The Underground Barista
Brandeis student Ben LoCascio '20 has found his calling selling lattes on campus.
When Ben LoCascio ’20 is daydreaming in class, he’s not fantasizing about backpacking across Europe or sipping cocktails on a tropical island. Instead, he’s thinking about coffee. LoCascio began drinking coffee sometime in the eighth grade and hasn’t looked back since. “My dad is from Italy and would always make espresso drinks,” LoCascio mused. “I think it was his rebellion against American drip coffee.” When he was given a $3,000 professional-grade espresso machine by his uncle before attending Brandeis, LoCascio decided to channel his love of coffee into a one-man movable Café stand, affectionately dubbed “Café Undergrounds.” Since then, the Café has taken off, bringing in hundreds of dollars in sales each weekend. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays, LoCascio can be found selling lattes and Nutella paninis from a small cart parked in Upper Usdan. He’s keenly aware of his competition on campus: between Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Einstein's, students have wondered where Café Underground fits in. LoCascio says he isn’t sweating the competition, because he has a secret force behind him — God.
Entering its second year of operation, Ben believes Café Undergrounds is finally hitting its stride. Last year the Café went on a hiatus that proved to be a pivotal moment in his life. Over the summer, frustrated by a broken espresso machine, Ben decided to pray. In the end, he fixed his machine and, with renewed determination, set out to reopen Café Undergrounds with a new twist — a $1 discount for customers who write down prayers for him to say at home. “I thought, how can this be something that doesn’t shove God down people’s throats, but also invites those who are willing, to pray and connect with God.” [“Growing up, I would always drink coffee when I read the bible, and somehow, coffee subconsciously became this religious thing. I think pursuing a coffee business is my calling,”] he said.
LoCascio explained how he measures out the coffee grounds on a small glass scale, uses organic milk in the lattes and even puts small stickers saying “you are beautiful” on all the coffee cups. Ben works weekdays as a barista at George Howell Coffee in Newton and uses their espresso beans at his stand. “I want everything to be the best quality I can make it,” he said, grinning.
Even with the dollar discount, Café Undergrounds is more expensive than its competition, but LoCascio says he’s selling more than just coffee. “Coffee gives me a moment to slow down, and the fact that it takes four minutes to make a latte allows for a moment of connection with the customer. It’s all about the experience,” he added.
Despite its name, LoCascio has been making a concerted effort to bring Café Undergrounds above board. He now accepts credit cards as payment and has been working with the University administration to make his business more “official.” He said he’s looking into opening the Café on more days and promoting his business online through Instagram and Facebook. Last weekend, he broke his record by selling 50 lattes in a day. “Eventually,” he added, “I want to take this through the entrepreneurship lab on campus, through SPARK, so that this becomes University sanctioned and Café Undergrounds can go service campus events.”
Ultimately, LoCascio wants to make Café Undergrounds less about him and more of a community business where students can grab coffee and meet new people. Before packing up his cart, Ben explained, “Café Underground has a rogue nature to it that I don’t want to ever lose.”