by Jillian Netherland | photography by Jose Leiva
In 2004, Tulio DeAlmeida seized an opportunity to visit the United States through a work travel program at his college in Brazil. Stepping foot on American soil for the first time – with $600 in his pocket, speaking no English, and without friends or family for thousands of miles – DeAlmeida today is a familiar, friendly face to the Lewiston Auburn community through the three Aroma Joe’s locations he franchises.
From Brazil to Maine
The youngest of four children, Tulio DeAlmeida was born and raised in Belo Horizonte City, the capital of Minas Gerais state located in southeast Brazil. Following his high school graduation, DeAlmeida embarked on his college education journey in 2000, pursuing a degree in business administration from UNA University. During his second to last semester in 2004, an opportunity through the college presented a prospect that perhaps changed the plotted course for DeAlmeida, as well as coffee lovers worlds away in Central Maine.
“My business administration degree track provided the opportunity for students to travel anywhere in the world for six months to learn how business varies within different cultures,” DeAlmeida explains. “When I selected the United States, I was given the choice between California, Florida, and Maine. I chose Maine because I had never seen snow before.”
As fate would have it, DeAlmeida’s first job in the States was at Dunkin’ Donuts in South Portland, where he was able to learn the coffee business and the English language. When the six-month program reached its end, DeAlmeida was not yet ready to leave. Admittedly not a fan of the snow or colder months, he did enjoy the work, and his newfound ability to communicate with his colleagues and customers in English. The school allowed him to extend his program and visa – a pattern DeAlmeida repeated for the next three and a half years.
“In 2008, I went back to Brazil for six months to finish college and receive my Bachelor’s degree,” shares DeAlmeida. “My employer was incredibly cooperative during this time. I was in a management position by that point, and my job was waiting for me when I returned to Maine.”
Later in 2009, DeAlmeida took a new job with National Semiconductor, now known as Texas Instruments, expanding on his management skills through a number of jobs in a different industry. Initially starting as manufacturer technician, DeAlmeida received on the job training and was soon promoted to the role of maintenance mechanic, responsible for building electronic chips. By 2016, however, DeAlmeida felt a new calling – he wanted to return to the coffee business by putting his management skills to use as a franchisee.
“During my time with Texas Instruments, I frequently visited Aroma Joe’s as a customer and really liked the environment,” DeAlmeida recalls. “Everyone was energetic and happy to be there. It sparked a light in my mind, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Already having experience in managing a coffee shop, opening an Aroma Joe’s felt like it would be a natural fit for DeAlmeida. Making every effort to turn his goal into reality, DeAlmeida “went all in” as he describes it, taking a job at an existing Aroma Joe’s to learn the specifics of the business, researching franchising requirements to make it happen, and even selling all of his belongings – including his car – to meet the financing needs of the lender.
“It was all absolutely worth it,” DeAlmeida shares with a smile. “I truly love doing what I do, and I would do it over again without hesitation.”
Choosing LA for business and community
After making the decision to open an Aroma Joe’s franchise and determining the logistics of how to make it happen, the next question was where. Hearing positive things and recognizing that an Aroma Joe’s had not yet been opened in the community, DeAlmeida chose LA as the destination for his new journey as franchisee. In February of 2017, DeAlmeida opened the doors to the community’s first Aroma Joe’s on Center Street in Auburn, where it was warmly received.
“Being welcomed as part of the community was huge,” shares DeAlmeida, who, as many entrepreneurs experience in their early days of opening and growth, spent more hours on the clock than not. This extra time spent working to get the business up and running provided DeAlmeida the opportunity to meet, connect, and get to know his customers. It is these connections that DeAlmeida attributes to allowing him to expand the Aroma Joe’s brand throughout LA.
“Lewiston residents would stop in the Center Street location, and express interest in having an Aroma Joe’s location in Lewiston,” DeAlmeida remembers. This interest led to the opening of Aroma Joe’s on Sabattus Street in 2020 and then the location on Main Street in October of 2022.
Each location has since filled a need for its section of the community, with the most recent location on Main Street being appreciated for its proximity to the hospital and ease in entrance and exit, especially during the morning rush and shift changes.
“I have no doubt that I made the right choice in community – I love it here, and it’s been a great place to bring my family to visit,” DeAlmeida shares.
Like DeAlmeida, his family members had never visited the States prior to his working here. “It’s incredible to show them what I’m doing here and the community I’m part of. My mom spent a few months here this past year and it was her turn to see snow for the first time.”
Connections, coffee, and growth
A strong love of coffee may not be a necessity for running a successful trio of coffee shops, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Having a personal affinity for espresso, citing the macchiatos, lattes, and rush energy drinks as his favorites, DeAlmeida has a true talent for creating unique drink blends designed to match his customers flavor and dietary requests. He encourages his team’s creativity while remaining consistent with the Aroma Joe’s brand.
In addition to the caffeinated pick-me-ups Aroma Joe’s is known for, they also offer a wide variety of other beverages including fruit smoothies, organic iced teas, handcrafted sodas, and white hot chocolate, as well as a breakfast menu of sandwiches, bagels, muffins, and donuts, and anytime snacks such as their popular soft pretzels in a variety of flavors and fillings.
More than appreciation for coffee and working as a team for DeAlmeida – who is known to jump in with his team to assist with making the drinks and serving the customers he, too, knows by name – it’s the combination of gratitude and the opportunities available in the States that DeAlmeida cites as his key to success, personally and professionally.
“What I have experienced here is that if you put in dedicated work and honest effort, you can get somewhere,” explains DeAlmeida. “It’s not that simple in Brazil. You need to know someone or find help from others versus getting there on your own through hard work. Compared to Brazil, this really is the land of opportunities.”
Having recently opened their 100th location with franchises throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and as far south as Florida, expansion is something continually on the horizon for Aroma Joe’s. Having grown from one location to three over the course of five years, this is a business model DeAlmeida follows under the one core philosophy that has been a guiding beacon for him in business since first arriving in Maine – connection.
“We do not have intercoms in our shops, so face-to-face interaction with customers makes for an uncompromised, personable interaction,” DeAlmeida shares with pride. “People need that, to have that positive interaction in a coffee shop. Sometimes you go through a drive-thru and the barista doesn’t know your name despite speaking with you every day. Here, through the window or counter, you get into conversation and get to know each other. Sometimes it’s that interaction during your coffee pick-me-up that make or turn around your entire day.”
Tuilo DeAlmeida – Aroma Joe’s
Lewiston Auburn | aromajoes.com