Brandon Segotta thought it would be funny to make "ipromisetoneverbuystarbucksagain" the Wi-Fi password at Verona Coffee Co., a new coffee shop in downtown Collinsville.
The manager had no idea that Starbucks would become engulfed in a national controversy two days later, when two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia location for sitting at a table without making a purchase.
It was a perfect opportunity for Segotta and his fiancee, Leah Thomason, who helps him at Verona, to emphasize that everyone is welcome at their coffee shop, and they can stay as long as they want.
"I feel like Collinsville really needed something like this, especially for people who aren't 21 yet," said Thomason, 24. "There were just bars downtown. Now people can come here and study or just hang out."
Verona opened April 10 in the front half of a storefront building at 101 E. Main St. The back half is occupied by Bert's Chuckwagon, a popular restaurant specializing in barbecue and Mexican food.
The coffee shop serves a variety of espresso-based hot and cold drinks — lattes, mochas, cappuccinos and Americanos — as well as Firepot nomadic teas and flavored iced teas.
"We partner with Kaldi's Coffee in St. Louis," said Segotta, 35. "They're our supplier and our technical support."
Verona also offers pastries baked by Segotta's sister, Shannon Conner. Her husband, Joel Conner, is the son of Roger Conner, longtime owner of Bert's Chuckwagon.
Shannon and Joel Conner own the coffee shop and the building. They formerly used the front half for a T-shirt store and later their photography business.
In the past two weeks, Verona customers have included stylists from Lox Salon Spa at 105 E. Main St.
"The girls are big coffee addicts, so they have enjoyed being able to go right next door," said Lox owner Lindsi Shafer, 30. "It's saved them trips to Starbucks."
Segotta trained and worked as a coffee roaster and barista in Colorado in his teens and early 20s before starting a flooring business with a friend and later selling insurance. But he never lost his passion for coffee.
That was evident earlier this week, when Segotta explained how "single-origin" drip coffee served at Verona differs from its house blend.
"That means it comes from one country in particular — right now that's Peru — and it comes from one farmer," he said. "It has more depth and a more distinct flavor because it's not a mixture of beans from different places.
"The one we have now has berry and chocolate notes to it. It's not a flavored coffee, but the volcanic activity in that region has enriched the soil."
Segotta moved to Collinsville last year and spent nearly four months renovating the front half of the Conner building. He replaced the flooring, built a counter out of knotty pine and topped tables with art-deco tiles.
Verona also has comfy couches and chairs and a high-top bar with electrical outlets for laptops. Walls of windows give customers panoramic views of Main and Center streets.
The pastry case features rotating flavors of cookies and scones, but it always contains blueberry scones with lemon icing, as well as peanut butter energy bites (peanut butter, chocolate chips, oats, flaxseed, coconut and honey rolled into balls).
"My sister has some great recipes, and she's teaching me how to make them right now," Segotta said. "We're hoping to get some savory breakfast food in the morning, too."
Also on the chalkboard menu are Italian sodas, hot chocolates and flavored steamers.
On a recent morning, Jane Akin stopped in Verona for the first time with her husband, Tony. She ordered her old standby, a caramel latte, and loved it.
The couple had heard about the coffee shop from The Collinsville Connection Facebook page, where it has been getting rave reviews from local residents.
"I'm happy they're here," said Jane Akin, 54, of Maryville. "There's no place else to get coffee. I'd much rather patronize a small, locally-owned business than a mega-million-dollar national company."
Verona's hours will be 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays until it becomes more established.
Collinsville has a strong Italian-immigrant heritage, and the city attracts tens of thousands to its annual Italian Fest. The coffee shop is named after a city in Italy.
"It's where Romeo and Juliet lived," Segotta said.