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For The Love of Joe

March 2, 2014

by Justin Porreca

He’s a trainer, he’s a head barista, he’s a coffee connoisseur and he works at Tierra Coffee Roasters. Ron Grieco, 26, has a true love for the coffee world and Tierra. This February marked Grieco’s second year with the rising business. Working roughly 40 hours a week, six to eight hours a day, Grieco not only manages the Madison Avenue shop, but he is also the head barista and trainer.

He works side-by-side with co-workers to provide customers of this Pine Hills shop with coffee, lattes, paninis, and muffins to get their day going. Even with the daily task of serving both as the head barista and trainer, the most rewarding aspect of his job, he said, is the customers.

Head Barista Ron Grieco prepares a latte at Tierra/Justin Porreca

Head Barista Ron Grieco prepares a latte at Tierra/Justin Porreca

In addition to his managerial duties, Grieco is a part of the Capital Region Coffee collective, a group in which fellow roasters and baristas from the Albany and Troy region test coffee and further their skills as roasters. Grieco also participated in the second annual Barista Albany competition.

“I’m always testing coffee. Always,” Grieco said. Although his job can be time consuming, opening the shop on Wednesdays and Thursdays and closing it on Saturdays and Sundays, he still loves the work. “The job takes up a lot of my time.”

Grieco, the fourth of five children, grew up in Petersburg in Rensselaer County. He has lived in Albany for the last eight years. He graduated from Berlin High School in 2005 and later attended Hudson Valley Community College in the fall of 2008. Initially, he planned to get his degree to become a registered nurse. But things didn’t go the way he planned. He spent two years completing his nursing prerequisites, and then left school in the fall of 2010. He might  return to college, but he is still undecided because he doesn’t want to be “saddled with debt, with a degree I can’t use.”

Grieco has been working more than half his life. He took his first job teaching snowboarding at Jiminy Peak when he was 14. He worked at Jiminy through his four years of high school. Grieco then ventured into the food business and made burritos for a year at Bombers Burrito Bar on Lark Street. Later, Grieco worked at Equal Vision Records, screen printing shirts, and then in 2008 he sold vacuums by appointment . The next year he drove an ice cream truck for Mister Softee driver in Arbor Hill.

In between, in 2007 Grieco traveled, but he wasn’t a typical traveler. He calls that period “professional homelessness.” Grieco hitchhiked all around the Northeast. He lived under a bridge in New York City, hitchhiked to Ohio and Pennsylvania, and even toured with the band called Trophy Scars in Florida.

He joined the Tierra team in February of 2012, and immediately climbed the ranks. It only took him three months to ascend from barista to become the general manager of the Madison Avenue shop. Friendship brought him to Tierra Coffee Roasters. His friends worked there and he thought it was a cool place to work. “I didn’t know it would turn into a career,” said Grieco, who just celebrated his two year anniversary there.

During his time at Tierra, Grieco has earned the respect and admiration from his co-workers and managers from other coffee shops.

“Ron is very caring and understanding and is always willing to listen and help,” said Lis George, a co-worker.

Another professional in the coffee business, and former colleagues, also spoke highly of Grieco.

“He knows a lot about coffee and he tries to learn as much as he can to better the coffee business and industry,” said Luen Proft, general manager of Lucas Confectionary in Troy. Grieco, Proft said, is one of the “truly passionate people about coffee, you can see it when he talks about it.” And, he is  “one of the nicest people you will meet and if you ask him for anything he will gladly give it you.”

When Grieco is not serving customers at Tierra he is hanging out with friends and making music. Music has been a huge part of his life, especially the drums. Grieco’s favorite genre of music is punk, but does not have a particular favorite band. Grieco is also a musician himself. He has been playing the drums since he was 11-years-old. Although he is not a studio musician, he did make a vinyl record with his friend. He was asked to play drums in a full band vinyl record titled “Hope Is All We Have.”

Grieco has periodically considered the future. “I thought about starting my own shop,” he said. He has savings put aside just in case he does venture into having his own coffee business one day. For now though, Grieco is satisfied with his work on Madison.

“I love the customers here, I really really do,” Grieco said. “They make the job honestly.” -30-


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