Growing up in Medellín, Colombia, coffee was always part of Felipe Pelaez’s life. His grandfather on his father’s side was a coffee grower, while his maternal grandfather roasted and distributed coffee. As a child, Felipe drank up as much of this coffee culture as he could, learning not just about the flavors of the caffeinated liquid, but the joy and art of interacting with customers. “I was very young at the time, but I have that in my blood,” he says.
Today coffee still plays an important role in his life – Felipe is the owner of the popular Tazza Cafe in downtown Ridgefield. He is passionate about the quality of the coffee his cafe offers. Beans are provided by a local roaster and sourced from Colombia and other coffee-growing regions. He’s equally as enthusiastic about the food he serves, which includes popular salads, wraps, bagels, and more.
For Felipe though, the best part of the job is the chance to connect with customers and make their lives a little better. “I’m passionate about service,” he says. “My personal satisfaction is to make other people happy. That brings me happiness.” Many business owners might say something similar, but Felipe truly lives by these words. While being interviewed for this story one recent Thursday morning, he jumped up to hold the door for a mom and her child. Later he was engaged in a conversation with two regulars at the cafe.
This attitude is something his staff picks up on as well. Katelyn Hellrigel has worked at Tazza Cafe since 2019. She has noticed that unlike some other bosses she’s encountered who sit back and tell you what to do, Felipe leads by example. “He’s really hands-on,” she says. “You can tell he cares about the place.”
Hellrigel also enjoys watching Felipe interact with customers. “It’s fun to see the same people come in every day. He has a real connection with a lot of customers,” she says.
Felipe immigrated to the U.S. in 2000. He had already gotten a degree in business management and administration in Colombia, but started over in the U.S. after the mother of his oldest daughter moved here with her. “I didn’t want to see her growing up without a father nearby,” he says. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to leave everything behind and go there and be with my daughter.’”
He also realized there would be increased opportunities for both his daughter and him in the U.S. and he worked hard to make the most of that opportunity. After arriving here, he started in the food industry as a dishwasher and moved quickly up the ladder. He held almost every job in the industry – from busboy to waiter to working in a deli and kitchen. Ultimately, he made his way up to management, which gave him a chance to put to use what he’d learned in college.
In 2006, Felipe landed a job with Tazza Cafe company, which operated a couple of cafes in Westchester County. When the Ridgefield location opened in 2010, he was brought on as manager. In 2018, after having fallen in love with the business and the area, Felipe bought the Ridgefield Tazza Cafe.
He’s looking forward to opening a second cafe next spring in Wilton at 200 Danbury Road. Although it will be a sister restaurant to Tazza with the same coffee and food customers have grown to love, it will be called Nova Cafe.
Felipe logs long hours at the café, getting there at 4 a.m. and staying the whole day or working seven-day weeks when needed. “I’m a working guy and I’m super hyper. I have to be busy at all times,” he says. When he’s not working, he spends time with his wife and children. Felipe is also close with his extended family. He likes fixing cars and playing the piano — he plays an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, bossa nova, and Latin music.
After a lifetime around coffee, Felipe isn’t tired of it. When he gets a moment to sit back and enjoy a cup himself, he is a fan of variety: savoring cold brew and hot coffee, lattes and light espressos. “I’m a lover of coffee in all its different presentations,” he says.
The only time he didn’t enjoy work was during the 2020 shutdown and pandemic disruptions. “I was here every day during the pandemic, serving my customers. I did whatever it took to stay open,” he says. “This is my dream business I needed to keep it open. Thankfully, with the support of the community, I was able to stay alive during that rough time. I was very lucky. This is a beautiful town to be in.”