In The Kitchen

Higher Grounds

Co-owner Audrey Finochiarro talks gender, success, coffee, and entrepreneurship

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Behind Audrey Finochiarro’s calm and collected exterior lies the tough experiences, hustle, and drive that fostered this demeanor. Her business, Nitro Cart, went from a Brown University Waterman Street grind to an artisanal Rhode Island phenomenon over the course of just four years. Now, with multiple wholesale accounts and two brick-and-mortar spots in Providence and Newport, Audrey looks back on a process fraught with growing pains, doubt, and, dare we say it, sexism.

In the summer of 2015, Audrey and her business partner Sam graduated from college and began making cold brew coffee in her parents’ basement for family and friends. For those of you who are not familiar with the rich elixir that is the nitro cold-brewed drink, think “Guiness of coffee.” Nitro has a rich, frothy texture and a creamy taste due to the nitrogen that is infused during and after the brewing process. It also doesn’t hurt that you get more bang for your buck – the smooth liquid is higher in caffeine than regular-brewed coffee and has a sweeter taste without added sugar.

The passion turned into a business idea and the two fashioned a cart and camped out in Downtown Providence during the summer to sell their coffee. Business dragged on eight hours a day at a glacial pace until the two parked their wooden contraption on Waterman Street at Brown. After that day, Nitro Cart had found its niche. Recalling the “ah-ha!” moment, Audrey said Sam called her that day to say, “I just had a line of 20 people for the last two hours and we are completely sold out!”

The business grew when owners of PVDonuts approached Sam and Audrey with a proposition. They wanted to sell Nitro Cart coffee on tap at their new, Instagram-viral donut shop. This was Audrey and Sam’s first wholesale account, and a step in a more profitable direction. That winter, the pair called all of their favorite restaurants to secure accounts for their product to be delivered by the keg-load. This process, says Audrey was “humbling” – to say the least.

“It taught us a lot about being rejected, and you really can’t care how much of a loser you look like walking into a restaurant where someone working could be like ‘No, we think you’re crazy.’”

Rejection is to be expected as a business-owner. But one thing that Audrey did not predict was the difficulties she faced as a young woman in the industry. Remembering that period of time with frustration, Audrey says, “I had just gotten back from school in New York City at a liberal arts college [where] everyone looks at everyone as equal. And then, coming home to Rhode Island, and starting my own thing, and being a female, and being young, that’s when I definitely started to get it – that’s when I started running into difficulties.”

The then 23-year-old would walk into a restaurant to sell coffee wholesale, only to be patronized by the older male manager on shift. This experience, she says, made her lean further into her economics education, do her homework, and developed the confidence she needed to make the sale.

Difficulties aside, Audrey maintains that she gained something positive from her time pounding the pavement. Along her way to success, other female business owners (from Rebelle Artisan Bagels, Stock PVD, PVDonuts, and Vic’s Craft Ice Cream to name a few) like herself were incredibly supportive, acting as a venting sounding board. The group has formed a kind of unofficial women’s small business association, offering encouragement and advice when they’re having a bad day. “From this group of women that I’ve found, they take me so seriously, and we all congratulate one another. Having that support system has just been crazy for our business.”

Nitro Cart
228 Broadway, Providence