From Craft to Cup
Modest Coffee is the creation of husband and wife duo, Marcus and Jenni Contaldo. While officially established in October 2013, its story began much earlier at a little farmer’s market in Brookfield, IL. This is where they got their first taste of fresh roasted, specialty coffee, returning each Saturday to buy more.
Once winter came, they lost touch with their beloved coffee roaster so Marcus, armed with master-level Google skills, decided to figure out how to do it himself. They hit the thrift stores in search of the perfect popcorn popper to use for roasting and a new hobby began. Marcus found he really enjoyed learning about the different regions, their inherent flavor profiles, and the challenge of roasting them well. Soon he had friends, family, and co-workers asking him for coffee, roasted in 1/3 lb batches on a vintage Westbend Poppery. To keep up with the demand, he moved up to a one pound Behmor roaster and began to scan Craigslist for a commercial coffee roaster.
In September 2013 Marcus found that fateful coffee roaster, a yellow Ambex 500, located in Chicago. With trepidation, he discussed it with Jenni and they impulsively decided to go for it. So Marcus rented a pick-up truck from Home Depot, drove to the Fulton Market neighborhood in Chicago, and had Precious loaded in the back on a pallet. Marcus hurried back to their house, trying to stick to the allotted time limit on the Home Depot pick-up truck, then he and Jenni stood in their alley, nervously laughing at themselves and wondering what they had gotten themselves into. Neither Marcus nor Jenni ever considered what they would do with the coffee roaster once they had it, much less how they would get it off of the back of the truck.
So they did what they always do, they dusted themselves off and figured out a plan. They called some guys from the neighborhood to move the behemoth into their garage, returned the truck before incurring a late fee, and got to work figuring out how to start a business.
Marcus was raised in a foodie home, his dad being both an Italian chef and an entrepreneur, and this inspired his love for cooking and desire to own his own business. Roasting coffee and cooking go hand in hand – both require a good palate, a sensitive nose, and a considerable dose of intuition. Coffee roasting is a creative outlet for Marcus and he feels lucky to support his family doing something he enjoys, especially after having the will to live driven from him by the corporate world.
Jenni’s passion is for people and their stories. If she could have her own way, she’d be living in another country, learning about others and doing something helpful. Through better coffee buying practices, Modest Coffee supports global coffee growing communities by buying coffees that make a difference. If Jenni can’t travel to those countries, at least she can make a small difference with Modest. Always fond of math, problem solving, and organization, Jenni runs a tight ship and keeps everything square.
Jenni and Marcus are proud to see the growth of Modest Coffee and the impact they are making in the world of coffee and business. With expansion into over 100 retail outlets, they have managed to stay committed to their vision of traceability and quality while keeping single-origin coffee accessible. Marcus won a Good Food Award in 2021 for his creative roasting skills and hopes to win again. They are also proud to be majority woman run, with Marcus being the only man on staff — managing sales, roast profiling, and some roasting and deliveries. Everything else in the business from packaging, shipping, marketing, accounting, and the rest of roasting and deliveries is proudly powered by women in this male dominated industry. At Modest, Jenni has created a work environment that supports women and is understanding of the challenges women face in the workplace, especially if they have children, and a space where women can work and still take care of their outside lives without guilt or fear of repercussion.
Marcus and Jenni reside in an old Victorian home that they are restoring in the awesome city of Aurora, IL. They have 3 girls, 3 cats, and 4 dogs whom you sometimes see featured on Modest Coffee’s social media accounts. They love to create, to learn, to tinker. They’re always up for an adventure or hanging out with their favorite pals. People say they have boundless energy but really they’re just working hard now so they can relax later. Although, an endless supply of coffee helps.