His coffee shop unites the town
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of profiles on Wake Forest's good neighbor and concerned citizen award winners.
Albert Barneto knows how to make an entrance.
The first time Meredith Brown met the Wake Forest Coffee Company owner, he slapped down a free cup of coffee in front of her and started talking politics with Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones.
Barneto had to introduce himself to Brown. He already knew the mayor.
That's not surprising, Brown says - in his three years as owner of Wake Forest's only coffee shop, Barneto has gotten to know just about everybody.
"That shop is probably as close to Cheers as Wake Forest has," Brown said. "Albert makes it a point to introduce himself to people, and his customers to each other."
Last month, Barneto was one of two winners of Wake Forest's second annual Good Neighbor of the Year award. The awards are determined by an eight-member panel appointed by the town's Board of Commissioners. The honor recognizes high-quality community involvement, said Brown, who was one of the judges.
Barneto started the cozy coffee shop a little more than three years ago. Nicknamed "WaFoCoCo" by some of Barneto's teenaged employees, it's one of the only places in Wake Forest's quaint downtown to take a book or a laptop and sit for hours, nursing the same cup of coffee.
The shop hosts live music every second Friday and local art on its walls year-round, and offers free meeting space to small businesses upstairs.
"He helped to foster a spirit of neighborliness downtown, because his place is a venue where people can come and feel safe," Brown said.
This is Barneto's first shot at peddling java. Before he moved to North Carolina, he owned a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise north of San Francisco. He is hesitant to take the credit.
"The community makes this shop what it is," Barneto said.
He is bashful about praise. He was hesitant to accept recognition for the award, and shy of having his name mentioned in the newspaper.
"There are people in Wake Forest who help the hungry," Barneto said. "All I do is business stuff."
Barneto was nominated for the award four times, but it's not a popularity contest. The winners are determined based on the quality of community involvement. Barneto's co-winner, Gene Adams, is a retired principal who is active in town issues and volunteers at the election site every year.
Barneto's nominations were full of accolades, from his ability to get residents excited about their town to his willingness to donate to charities and nonprofits.
"(Barneto) cares deeply about the community," one anonymous nominator said.
"The Wake Forest Coffee Shop has not only revitalized that small corner of downtown Wake Forest, but has given a new liveliness to the area after hours," said another. "He touches all areas of the town - all geographic areas and demographics."
Thank You Chelsea!