Mario Martusciello

Coffee beans

Five years ago, Mario Martusciello was looking for his next big idea.

He'd spent a decade and change in Seattle chasing love and playing everything from punk to alt-country. At the time, he stepped into the coffee industry looking for something to pay the bills. He helped run coffee shops and even opened his own with an old flame. When that went south, he found himself in possession of recently liquidated start-up capital. Capital he would put to work in Phoenix.

A native Phoenician, Martusciello left the city of rainy days and coffee shops to visit his family back in Arizona. That's when an idea hit him like a 25 shot of latte.

"Coffee culture really hadn't clicked and micro-roasters were non-existent here five or six years ago," he says of Phoenix.

Martusciello utilized well-honed skills earned from years spent knee-deep in coffee beans and suffering through caffeinated proximity highs to roast and sell his own coffee as Matador Coffee Roasting Co.; not that it was easy.

"I went out as a salesman beating the pavement — which was awful," he says.

These days, Matador continues to fight a two-pronged war against the forces of break-room sludge with a retail shop located in North Phoenix, in addition to his roasting operation. Matador Coffee Shop is, like many Phoenix treasures, a strip-mall oasis. Walk in the front doors and you'll smell streams of freshly roasted coffee scent. A barista meets you at a bar lined with stools to take down the minutiae of your latte order. Your vision will be filled with scrumptious pastries sparkling with sugar and gleaming with frosting.

What you won't see is how Matador Coffee gives back to the greater community.

Inspired by legendary coffee roaster Alan Stewart's method for giving back to his coffee growers, Martusciello created Bright Beans — a private label coffee used as a fundraising tool to help nonprofits, including local schools and churches.

That's when the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center came into the picture. SARRC approached Martusciello about being part of "Autism Community Works," a vocational training program in which high-functioning, autistic clients are trained for a variety of jobs such as making and packaging soup or working at Walmart.

Martusciello brought on SAARC client Eric Foley (now a Matador employee) to bag and package coffee for Matador.

Then Martusciello brewed up another big idea, one that would repeat Foley's success.

"I thought that the soup idea was a good one, but we're in Arizona and it's hot and there's waste and it's so time-consuming and all these other things," he says. "I thought, 'Why don't they do the coffee?'"

Martusciello pitched the idea that would become "Beneficial Beans" to the higher-ups at SAARC and they loved it. Like Bright Beans, Beneficial Beans partners with nonprofits to raise money by selling micro-roasted coffee. The extra shot of beneficial comes from the involvement of SAARC clients in the packaging of the end product. Schools get some additional funding, other people get jobs.

And one local coffee roaster goes to sleep knowing he's made a difference in Phoenix — assuming the caffeine doesn't keep him up.

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Jonathan McNamara