Member Spotlight – Aaron Ultimo of Ultimo Coffee

For nearly ten years Aaron Ultimo has worked in specialty coffee and now owns his own coffee bar with his wife, Elizabeth. His story is quite the example of just how many great opportunities arise for professionals in the coffee industry. Aaron recently gave us the inside scoop on how he got his start in coffee and how he’s been able to turn his passion into a successful business.

When Aaron Ultimo, who owns and operates Ultimo Coffee, moved to Arlington, VA to work in a coffee shop he had no idea it would be the beginning of an accomplished and highly respected career in the coffee industry. He began working at Common Grounds coffee house in Arlington just after his college graduation and from then on there was no turning back; he was hooked. That initial spark of excitement over being behind the bar and crafting quality cups of coffee soon ignited into full blown passion.

One thing that definitely stands out in Aaron’s impressive repertoire is the fact that he took advantage of all the professional development opportunities that came his way. While a fresh-faced barista at Common Grounds, he got the opportunity to attend the SCAA Event. In 2004 he joined the staff of Murky Coffee and began competing and judging at USBC Regional Competitions. Since then, he’s become a familiar and well-liked face at latte art throwdowns, barista competitions, and BGA events. Aaron’s got some great personal stories about his early years in coffee, like “seeing Tim Wendelboe compete [in the WBC] and show off his cool spy briefcase full of barista tools,” but it’s clear that besides having fun, he also built a good base for his successful career in the specialty coffee industry.

In 2008, after spending seven years honing his coffee making and business skills, Aaron moved to Philadelphia with his wife Elizabeth and began the process of opening their dream coffee bar. Ultimo Coffee opened in May of 2009 and since then has flourished into a successful business, serving Counter Culture specialty coffee and espresso. Aaron is the first to admit that success did not come easy. He says “owning your own business is as challenging as they say. A large part of the challenge has been all of the time and attention necessary to keep the doors open. In those first few months it was like having a newborn. It was pure exhaustion. “Aaron credits his team of dedicated baristas and his good working relationship with wife and business partner, Elizabeth, as the reasons for the shop’s success. A key factor in maintaining that success is creating a balance between a relaxed and friendly coffee shop vibe and making clear business minded decisions. Clearly, Ultimo Coffee has found a system that brings results.

In addition to creating a successful business infrastructure, Aaron has also implemented several outreach programs that encourage both community involvement and business expansion. Ultimo Coffee hosts weekly cuppings which have strengthened the shop’s loyalty base and garnered local media coverage. Also, the folks at Ultimo have found a way to successfully bridge the gap between two beverage worlds, coffee and beer. The surprising thing? There was never really much of a gap to begin with. Since Ultimo started selling specialty beer from BREW, a local boutique take-out bottle beer shop, they’ve seen a remarkable crossover between the two drinker contingencies. Just another way Ultimo leads the pack in innovative business strategy.

All in all, not bad for a guy who recalls serving one of his first mochas without the espresso. For the aspiring coffee shop owner Aaron has these words of advice, “Get plenty of rest prior to opening, be a great role model for your staff in everything you do, encourage and reward excellence, never settle for good enough, and always be open to learning new things.” We couldn’t agree more, Aaron.

Click photo to be redirected to the Ultimo website

Ultimo Coffee is located at:
1900 S. 15th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19145
(215) 339-5177

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, stop by and say hi to Aaron and Elizabeth, then let us know about your visit! We always love to hear from our readers.