of sourcing coffee. This is what Fussy is all about.

* * *

“New Haven has a great tradition of food,” Ballaro says when I ask why Science Park seemed like the right place to open a coffee shop. Despite a lot of New Haven competition, there’s basically only one other restaurant in the neighborhood: Ricky D’s Rib Shack. He likes the Science Park neighborhood, saying that coffee is a science in its own way. The decision to open in Science Park was in part practical. When they drove past the area and saw the office buildings, they figured that those people would need coffee and the rest of the residential population would catch on. He notes that the School of Forestry and the Divinity School are both nearby, so groggy students could come for a quick pick-me-up. Another part of the decision was sentimental. Growing up in Shelton (his “home base” and “ All American Valley,” as he fondly calls it), he would always travel to New Haven to see art and music, calling it “the cultural center of Connecticut.”

“I went to memorize lines and it was a nice change. Super modern and busy. Mostly older students,” says Gillian Bolt, JE ’19, a Theater Studies major who’s frequented Fussy.

A resident of the neighborhood says he does see a lot of graduate students, but there’s also average residents like him. Ballaro mentions the speculations made based on someone who has a laptop in front of them, and the quickness to assume them to be a graduate student or an office worker. He hasn’t exactly figured out the demographics of Fussy’s visitors. “They might [just] be watching Youtube videos of their favorite bands,” Ballaro reasons.

* * *

“Fussy” is just another way to say “nice” in Ballaro and Negreiro’s world, and the term’s been in their vocabulary for years. The word was originally coined by a musician friend of theirs, Sid from Ventura, California. They had some other throwaway names, but Fussy was the one that stuck, and he remembers when the two had a “duh” moment. The logo was designed by a friend, and the image is based on the Ouroboros, a depiction of a snake eating itself, which traditionally represents renewal, infiniteness, and wholeness. Ballaro claims that’s in tune with the goals of Ballaro: to form a community based around the coffeehouse. The restaurant is designed for public engagement. They chose longer community tables rather than two seaters to encourage conversation. Every aspect of the coffeehouse is designed to benefit the customers, even the music. Ballaro explains that the music is generally a volume game, which he learned to manage while working at their bar, where they had to balance music and lights.

When I ask about the obscure and low, instrumental music playing in the background that morning, Ballaro offers an explanation. “If there’s a morning vibe and people are studying and working, you have to [consider it]. Don’t be distracting.” Low music is less of a distraction if people are studying on their laptops, Ballaro wants to make sure the music helps their concentration, not hurt it.

Everything in Fussy centers around the idea of curating a vibe, all for the enjoyment of the community. The coffeehouse’s mellow atmosphere is catered to the customers. The varied artwork on the walls, some multi-colored and others plain-old black and white, are all by local artists, and all for sale. Other community events formerly hosted at Fussy include yoga on the grass, a cycling trip to West Rock, and various art shows — all in the last four months, and with more to come. Ballaro also takes pride in Fussy’s perk of possessing a liquor license. He delights in his view of Connecticut as the “center of the universe in terms of beer culture right now.” He says the New England Brewery and Counter Weight Brewery only have amazing things to offer. To him, brunch on the weekends is a little more like brunch if there’s beers and mimosas.

It’s small details like these that make it clear that Fussy’s owners aim to make both the place and the coffee be what the shop’s name means to them — something nice. They care about their coffee, their customers, their community, and Connecticut. It’s too early to tell what the legacy of Fussy will be, but it seems safe in Ballaro and Negreiro’s attentive and committed hands. As of right now, it’s all paid off: business is moving so quickly Ballaro is just trying to take it all in.

“I just want to make sure everyone’s fed and gets their coffee.” Ballaro says with a smile.

No Fuss was originally published in The Yale Herald on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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