By Jo Kadlecek Correspondent
The Salem News
---- — Call it an American dream with a shot of espresso. The way Albana Meta sees it, there’s enough good will — and coffee — to go around for everyone, if you just work hard enough.
So six months ago, despite an ominous economy, Meta, 39, of Danvers, opened Gusto Cafe at 280 Cabot St. in Beverly and renovated what was formerly the Trevi coffee shop. She’d searched for two years for her own place, all while working two and three jobs, including four years at Starbucks in North Beverly, where she learned much of the coffee business. She was just about to sign a lease for a cafe in Peabody when she learned the Trevi owners were moving on.
Now she has seven part-time employees and a steady stream of customers, many of whom she knows by name, coming for Stumptown direct-trade organic coffee, fresh paninis, and homemade gelato and soup. Business has been so good that Meta — who can’t seem to finish a sentence without a smile or a laugh — says most of her friends are surprised at the early success — especially given the legendary presence of the nearby Atomic Cafe.
“Where I come from in Europe, there are coffee shops everywhere, so it’s no big thing to have one so close,” she said. “We have something for everyone.”
By everyone, she means college students, business neighbors, senior citizens and families, who come regularly for a Guatemalan roast to go or a Kenyan blend to linger over while studying or writing. The leisurely atmosphere is as intentional as the cafe’s name, Gusto, which Meta says is a word used in her native country of Albania that loosely translates to “a person’s unique style.”
“Gusto — it’s what you like, what you eat or wear that makes you you,” Meta said. “And that’s us. It’s important to me that people feel comfortable here. I want them to feel like a guest in my home where I can take care of them, where they don’t have to rush.”
Taking care of customers has been a part of Meta’s life since coming to Beverly from Athens, Greece, 11 years ago. Whether working at Kohl’s, Starbucks or other shops on the North Shore, she is used to working long hours, going from one job to another. Now she’s glad that she’s only in one location, even if it’s every day of the week.
“It’s great having my own cafe,” she said. “I meet so many interesting people every day and can be connected to so many people to take care of them. That’s how the world is.”
Meta knows that firsthand. She and her husband left Albania when war broke out, heading first to Italy, until the economy turned downward, then to Greece, where they won a visa lottery to come to the United States. After two years of paperwork, they were awarded the visa on Sept. 10, 2001. But when the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, they didn’t know if they’d be able to come at all. By October, though, they and their two young sons were settling into their Beverly apartment, and the Metas quickly began working two and three jobs, saving for this time when she could open her own cafe.
In 2006, the couple became U.S. citizens with 550 other immigrants in Lowell. Now the family owns their home in Danvers, and Meta’s business has become a family affair. Her husband, Julin, helped with the renovations and makes the gelato, her mother makes the soups, and one of her sons, a junior at Danvers High, works a few days a week.
Every detail of Gusto Cafe is personal, including the prices, and Meta is hoping to begin planning events with musicians. She asks her employees and friends for their ideas, to hear from them what they think is fair so they can make sure every item is affordable and good. Even if it means she pays more with the direct-trade coffee, she says it’s worth it.
“If we can help the farmers in different regions of the world, it makes sense to me,” she said. “So I’ll try new brews and explain to people that this gives everyone a chance around the world. We’re all for the same things.”