Boston's North End has long been an enclave for the city's Italian community, with the first immigrants settling there in 1860. Italian culture is just as evident there today. 

Take a walk along Hanover Street, and you'll run into a charming, vintage coffee shop called Caffe Vittoria. It's an authentic Italian cafe that's been serving up cappuccinos, cannoli and everything in between for nearly 90 years. Caffe Vittoria has been a popular destination for locals and a pleasant stop for tourists, attracting household names like actor Al Pacino.

Caffe Vittoria isn't exactly quiet, with the clinking of mugs and spoons and chatter from a large group of friends in the corner who've scooted their chairs to crowd a small table. Baristas hidden behind the large coffee machines are knocking, pounding and pouring. 

The man keeping it alive is Armando Reyes, a native of El Salvador who fled the country amid turmoil during a civil war. He arrived in Boston as a bright-eyed 17-year-old, seeking opportunity.

"It wasn't easy. The first problem that I had was the language," Reyes said. 

Vittoria's vintage coffee maker.
Ciku Theuri/WGBH News
The original interior of Caffe Vittoria is decked out with coffee nostalgia and dozens of framed photos.
Ciku Theuri/ WGBH News
0 of 0

He got a job at Caffe Vittoria, cleaning tables and sweeping floors. The owner saw his potential and decided to teach him how to make cappuccinos. Soon, Reyes was whipping up hot delicacies for customers as a barista. You could say it's how he's maintained the shop's stellar reputation — he knows the secret to a good cup of Italian coffee.

"If the coffee machine is a good one, the pressure makes that coffee come out just [like] the cream. And that's a good cup of coffee," Reyes said. 

Fast forward some years later, and he is managing the establishment. 

As if its tasty offerings weren't enough, Caffe Vittoria's rich history gives off an old-fashioned, hometown vibe. It's full of conspicuous, shiny contraptions that are vintage coffee makers. A massive one sits in a glass case in the shop's window. Reyes says it's one of only two in the entire world. 

The coffee shop has evolved over time. A new wall partitions the entire facility, separating Caffe Vittoria's original interior, which was built in 1929, from the newer side. Reyes says the original side is usually closed when business is slow. Its walls are crowded with framed photos — some in color and some in black and white — of previous customers, former officials and beloved family members. A man peering out of a window in one photo, Reyes said, was a dapper regular customer who sat at table two in the coffee shop and used to sweet talk the ladies who came in. He's one of the many characters that have passed through Caffe Vittoria. 

“That’s what I like about my job — talk to people, say hello. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many different people from all around the world, different countries," Reyes said. "All kinds of celebrities, politicians. I even shook hands with Bill Clinton." 

Reyes has been around long enough to see how the neighborhood and Caffe Vittoria's clientele has changed. These days, a younger crowd comes in for their coffee fix. But if not for Reyes, this neighborhood would lose a good cappuccino or, worse — a crucial part of its history.