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Brewing up a business: UOPX alum transforms entrepreneurial passion into mobile espresso bar

While selling advertising space for a Phoenix-area magazine, University of Phoenix alum Anthony Fiorelli began looking for something that might spark the perfect business idea. He was an entrepreneur at heart, but lacked the education or business acumen to get started.

The perfect opportunity surfaced in 2016 in the form of an advertisement for a vintage Vespa. Thus, Caffio Espresso — a mobile espresso business — was born.

To prepare himself for what he knew was his destiny to become a full-time business owner, Fiorelli enrolled in course work at University of Phoenix. He moved from Michigan in 2008 at the age of 22 and accepted a position as an enrollment representative at University of Phoenix. While working, he obtained an Associate of Arts with a concentration in Business Fundamentals in 2011, and continued on to earn his Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 2014. He worked full-time all the while, and continued to do so during the early stages of Caffio Espresso.

One thing Fiorelli was certain of as he worked through the growing pains of the business launch was that Phoenix was the place he wanted Caffio Espresso to thrive.

“Deep down, I always knew I wanted to be a business owner. But, at first, I wasn’t sure of what kind of business,” said Fiorelli, 34. “I knew one day I would come across an idea that would have ‘Anthony Fiorelli’ written all over it. I wanted to become a part of the fabric of Phoenix.”

Once Fiorelli had the idea, he moved passionately, but responsibly, forward. He was, after all, a breadwinner, a husband, a father, a homeowner, a bill payer, and he wanted to be sure he did things right. Actually obtaining the Vespa was a bit of an adventure, with purchases put on the backburner, as life outside of business was happening at the same time. Eventually, he found a Vespa for sale in British Columbia, had it shipped to Phoenix, and rebuilt it with a friend. That’s the same Vespa you’ll see Fiorelli driving around town today.

Fiorelli wanted to pay homage to his Italian heritage and, at the same time, add to the “European essence” he felt was lacking in the region. The Vespa was the key to the whole business. Fiorelli wanted his customers to experience ordering and drinking coffee in a whole new way.

The mobile, open-air nature of the Vespa removes the traditional “behind the counter” approach to making espresso drinks. It takes the mystery out of the process and allows him the opportunity to interact and share what he knows and loves about his product.

“What makes me different is that I’m literally making coffee right next to the customer and they can see the whole process from start to finish,” said Fiorelli, who grinds beans and tamps and extracts the espresso in front of customers. “At traditional coffee shop set-ups, there’s usually a barrier and a disconnect from the barista and customer.”

It was during his time as a student at University of Phoenix where he was further introduced within his studies to thoughts and ideas related to business plans as well as the Small Business Administration (SBA). He acknowledged that, as a student, he was preparing then for the foundation of his future business venture even before Caffio Espresso. Those closest to him also saw Fiorelli’s time at the University as instrumental to his successes today.

Priscilla Flores, Fiorelli’s wife, said that he learned the discipline it takes to see things out and not give up during his time at UOPX.

“It was always a goal of his to earn a bachelor’s degree. I did my best to keep motivating him to stay positive and to continue to stay persistent that his hard work would pay off,” Flores said. “I feel his time at UOPX helped him a lot with Caffio as there are a lot of ups and downs with owning a small business and he still is persistent and works hard on reaching all his goals.”

Today, Caffio Espresso and Fiorelli can be found at private, corporate and personal events, weddings and festivals, and every Saturday at Uptown Farmers Market in Phoenix. His journey to full-time business owner and active community member, however, didn’t happen overnight, even with a restored Vespa.

For the first year, Fiorelli continued to work full time and focused on Caffio Espresso on the weekends. He built up his customer base and went to events to become a visible part of the community. In April 2018, Fiorelli turned Caffio Espresso into a full-time gig.

Building a business from concept to start-up to full-fledged business is hard work, Fiorelli acknowledged. A lot of his efforts focused on marketing, developing his brand, and using internet resources to learn everything he could about brewing espresso.

Caffio Espresso is now a family affair, with Fiorelli’s wife, oldest daughter and mom helping out at events. Additional employees are sometimes needed as well, depending on the nature of the event. Fiorelli feels Caffio Espresso is exactly what he hoped it would be — a business that represents his personality, fills a niche for the people of Phoenix, and allows Fiorelli to connect with people on a personal level.

“I am a part of the fabric of Phoenix,” he said. “It is a dream come true,”