SOUTHINGTON — Inspired by the conversations he grew up listening to around cups of espresso in Italian coffee shops, local resident Vincenzo Infante hopes the coffee brewed at his newly opened Lion’s Den Coffee Shop can be the catalyst for recreating a sense of community.
“I have always been around espresso. My family and I were from Sicily, so I was always around espresso as a little boy,” he said.
Located at 57 W. Main St., the cafe launched with a soft opening on Nov. 1. The building was formerly home to CMC computers and Ace Appliances, but has been freshly renovated.
“It’s been very well. We’ve been keeping very busy, already looking to expand our staff,” he said.
Many of his visitors are also Italian immigrants. Infante said the Italian classic espresso is known for being smoother with a thicker crema, the flavorful froth that floats on top of espresso.
“I definitely have seen local Italians coming in and getting their traditional espressos ... but it's also a good opportunity to teach people about the coffees,” he said.
The beans are roasted by the Saccuzzo Coffee Co. in Newington and its pastries come from Giovanni's Bakery & Pastry Shop, also in Newington. Infante also rotates out one single-origin coffee from around the world every month and he’s looking to add additional Italian grab-and-go foods to his menu, paninis in particular.
Kelsey Yount, manager of Zingarella Pizzeria next door, said coffee cups from Lion’s Den have become a common sight in her customers’ hands and many of her workers stop by before their shifts.
“His chai tea lattes are the best, I get it every day … the staff is very friendly,” she said. “ … They’re really, really trying, so they seem to be doing very well in such a short time.”
With the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail right next door and a hub of local restaurants in Plantsville, Yount said the cafe fits right in.
Infante began looking for a location to open the cafe with his wife, Anisa Infante, around two years ago and he feels they landed in the right place at the right time. He called the Plantsville area “up and coming” with good traffic passing by and he expects there will be a lot more businesses opening in the area.
Infante said many customers have asked him if he was nervous about opening in the midst of the pandemic instead of waiting it out, but feeling that there’s always an excuse to wait for the “ideal time” he decided to forge ahead. He also believes that part of the cafe’s success over the past few weeks has been excitement about a new business during an uncertain time.
“I think people like seeing something new opening up during the pandemic, it gives us some excitement and hope,” he said.
Back in his homeland, Infante said that with gatherings at coffee shops prohibited during the pandemic, neighbors have been brewing an extra cup of coffee to bring next door.
“Even in Italy now with the pandemic going on it’s funny to see how espresso is bringing people together,” he said.