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Tiny hands grip along the edge of a red lounge chair, barely skimming a brightly-colored blanket draped carefully over the mid-century modern seat.
Emiliano, 1, toddles beyond the seating area with glee. Little feet over an Aztec-print rug, passing by ceramic jarritos, rounding the corner towards the row of gleaming stainless steel: espresso and coffee machines shut off for the night.
Emiliano runs around the coffee shop as if it’s his second home — because, it is, to his parents: Oscar Pineda and Vanessa “Flor” Pineda-Olguín, the entrepreneurs behind Las Adelitas Café. The business is emerging in a redeveloping part of Wichita where coffee shops have yet to thrive.
Oscar and Vanessa are one of more than 62 million Latinos in the U.S., representing 19% of the country’s population. A number projected to skyrocket to 111 million by 2060. Latinos also have an economic output of $2.8 trillion with nearly 5 million businesses registered as Latino-owned across the country – generating more than $800 billion in revenue, according to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
According to the Kauffman Indicators report, Latinos are starting new businesses faster than any other ethnic group, consistently showing the highest rate of new entrepreneurs every year since 2002. In some years, their rate was more than double than others.
Las Adelitas, tucked into a corner on First and Market Street in downtown Wichita, opened this past March. The café highlights the Pineda’s Mexican heritage: fresh beans harvested from Mexican farms and a space decorated with touches of home: blankets, specialty mugs, and paper-cut rainbow banners.
The pair are broadening the idea of what coffee looks like and who it can serve, pushing forward a new business while simultaneously strengthening Latino presence in downtown Wichita.
For Oscar Pineda, coffee is his life. He’s been roasting beans for 15 years, always with the dream of starting his own coffee product and eventually opening a space to showcase it.
“Coffee creates conversation. Coffee doesn’t discriminate. It’s given me opportunity,” Pineda, 35, said in an interview with The Journal.
Both Oscar and Vanessa are DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to temporarily remain in the country and obtain work permits.
Oscar said the 2012 policy initiative allowed him to “step out of the shadows” and incorporate himself into society.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t know what to do. It felt difficult (to dream) because of my status here. I didn’t know my future. I just went with what life had to offer me and tried to do the best I could with what I had,” he said.
Vanessa, co-owner of the café and Oscar’s wife, came to Wichita from Mexico when she was six months old. The pair met in high school, got engaged at 18, and now, 20 years later, after five kids and 250,000 pounds of roasted coffee beans, they’ve opened their first brick-and-mortar: Las Adelitas, named after the women soldiers who fought on the frontlines during the Mexican Revolution.
“Adelitas were soldiers in the revolution, but (we adopted the name) because these days, we are all fighting for the same thing,” Oscar said. “To have an everyday life, everyday income, everyday food.”
“The name empowers me to accomplish our dream,” Vanessa said in an interview. “I come out here and do the thing with Oscar, together, as a marriage. That’s how I refer to myself, as an Adelita. Out there fighting the battle. Fighting for our dream.”
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Before the revolution, there was hope
Oscar’s formal venture into coffee started after finishing high school, when he got a job working with a local roaster specializing in coffee vending.
“I learned how to maintain the machines and operate the production roasters, but had an interest in learning more of the science behind making the coffee itself, not just pushing the buttons that made it all happen,” he said. “So, I read as much as I could, researched online, and networked with other coffee professionals any time I could.”
After more than a decade of learning the art of coffee — which comes with an intimate knowledge of flavor, finish and process — Oscar opened an ecommerce store to sell his own: Esperanza Coffee Roasters. Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish.
The website went live in 2021, selling coffee and espresso beans from Mexican farming communities where “everyone involved in the supply chain benefits from our transaction,” according to Oscar. He chooses who to work with depending on their mission, how they use the money and what percentage the farmer gets from sales.
“I search for coffees that connect with my principles that my parents taught me, and try to connect directly with the communities that produce them, so that I can be the bridge to our immigrant coffee community and any other communities that have interest in creating changes through coffee,” he said.
Oscar was born in Michoacán, Mexico, one of the country’s top coffee-producing regions. He said his birthplace gave him a natural inclination towards working directly with farmers whenever possible, such as Finca Triunfo Verde, a coffee cooperative located in El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve. The group has over 100 women producers that use profits to address issues that affect women farmers, such as gender-based violence and legal barriers to obtaining land ownership.
These are the values that Oscar wants his investment in.
Esperanza was a success, but Oscar and Vanessa hoped for more. So, they turned to local organizations for help — like The Garages.
The Garages are a rotating line-up of retail incubator spaces in Wichita. The program allows entrepreneurs to “plan, build and develop new retail ideas in a low risk, supportive space that fosters learning and growth,” according to their website. The program is partly financed through funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and supported by organizations such as the Wichita Foundation, Bokeh Development and Fidelity Bank.
“When I first met Oscar, he wanted to grow his coffee business Esperanza. He wasn’t quite sure what that looked like… but wanted to explore what the options were,” Jaimie Garnett, program manager for The Garages.
“He had an amazing product. A real heart for community and wanting to showcase his culture through both his product and brand experience. You can tell he also loves the art of roasting beans and coffee curation.”
The Garages provided Las Adelitas a $1,000 start-up investment, tiered rent, strategic business consulting and a customized mentorship team.
“For Oscar and Vanessa, one of the biggest things we’re working on is operations and building brand awareness through social media capital and getting eyeballs on their product,” Garnett said. “And, with selling coffee beans, how do we provide an opportunity for customers to try the coffee and fall in love with it?”
The barriers between an idea and its execution
“Our goal was always to have a coffee shop,” Vanessa said. “But it was always just really far away. When we got this opportunity (with the Garages) we just went for it.”
Like Las Adelitas, the number of Latino-owned businesses employing at least one other employee besides the owner increased 14% between 2012 and 2017 — more than twice as fast as the national average.
Despite their extraordinary growth, Latino business owners continue to face barriers higher than their white counterparts, such as receiving less capital investment or struggling to find the appropriate resources to launch a business.
Oscar said applying for loans is “often discouraging.”
“It seems that sometimes, they just dismiss you quickly because your business is too new,” he said. “I wish there was more feedback or more help available in navigating that process.
“There are great community resources out there but the education and navigation of them is so important,” Garnett said. “That’s not only for Latino business owners, but every small business owner. How do you navigate through all the existing resources out there?”
Oscar and Vanessa struggled to find the right information to start a business, from registering in Kansas to licensing to insurance. Wichita-based Empower started hosting small business classes in 2021, going over information such as commercial leases in both English and Spanish. Oscar came to one of them and met Ariel Rodriguez, the executive director of Empower.
“I remember reading our signup sheets and seeing someone with coffee and I love coffee,” Rodriguez said in an interview with The Journal. He said he had heard of Esperanza Coffee and wanted to meet the man behind it.
The pair hit it off immediately.
“(Oscar) was just talking nonstop about his passion for coffee and community and how he wanted to do both. At the time, expanding Esperanza was the idea,” Rodriguez said. “We supported him, got his name out there at businesses, catering events, and did pop-ups with him to get exposure.”
“It’s good that I found Empower because they were able to give me that information. And The Garages gave me the push, the lift to create the vision I had,” Oscar said, adding that he found the organization on Facebook.
Oscar and Vanessa also received financial and logistical aid from other nonprofits such as NetWork Kansas and Create Campaign — two organizations aiming to uplift minority entrepreneurs.
Speaking generally on the community Empower serves, Rodriguez added that one of the biggest barriers he sees is the English-Spanish language barrier. Many entrepreneurs that attend the organization’s events don’t speak English and need help filling out forms.
“There’s also banking. We have a lot of under-banked individuals. Like credit scores. Many, because of their documentation status, don’t have a credit rating. Sometimes when (our clients) go to the bank for a loan, they struggle to access financing without a credit history or background,” Rodriguez said. “How do you begin to remove some of those barriers that are outside traditional banking? That’s how Empower can come in.”
Taking it ‘one cup a day’
In the past, the Pineda household had three espresso machines. A mini operation that forced Vanessa to fling open windows and doors to let out the thick aroma of coffee beans.
Now the family of six have a home base in downtown Wichita. Oscar and Vanessa run the café. Their oldest daughter, 16-year-old Yoselin, picks up shifts as a barista. Their other four kids come in and out of the shop, already adapted to having the café be the stop between school and home.
Even Emiliano, the baby boy, helps out in his own way: he is an adorable model on the café’s Instagram account.
“(Yoselin) has her dad’s palette now. I think coffee tastes like coffee and she’s like, ‘no, Mom, this is sweeter. This one’s bitter.’ She can smell the difference,” Vanessa said.
Oscar hesitates to define a clear goal for the future.
“I wasn’t able to plan goals for myself because of the situation I was in. It’s hard for me to say ‘this is what I want to do’ in the future. I just take it day by day. One cup a day,” he said.
Oscar and Vanessa are open to eventually moving Las Adelitas to Wichita’s North End, but don’t commit to the idea. They love their downtown spot and how its convenient location helps build family with every customer that comes through the middle of the city.
“In our role, being a Hispanic organization, you can tell our community is excited,” Rodriguez said about Las Adelitas’ opening. “There are already great coffee places locally, but I think when people see someone that looks like them with this success, it really gives the mindset of ‘I can do this, too.’”
It will take six months to a year to determine whether Las Adelitas is profitable. But its immediate impact is priceless.
“I want to accomplish our goals. Not just as cafe owners, but me, as a mom. For them to see that we’re doing this, this accomplishment… already (Yoselin) wants to do a lip gloss line. We’re already empowering them,” Vanessa said.
“I include my family in my business because I want them to learn from it in different ways,” Oscar said. “To push themselves for success. I hope (my kids) see how hard me and their mom work, what we’re building, and how we bring community to our family. How we make family our community.”
“When we all pass away, we don’t take anything with us. But I can leave memories.”
As Oscar cleans the steam wands on the espresso machines and Vanessa sweeps the floors, the kids move quietly around their parents, taking on an already-practiced dance of closing up shop: empty the trash, fold up the sidewalk chairs, drag the tables in.
After the family locks up and leaves, a fluorescent sign glows through the glass door. Las Adelitas. A revolution of the past with descendants standing firmly in the present.
Stefania Lugli is a civic engagement reporter for both The Journal and Planeta Venus, a Spanish-language digital and print media partner. She covers a range of topics to expand Latino access to news and information they need to engage in civic life in English and Spanish. Email her with tips or comments at email@example.com. Find her on Twitter @steflugli.