Saturday, January 13, 2024
Elisabeth Cardiello in BRAVE Conversations
New York entrepreneur Elisabeth Cardiello of Caffe Unimatic initiates BRAVE Conversations Over Coffee® with the NYPD.
By Lyle Laver for The National Business Post
September 29, 2020
What is it about a good cup of coffee? It is the aroma, the scent, the sense memory that recalls that last moment of sitting out on the dock, around the campfire, up early reading the paper, enjoying a special moment with another, in good conversation.
Recently, with this pandemic keeping all of us inside, I had the opportunity to spend an evening perusing the documentaries available on Netflix. Thinking I was looking for something specific, I began to search. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but what I found was a documentary called COFFEE FOR ALL – Caffé Sospeso.
For the next hour and a half, I was brought to three places in the world – Naples, Buenos Aires, and New York. All had their own individual stories to tell about how coffee had impacted the lives of those working, roasting or consuming the bean.
There was the story from Naples where you came to know the “barristas” as they prepared the perfect espresso. In Buenos Aires, you came to know the Argentine author who wrote four best-selling books while at his local café, using the serving staff or those that would walk by his window’s front table as his next characters – his whole creative process intertwined with the life from within his local café.
And in New York, we are introduced to Elisabeth Cardiello, founder and owner of Caffé Unimatic, a New York based coffee company that roasts three varietals of beans, and sells the last original retro-vintage percolator coffee pot called “The Unimatic.”
Unimatic portrait
The Unimatic coffee pot
Her story is a love story. And it all begins with her father.
Peter Cardiello, born and raised in San Pietro al Tanagro, a small town in Southern Italy, came to America in the mid 1940s and settled in Bay Ridge, in Brooklyn, NY. An entrepreneur, he started a stainless-steel cookware company and in the 1950s, decided that it needed to tackle the taste problem of American coffee. He wanted Americans to experience coffee the way Italians experience coffee. So through the research of his company, United Cookware, the world’s only automatic drip-percolator – The Unimatic – was born.
For Elisabeth, the Unimatic was much more than just a coffee pot. It was a talisman of her earliest memories as a child, engaged in and fascinated by the conversations her family had over the years, around the dinner or breakfast table, all with a pot of coffee – The Unimatic – front and center.
“The conversations that we had around our table – as a family with my dad – happened because of the way the Unimatic coffee pot functions. It maintains the temperature of the coffee, on its own. So we’d consistently say ‘oh, and there’s a bit more coffee left, just stay and finish the pot… just twenty more minutes.’ We would linger for hours.”
As young girl, an only child, Elisabeth never wanted those conversations to end. She often tells the story of how her father made her business cards from the paper stock of the company. Owner. At six years old, her father had made her owner of the business. How proud he was. And how that made her feel, confident that she was making her father proud.
Elisabeth went on to study international business and art, graduating summa cum laude from Wagner College, a liberal arts school with a long history on Staten Island, NY.
She then received her MBA in Management and graduating at the top of her class, she accepted a job offer at an investment bank and then at a hedge fund in midtown in New York. Although she says she learned a lot, she felt wildly unfulfilled, as she said, “waiting for that light bulb moment when I’d be clear about what I wanted to create.”
Then, on Thursday, September 30th, 2010, everything changed. Peter Cardiello – her father – passed unexpectedly. Over the years, her father had battled high blood pressure, heart problems and aortic aneurysms. The family had lived through their share of surgeries and hospital stays, but nothing had prepared them for this. What the family thought would be a seemingly simple routine surgical procedure became a 14 hour operation from which Peter would never recover. The family was devastated. Elisabeth’s world, upside down. Her father, gone.
For months, she worked to make sense of her father’s affairs, cleaning out his office, sorting through papers and inventory. The 26-year-old had now found herself thankful that she had started her career in the finance industry. It gave her the knowledge and experience to take on the responsibility of sorting out the family’s affairs.
Then, almost two years to the day, on Monday, October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the Cardiello family home on Staten Island and left it underwater, quite literally. As Elisabeth recounts, “the ocean was in our living room.” Like her father’s passing, it was a complete shock to the system. Already challenged by what had happened only twenty-four months prior, Elisabeth had to quickly address the changing environment. She immediately moved back to Staten Island from midtown New York, and helped her mom rebuild. Now it seemed like all had been set adrift.
What would be her response?
As she describes it, it was in a moment where she had almost finished cleaning out her dad’s offices when she discovered a room filled with inventory. Expecting the inventory closet to hold a few remaining pieces of a leftover cookware company, Elisabeth realized that the door led, not to a closet at all, but to an entire room, a warehouse filled with five thousand of the drip-percolators her father had manufactured in Italy back in the 1960s, all sitting just beyond a door that she’d walked past since childhood.
In that moment, whatever had been, was no longer. Flashbacks of her mornings spent around the breakfast table with her dad came rushing in, The Unimatic sitting in the center of the table. It was all that was needed to stop her in her tracks.
Every Unimatic represented a moment that she could give to another family. She thought if she could build a company that brought people together, around their tables, for similar conversations, just like the moments she had shared with her father, she would forever pass on his legacy.
“When I realized how many Unimatics there were, pictures flashed before my eyes and I had the knowing that ‘this coffee pot is what gave you the opportunity to know who you are and to have the conversations that gave you your confidence and your resilience. This coffee pot invited the conversations that made you feel like more was possible.’ The thought of being able to give that opportunity to even just 5,000 other families, even if I added nothing else to it, I was in. I didn’t know a thing about coffee, but giving that opportunity to spend a bit more time around the table, over coffee just felt too important to pass up.”
And so it was the genesis of the Caffé Unimatic coffee company. In the moment when Elisabeth was most open, most available to receive, to hear, to see the opportunity in front of her, Caffé Unimatic had sprung roots. As her father had always said to her growing up, “What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve.”
That was nearly a decade ago.
Today, Elisabeth is the seasoned owner of Caffé Unimatic. She has completed two TEDx Talks, spoken at UN Conferences, given Congressional Briefings, has been the focus of a Netflix documentary, cofounded Legacy Out Loud – an education company helping young women access their own entrepreneurial spirit (like her father did with her) and now facilitates a formalized program called BRAVE Conversations Over Coffee® for companies like Facebook and Dalberg Consulting and colleges like the University of Nebraska. She is quite busy.
Elisabeth with Unimatic
Elisabeth Cardiello with The Unimatic
Dr. Thomas Field, the Director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Nebraska said, “I used to stay up at night wondering how I could better support the women in our program because despite their immense talent, they were hesitant to launch businesses and only represented 25% of our leadership team. After two years of initiating consistent Brave Conversations Over Coffee, I now lose sleep wondering how to grow the same kind of powerful experiences for our men so they can keep pace. Women now make up 75% of our leadership team and 53% of them have launched or pivoted businesses.”
What began as a program of in person and online modules educating young women on how to build their own entrepreneurial confidence quickly evolved into creating a formal platform whereby those conversations over coffee could initiate a safe and intimate space for dialogue.
“Just about everyone told me, you can’t run two businesses at once. They weren’t wrong.”
Elisabeth’s friend and mentor, well known author and marketer, Seth Godin explained that she needed to integrate her ideas.
“His empathy, perspective and general sensibility has always reminded me of my Dad and I’m so grateful that he didn’t just agree with everyone else and ask me to choose between Caffé Unimatic and Legacy Out Loud. He said ‘I am smart enough to know you are not going to choose one, so I need you to figure out an architecture by which you can do both.’ And I spent the next year and a half creating exactly that.”
What Elisabeth came to realize was that upon analyzing and deconstructing the dialogue within her Legacy Out Loud retreats, she had built an intuitive platform of listening – the crucial element that helped these young women find their space and place. It was in listening to their stories that helped build their entrepreneurial confidence. It was in the asking of questions. It was in listening to the response. It was initiating a space whereby these young women would be heard. The light bulb went off. Elisabeth realized the methodology itself incorporated the science behind post traumatic growth, resilience, and how we build trust as humans. The most crucial aspect of any conversation is in the listening.
“When I was a kid,” said Elisabeth, “I internalized the way I could bring down my Dad’s blood pressure by the way I communicated, particularly by the way I listened. As an adult, I learned the science behind listening and started intentionally practicing what I had actually been doing my whole life.”
As Elisabeth explains, having coffee, going for coffee with a friend or colleague, creates that space to listen.
“There was something about the way coffee, confidence and conversation went together, that I couldn’t shake. Confidence comes from the way we rise from challenges. Conversation is how we connect with others and contributes to our resilience. And coffee brings us together, ‘let’s get coffee’ is a phrase that connects humanity. They each led me back to my Dad, but more so, they led me back to myself. My passion has always been at the intersection of communication and leadership. My honors thesis in college was on leadership, my favorite parts of my MBA were the emotional intelligence courses. Everything I gravitated toward my whole life was because I am endlessly fascinated by how we communicate with ourselves and others and the impact we can have. Since coffee is the global symbol of connection, as well as a talisman of hope, inspiration and daily positive forward movement, I knew that I was put on this earth and in this industry to use it for something bigger.”
BRAVE Conversations Over Coffee® is now a formalized learning platform offered to institutional and corporate clients across the US with the mission of teaching how best to initiate an open forum of dialogue. Using her knowledge of neuroscience, positive psychology, and her own personal experience, being BRAVE to Elisabeth – and to increasing amounts of corporate teams around the world – is all about learning how to listen.
UoN BRAVE Conversationss
University of Nebraska BRAVE Conversations over Coffee®
“You have no control over others, but you do control whether or not you conduct yourself in a way that makes someone feel safe enough to share something with you. B.R.A.V.E. is an acronym that refers to the way we can intentionally create this space. Contrary to what most people assume, brave does not refer to the person speaking, but the way we listen.”
These BRAVE Conversations over Coffee® are allowing dialogue amongst those who most importantly might not feel safe in bringing their ideas forward. In creating genuine social support rooted deeply in an environment of trust, those, who are most sensitive to or impacted by the stresses involved in such topics, are more likely to open up. Whether it is in the boardroom or the bedroom or amongst professional colleagues who have been involved in traumatic environments, research studies have already shown that social support will decrease the likelihood of internalized stress.
Recently, during the Covid-19 quarantine in New York, Elisabeth conducted more than 50 virtual Brave Conversations Over Coffee® for companies. They began as a way for corporate teams to stay connected in a meaningful way. These conversations soon morphed into a space where they were able to address race, inclusion and mental health. She was even asked to conduct a series of private Brave Conversations around race for an interracial family in order to open up the dialogue, where it had been shut down.
“It’s interesting. Some of the most fascinating conversations I had with my dad around the table over a cup of Unimatic coffee, were either about one of his mentors, named Norman Vincent Peale who quite literally wrote the book on the power of positive thought or his days in the U.S. military, when he worked in Intelligence. Because of both the experiences, he was brought in to counsel NYPD’s retired officers who, after turning in their badges and guns, felt as though they turned in their entire identity. Some were even on suicide watch. My dad would take them back to themselves. Those must have been particularly brave conversations.”
As Elisabeth reflects back on how far she has come over the last 10 years, she is excited about what is ahead.
“Today the platform of BRAVE Conversations Over Coffee® is changing the way companies, teams and families communicate with each other, most importantly helping them listen in a way that empowers, rather than undermines, giving them a framework that enables them to have the difficult conversations that will move them forward. Our mission is to initiate the process by which we are able to sit across the table from someone who believes something completely different from us, and find a way to genuinely want them to be well, without feeling like that detracts from our own goodness. Be able to hear them, accept them, instead of demonizing them so that we feel better about ourselves. We hope that around our, currently virtual, tables that we can give people the space to share the root of their experience, to see that all humans have the same needs and the same fears at their core. Until we can do this, we are not going to get anywhere in a sustainable way.”
And so it is. What started as a coffee company for Elisabeth Cardiello is now grounded in its mission of facilitating brave, courageous conversations. For it is a good cup of coffee, and a warm conversation with someone who is listening intently that helps us ground ourselves. It helps us heal. It helps us in knowing that we are part of a larger human experience, and that we together as a society, are all struggling to make sense of what each and every day means.
“I was driven to keep telling stories, keep listening and keep him at the table…”
Last week upon returning from a long overdue holiday, Elisabeth found out that the NYPD will be initiating BRAVE CONVERSATIONS over Coffee®, training officers in listening, as she says, in a way that helps empower those they interact with. It will be part of a new internal directive that will officially launch later this year.
Copyright © 2020. The National Business Post. All rights reserved.
Lyle Laver is founder and CEO of The National Business Post.