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Originally published Friday, May 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Retail Report

Stella Caffe Coffees is an Italian-inspired roaster

Rob Wilson is back from the cafe wars in Australia. The last time he lived in Seattle, Wilson imported coffee and fixed espresso machines...

Seattle Times business reporters

Rob Wilson is back from the cafe wars in Australia.

The last time he lived in Seattle, Wilson imported coffee and fixed espresso machines. He moved to Sydney in 1999 with his Australian wife, Josie, who could not bear another Northwest winter.

For several years, they ran a small chain of cafes in Sydney. After battling coffee suppliers over the delivery of beans, Wilson sold the coffee shops and became a roaster battling other roasters for cafe business.

At one point, a large competitor tried to lure away one of his customers with the promise of trips to Italy for the cafe's owners and their spouses and, for good measure, a plasma TV. It didn't work, but the pressure was intense.

"In Sydney, we had to struggle for every client," Wilson said.

He finally talked Josie into returning to Seattle, where he wants to raise their 5-year-old son, Alex, who has spent enough time around coffee to know a decaffeinated green coffee bean when he sees one.

Last fall, the couple launched Stella Caffe Coffees south of downtown Seattle. They have more than a dozen clients, including Queen City Grill, Frontier Café and Frontier Room, all co-owned by Robert Eickhof.

"It's just so good, and he's so passionate about it," Eickhof said of the coffee and Wilson, whom he's known for 20-some years. "We're really pleased, and I don't say that just because I like him."

He also likes Wilson's service, which includes keeping his coffee machines in tune.

Wilson, 39, learned to fix espresso machines in Italy, where he was stranded after an ill-fated trip to buy motorbikes in the early '90s. He needed money, and he knew a little Italian from having worked on Vespa scooters.

On another trip to Italy, Wilson was taught to roast, and an employee of an Italian roasting company gave him its recipe. He said he uses the recipe to create "Italian coffee roasted here."

At Stella, he is roasting 300 to 500 pounds a week, far less than the 3,000 pounds he and five employees roasted each week in Sydney. Wilson figures Stella's sales this year will top a half-million dollars.

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Stella sells whole beans for $9.99 a pound from its roasting plant on Fourth Avenue South. They come in four varieties including decaf.

Wilson has no plans for opening a cafe, which he thinks puts a roaster in competition with its customers. Instead, he wants to grow Stella into a company that sells to restaurants and cafes nationwide.

"I want to be as big as Lavazza eventually," he said, invoking the name of the giant Italian coffee company with 2,000 employees worldwide. "I want to replace foreign brands for people who want a genuine product that's easy to work with."

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

Topics Entertainment in Renton has re-released public television's "Over America" and "Over California" documentaries on DVD in the Blu-ray format. Greg James, president and CEO of Topics Entertainment, said aerial documentaries of Alaska, Mount Rainier and Washington state also will be re-released in the new format over the next few weeks.

James said he expects to ship as many as 500,000 copies of the "Over" series this year to retailers including Costco, Target and Wal-Mart. — AM

Georgia Blu, a children's boutique in West Seattle, has paired with catering company Gourmondo to offer in-store baby showers after the close of business Thursday through Sunday evenings. Georgia Blu will accommodate as many as 24 guests for up to three hours. The per-person cost is $25 for food and up to $22.50 for beverages. — AM

Chili's Grill & Bar restaurants in Issaquah and Bellevue were closed this week by Quality Restaurants Northwest, a franchise partner of Brinker International. The franchisee also closed four locations in the Portland area, according to Maureen Locus, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based Brinker. Another Brinker partner runs the area's other Chili's, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. — MA

Caffé Vita has added a Bosco espresso machine at its Fremont location. There are fewer than a dozen Bosco machines in the U.S., according to the folks at Vita, who recently visited the Bosco plant in Naples, Italy. — MA

Revival Home & Garden has opened in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood at 5515 Airport Way S. The store sells home furnishings and accessories and is owned by Georgetown resident Leah Steen, who previously worked for Signature Environments, a dental-office design firm. — AM

It takes precisely 42 coffee beans to make a single shot of espresso, according to Fast Company magazine. Other java facts from the latest issue: 23,000 cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every second, and six or more cups a day will cut your risk of gout by 59 percent.

The magazine includes that old chestnut about coffee being the most-traded commodity in the world after oil, which keeps popping up although we've found it difficult to verify. — MA

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Retail Report
Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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