Amid the bustling streets of downtown Palo Alto lies the traditional Italian-style Cafe Venetia, filled with the aroma of coffee and conversation.
The cafe has become a local favorite for its quality special roasts and Italian pastries, but unlike its fast-paced competitors — like Starbucks, Philz and Peets — Cafe Venetia offers a leisurely, conversational atmosphere, a replication of an Italian tradition seldom seen in the U.S.
The cafe’s outstanding quality and atmosphere are exactly what brought Hagit Zeev to the cafe in its opening year -– and have kept her coming back.
“When we came here, [Cafe] Venetia was the only place that had very good quality coffee and pastries,” Zeev said. “So we started going there and became regulars. Now we know people there, and the people who run it; it’s more of a homey place for us.”
Since its opening in 2005, Cafe Venetia has served as a beloved social spot in Palo Alto. The cafe has hosted diverse groups, from an Italian language exchange to Stanford international students, local au pairs and most recently, a group of chess enthusiasts.
Another typical Italian feature at Cafe Venetia is the operating hours. Cafe Venetia is one of the only cafes in the area that is open until 10 or 11 pm, depending on the day. Aside from further replicating the Italian experience, Cafe Venetia’s late hours have attracted many groups looking for a spot to meet in the later hours of the evening.
“[The cafe] does tend to attract groups that want to be in a beautiful and open space that is open for long periods of time, from morning to evening,” spokesperson Leigh Biddlecome said. “And that is kind of an unusual time for Palo Alto in particular, where a lot of shops close early.”
The ownership recently implemented a zero-waste initiative, eliminating all single-use plastics and encouraging customers to bring their own reusable containers for any to-go services. This change also enhanced the Italian aesthetic, as traditional tableware, including porcelain plates, cups, and metal cutlery, has replaced almost all plastics.
“I think the environmental aspect of [the initiative] was the main motivating force and wanting to be a good steward in Palo Alto,” Biddlecome said. “Potentially, when a single business does that, it can have a ripple effect on other businesses around.”
Several years ago, the seating area at the shop’s entrance was designated a computer-free zone. According to Biddlecome, the practice of using coffee shops as workplaces in Silicon Valley posed a threat to the essence and values of the cafe.
“There was a concern that if you let a cafe become 100 percent populated by people on computers, you would lose the conviviality that is so important in any European-style cafe,” Biddlecome said. “There’s this idea of an authentic Italian experience where you would go to the cafe in the morning and talk with different people, have a coffee, meet your friends and catch up on the news.”
For cafe frequenter Summer Praetorius, the computer-free zone offers a solution for her shared concern.
“When people are working on computers for long periods of time, it tends to change the vibe,” Praetorius said. “Whereas if there’s a zone, there are fewer people on the computers, and more people talking.”
And that’s what makes the cafe so unique: One’s almost guaranteed to find a crowd of computer users at any other local coffee shop — that is, any except Cafe Venetia.
“The cafe really wants to replicate the Italian cafe experience which is unusual in the area,” Biddlecome said. “At Venetia, from the aesthetics to the coffee itself and to the choice of ingredients, all of that is meant to give people the sense that they can sit down and feel like they’re in Italy, but still really be rooted in University Avenue and the innovative culture of Silicon Valley.”
Cafe Venetia is open on University Avenue on Sunday to Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday to Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.