For years I’ve attended the vintage shopping monstrosity that is the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire. Located on a strip of concrete on the water’s edge of Alameda, the Alameda Flea, as its devoted regulars refer to it, is a sprawling, near-mile long, criss-crossing grid of antiquedom. On the first Sunday of every month, and only the first Sunday, people from across California, and the nation, wake up at the crack of dawn to get first dibs on everything from mid-century modern furniture to timeworn farm implements and beyond.
Making your way out to Alameda Point—a former military complex turned fairground—and navigating the seemingly endless selection of goods, as well as the throngs of ruthless antique hunters, is invariably a day-long affair, which means folks are going to get hungry and folks are going to get tired. Food at the flea has never been an issue—a smoked bratwurst from the ever-popular Lockeford Sausage stand has always been my go-to—but caffeination, in any desirable form, has lacked. Yes, a handful of forgettable, breakfast-burrito-slinging food trucks will pass along a piping hot, styrofoam cup of sludgy joe, but those looking for something a little more, well, specialty have always been hard-pressed. Until the Terzolo family and their coffee baby, Zolo Coffee Roasters, arrived.
Located on the perimeter of The Flea, where all food carts are relegated, Zolo Coffee is a simple affair. You’ll find a stainless steel condiment area, a few stools pulled up to a wooden bar, and a netted off “kitchen” area where co-owner Nick Terzolo and his team—an unwaveringly friendly group consisting at any given time of his mother (Mama Zolo), and a rotating assortment of cousins and family friends—produce a fine selection of coffee classics on a two-group La Marzocco Strada MP. Zolo Coffee originated a few years back when Nick Terzolo’s dad, Dave Terzolo, on a mission for beer-making supplies, stumbled down the coffee roasting aisle. “A Fresh Roast SR500 and green coffee beans followed him home,” says Nick Terzolo.
A year later—after touring a handful of the world’s best coffee roasters and cafes and attending a roaster course at Boot Coffee—the first incarnation of Zolo Coffee opened at the Danville Farmers’ Market. On their first day in business, fresh-faced to the world of coffee, Nick Terzolo and crew tried to heat a 5-gallon water kettle on a single burner, “It took three hours to bring the water to the correct temperature,” Zolo says. “We looked great, but didn’t serve a cup of coffee until 11:00.”
Now, more than two years later, Zolo Coffee is a mainstay at both the Danville Farmers’ Market and the Alameda Flea. When the time to expand came, Nick Terzolo and Mama Zolo knew the Alameda Flea would be a good fit. “There isn’t a room in our house that doesn’t have something [Mama Zolo] found at the Flea and lugged home,” Nick Terzolo says. “We thought, ‘Anyone who cares enough to hunt through miles of booths for treasure is someone who might care about a lot about their cup of coffee.” The Terzolos wake at 3:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of each month to trek out from their Danville home, a full regiment of beans and coffee equipment in tow, to set up amongst the squalor of the emerging flea market. Nick Terzolo says, “It’s like a circus just rolled into town. The only thing missing are the elephants and lions, because there are certainly clowns and curiosities.”
Amongst them are people selling, and buying, real, stuffed buffalo heads, octopus chandeliers, and lots of creepy mannequins, but Nick Terzolo’s strangest encounter involved nothing that anyone was buying. While pulling shots one morning, Terzolo heard what he thought was a bawling baby. It turned out to be a baby sheep being walked on leash by a woman. “The lady said the goat had imprinted on her,” Nick Terzolo remembers. The sheep had been born just the day before—the woman had the umbilical cord to prove it—“and she needed to feed it every two hours so she couldn’t leave it at home. I guess she couldn’t wait ‘till the following month to buy antiques.”
Even in the context of the diverse population—buyers, sellers and goods alike—of the Alameda Flea, what stands out at Zolo Coffee is the truly familial tone of the operation. With father and son owning the business, Mama Zolo mans the cash register and has recently taken on the full weight of the administrative duties. Nick Terzolo’s brothers chip in when they’re back from college, and when they can, a variety of cousins pull shots, work the pour-over station, and generally help out. “My mom does the scheduling,” Nick Terzolo admits, “and she’s always scheduling around sports, finals, and school breaks. She always tell them, school comes first.”
With the built-in support network, Nick Terzolo and his family affair aren’t settling for a handful of markets and a robust mobile coffee cart. A pop-up window is in the works, and Nick Terzolo dreams of a brick-and-mortar shop, a roastery of his own, and a built-out Airstream mobile cafe. For the moment though, Terzolo has an oasis of specialty coffee in one of the most unique settings in the Bay Area. But more so, Nick Terzolo and the Terzolo family have each other—and after spending a few hours in their company, I can’t imagine needing much else.