Raising the bar: Italy comes to Cape Charles

A business was started, sales for Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca reached $220,000 in 9 months, and supports 6 jobs

A tiny town on the Chesapeake Bay might be an unexpected place to find an old world, authentic Italian experience, but that’s what owner Cristina Carollo created with Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca. Located in Cape Charles, Cristina’s coffee and wine bar restaurant opened in May 2019. She was inspired by establishments in her native Italy, where they are a part of everyday life.

“In Italy where I grew up, a bar is the center of the social life and part of the day-to-day routine,” Cristina explains. “Italians gather in the bar to talk with friends, watch TV, play cards, while drinking an espresso, which is simply called caffé. Stopping for un caffé on the way to an errand or when going somewhere with friends is common.”

According to Cristina, these bars serve typical Italian breakfast and lunch, and, in the evening, become the social meeting place for aperitivo, an event similar to happy hour. Aperitivo consists of a glass of wine, a mixed drink or beer, often paired with a small bite, such as focaccia or stuffed olives. “Because of my roots and interests, the idea was to recreate this concept with the convivial and genuine atmosphere that comes with it,” she explains.

George Bryan of the Hampton Roads SBDC helped Cristina make her concept a reality. He referred her to the NxLeveL® Entrepreneurial Training Program offered through the Virginia SBDC, a 12-session, 15-week course that helped Cristina jumpstart her skills. She says that George was an invaluable resource, and his real-world experience helped her through the first few months. “I benefited the most from George’s expertise as a small business owner. For each topic we discussed, George had real case stories and examples that I could relate with,” Cristina adds. “In addition, having lived on the Eastern Shore for a number of years, George was instrumental in guiding me through location selection and helping me create my own business network.”

Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca has achieved over $220,000 in sales with three full-time and three part-time employees. Cristina is going to Italy in January and February, a quiet time for Cape Charles, to plan for the upcoming year. “I’m going to get inspiration and work on some exciting ideas to bring back and implement in the spring of 2020. Now that I have a few months under my belt, I can’t wait to tweak some things based on customers’ feedback, industry trends, and my own ideas,” she enthuses.

Cristina is grateful for her friendship with George and the success it has created for her. “George is a strong supporter of my business and actively promotes Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca. He is a phone call away when I have business issues to discuss,” she says. “I am so thankful he believes in me and taught me the basic elements for me to begin my journey with my own business. I consider George to be a mentor and a friend.”

Virginia SBDC