Brent Jopson of Orsonero, the first specialty coffeehouse in Milan and one of the firsts to experiment Covid-19 lockdown and emergency in the Western World, tells us what it felt like, how he’s living lockdown and what he expects in the future.

How did you live the beginning of the crisis up to closure?

The first few weeks of the crisis were difficult as we had to adapt and change our service policies quite dramatically, often from one day to the next. I remember the last week of February was Fashion Week in Milan and our shop was busy with international visitors, probably our best week of the year so far. Then from one day to the next everything changed. By Tuesday of the following week virtually all of the tourists had disappeared and many of our local customers were working from home which meant that mornings were much quieter without the influx of regulars coming in on their way to the work. Still, while the drop in tourists resulted in a significant decrease in sales, it wasn’t enough to cause too much alarm at that point.

It wasn’t until two weeks later when the new ordinance required us to keep customers one metre apart that we started to see a major disruption in our business. We tried our best to make it work under the new regulations, wearing gloves, sanitizing surfaces, and encouraging customers to choose takeout. We also reduced our operating hours, opening a bit later in the mornings and staying closed on Sundays in an effort to stay well rested and reduce our stress levels. By the end of that week we decided it wasn’t worth the risk to ourselves and our customers to keep operating under these conditions so we made the difficult decision to close temporarily. It was only a couple of days later that the government ordered all non-essential businesses to cease operations so in the end it looks like we made the right choice.

How did you live the beginning of the crisis up to closure?

The first few weeks of the crisis were difficult as we had to adapt and change our service policies quite dramatically, often from one day to the next. I remember the last week of February was Fashion Week in Milan and our shop was busy with international visitors, probably our best week of the year so far. Then from one day to the next everything changed. By Tuesday of the following week virtually all of the tourists had disappeared and many of our local customers were working from home which meant that mornings were much quieter without the influx of regulars coming in on their way to the work. Still, while the drop in tourists resulted in a significant decrease in sales, it wasn’t enough to cause too much alarm at that point.

It wasn’t until two weeks later when the new ordinance required us to keep customers one metre apart that we started to see a major disruption in our business. We tried our best to make it work under the new regulations, wearing gloves, sanitizing surfaces, and encouraging customers to choose takeout. We also reduced our operating hours, opening a bit later in the mornings and staying closed on Sundays in an effort to stay well rested and reduce our stress levels. By the end of that week we decided it wasn’t worth the risk to ourselves and our customers to keep operating under these conditions so we made the difficult decision to close temporarily. It was only a couple of days later that the government ordered all non-essential businesses to cease operations so in the end it looks like we made the right choice.

 What are you doing now?

The first week of the lockdown I was too distracted by the situation to really do anything productive so I mostly just watched movies and read for pleasure, occasionally venturing out to do the shopping or take a short walk or bike ride in the city. Now that we’re in the third week of staying at home I’ve settled into a routine of working on the computer in the morning and then spending the afternoons relaxing, reading or watching movies or television series online. Of course, I’m also brewing a lot of coffee and experimenting with different techniques, water recipes, stuff like that.

What are your plans for reopening?

At this point we still don’t know when we will be allowed to reopen and what kind of service we will be allowed to provide when that time comes so I don’t have any concrete plans. I imagine that the first few weeks we will have limited table service or takeaway options available, much like the weeks preceding the lockdown. Given the level of uncertainty we’re trying to stay flexible.

What are your reading? 

I’ve just started reading ​Where the Wild Coffee Grows​ by Jeff Koehler, a sort of natural history of coffee in Ethiopia which has been on my reading list for quite some time now. I’ve also started Il Mondo del Caffe’, the recently released Italian translation of James Hoffman’s classic TheWorldAtlasofCoffee.I’m reading the Italian version mainly to help develop my Italian vocabulary for specialty coffee topics. It’s been helpful as I’ve struggled to find good Italian language instructional material.

 

Orso Nero in via Broggi, Milan.

Anna Muzio

Giornalista

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