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The King of Cappuccino’s American Dream Came True

Domenico Seminara started as a waiter then played one in the movies. Now, art is imitating his life once more with a documentary crew capturing his extensive vintage cappuccino and espresso machine collection.
| |Photography by Elizabeth Lavin
Domenico Seminara coffee
Eagles Have Landed: Seminara’s collection includes a number of vintage brass Elektra machines from Italy. Elizabeth Lavin

Among Domenico Seminara’s prized collection of some 500 cappuccino and espresso machines is the first appliance he ever sold, in 1981, a Faema 1 Group that looks more like a fax machine than something that would yield a cappuccino, which, according to Seminara, is “a cup of coffee—with romance.” He bought back the machine years later to keep in his “cappuccino museum.”  

The museum occupies a sunny room on the second floor of his Minion-​yellow Arlington warehouse, lined on one side by a row of windows that face I-30 and, on the other side, by windows that look into a cavernous facility filled with the used gadgets and gizmos Seminara sells via his business, Specialty Restaurant Equipment.

Many of the machines in Seminara’s personal collection (there are hundreds more in the warehouse) are vintage Elektra models in the “old Italy” style, brass domes topped with eagle figurines. The oldest machine in his collection is a shiny 1948 Gaggia that he scored for a bargain from a Venezuelan restaurateur in Paris, Texas. 

He has also customized several machines. One features images of Native American notables that were airbrushed by an Albuquerque artist. Another was fashioned after the Parthenon; he almost sold it to a Dallas Cowboy two decades ago, but then the athlete balked at the machine’s $20,000 price tag. “I said, ‘You get millions of dollars from Jerry Jones,’ ” Seminara says. “You ask me to lower the price by a couple thousand dollars. I will not lower one penny.”  

He keeps several cars on-site, including a 1966 Lincoln Continental with suicide doors and a 1965 Rolls-Royce he bought off Lawrence Marcus. 

Seminara is from Calabria, the toe to Italy’s boot. He was living in Rome as a young man, pumping gas at his uncle’s station when someone told him about a school for waiters. Waiting tables took him to Bournemouth, England, when the Beatles were gods and skirts were mini, and then on to Bermuda. He took his first trip to the States in August 1969 to visit a college girl in Connecticut. She drove him to a party up north. 

“They were all into drugs,” Seminara says. “I never smoke drugs. Both of sex and drugs there was more than you could handle.” He points to a photo of Woodstock ticket stubs tacked to his office wall. “I remember it was so muddy.” 

Seminara immigrated to the United States in 1974, and after years of waiting tables—he once appeared as “Restaurant Maître D’ ” in the 1983 country-western boxing flick Tough Enough, starring Dennis Quaid—he began selling cappuccino machines. “I had $2,500 and a billion dollars’ worth of drive,” Seminara says. He has since bought, sold, and repaired all sorts of used restaurant equipment ranging from industrial pasta makers to slushie machines to vintage refrigerators, not to mention an array of curiosities such as arcade games and an old Pan Am ticket counter.

One might say Seminara is something of a sentimental pack rat. A corner of his showroom holds every computer he has ever owned; another room holds decades’ worth of the weekly trade pub Nation’s Restaurant News, and he keeps several cars on-site, including his first American wheels (a 1979 Buick Regal) plus a 1966 Lincoln Continental with suicide doors and a 1965 Rolls-Royce he bought off Lawrence Marcus. (Lawrence, brother of Stanley, launched a coffee roasting venture after retiring from Neiman’s.) 

Seminara is also a Bitcoin enthusiast. He attempted to launch a social club called Bitcoin World a few years back, but he sold the building when he was unable to find someone capable of running the joint. Real estate is another of his interests. Seminara recently sold 16 acres of land at the corner of I-20 and Highway 360 for a profit that would allow a few millennials to comfortably retire. 

“I didn’t set out to reach the American dream, but I made it to the American dream more than once in my business career,” Seminara says. “For your information, I have never had one ounce of help from the media in my climb to success.” 

There was one media encounter, however. Seminara had a newly acquired commercial building painted brown, and then he directed the painters to outline each brick in white. A reporter from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram happened upon the scene and asked how many bricks would be outlined. “I say 13,217,” recalls Seminara. A fabricated fact, he admits; he had no idea how many bricks comprised the building. 

Hearing that Seminara once lied to a newspaper reporter might make a magazine journalist wonder if any of Seminara’s stories are true—the Dallas Cowboy, the Marcus car, Woodstock—but at least one story is confirmed. When asked if anyone else in the world knows about his cappuccino museum other than family and employees, Seminara replies, “Oh no, no, no.” Then he casually adds, “Well, except the man making a movie about me.” 

Indeed, filmmaker Andrew Ryan Shepherd, formerly of Oak Cliff, now based in Austin, has roughly 40 hours of footage with Seminara. His 13-minute documentary, Specialty Restaurant Equipment—which can be seen as a portrait of a charming eccentric or, perhaps, a meditation on an aging immigrant’s desire to be acknowledged for his achievements—is being submitted to film festivals right now.  

Unusual Flying Objects

At the dawn of the internet, before TikTok and Instagram, Seminara had a winning gimmick. 

In 1995, Seminara placed an espresso machine inside a UFO model he had custom-built out of sheet metal as a way to introduce his website at trade shows. Websites were an unusual asset for a small business then (that was the same year nytimes.com launched) and a concept he learned from his favorite magazine, Forbes. “I consider it the only tool to peep into the future, and I did peep into the future back in 1995,” Seminara says. “I was going to tell people that the web is a spaceship that circles the earth and beams information.” The internet was, and is, a boon to his business; Seminara sells many of his wares via eBay. Though his daughters helped produce a more modern site in recent years, his original website, designed by a college student to his exact specifications, still exists. A colorful relic from the frontier days of the internet—awash in pixelated wallpapers, clip art, and a labyrinth of links, only some of which are related to restaurant equipment—it’s a rabbit hole worth exploring.

This story originally appeared in the April issue of D Magazine with the headline, “The King of Cappuccino. Write to [email protected].


S. Holland Murphy

S. Holland Murphy

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