Barista Magazine

APR-MAY 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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70 barista magazine [a]moment to stop, sit, and enjoy your coffee, so sometimes we drink it at night to unwind before going to bed." She initially experimented with cold brew because she couldn't afford to go out and buy coffee. Her cold brew was so good, however, that she was inspired to start selling it at local farmers markets and festivals. "I've always loved cold brew, maybe because my mom used to make instant coffee blended with ice as a treat during the summer when I was younger, but I'm the type to walk out during a Chicago winter to get cold brew," Mayra says. Jesse and Mayra would see each other in the neighborhood doing what they'd both always done—advocating for their community. "Our lives led us in different directions, but we usually saw each other at community events, volunteering opportunities, fundraising for schol- arships, door-knocking, and registering people to vote in our neigh- borhood," Mayra says. "Years later we reconnected and when I got into making cold brew. I reached out to Jesse because I remembered he used to own a coffee shop in the past, so I wanted to share my ideas with him. The business partnership grew from there." The idea for a coffee-related business started bubbling, but it wasn't until a chance encounter with a neighborhood resident that they really got down to it. "She saw I was experimenting with coffee, and she mentioned that her family owned a coffee farm in Chiapas, Mexico," Mayra says. From there, Jesse and Mayra's plan began to take shape. Initially, Back of the Yards was meant to be a roasting facility—a coffee shop wasn't part of the picture until Jesse mentioned the business idea to a friend, and that friend showed him the space that Jesse and Mayra's company would eventually occupy—located right across the street from Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School. The school was itself a neighborhood triumph: Locals had been fi ghting for a neighborhood school for years, and the building of the campus represented an investment in the community that hadn't existed before. Jesse remembers going to what would be the café space and seeing the school just outside. "Looking out the windows and seeing the high school, I was like, 'This is meant to be.'" The idea initially felt like a lot, especially to Mayra, who had never owned a business. "Reality hits and you're like, wait—we don't have any money." Mayra and Jesse reached out to their neighbors for support, and also applied for small-business loans and hosted fund- raisers. It quickly became clear, however, that the key was being able to succinctly and confi dently advocate for their vision. "Going around and sharing our idea was hard for me," Mayra says. They got better at communicating their message as well as their passion, though, and in the process effectively tapped infl uencers and leaders in the commu- nity. They also joined forces with other small-business owners, who helped Mayra and Jesse by contributing discounted or free services to support them in realizing their goal. "The community has invested in our success," Jesse says. Back of the Yards Coffee Co. was in turn fi lling a community void. Not only did the neighborhood need a coffee shop (a notable Chicago Tribune article was headlined, "Neighborhood natives launch coffee shop where Starbucks won't"), but also the community needed a space for youth to come together and feel safe, and a hub that locals knew was theirs. During the build-out, Jesse says, "Every time a car drove by, people would ask, 'When are you opening?' The day we opened, we had a line out the door." Back of the Yards Coffee Co. has been open for a little more than a year, and in that time, Mayra and Jesse have fallen into specifi c roles within the business. "These gray hairs weren't here before," Jesse jokes as he details his responsibility of building wholesale business and working on the back end of coffee sourcing, as well as outfi tting and running the roasting facility. Mayra works more on the day-to-day operation of the café. "My role has been here in the coffeehouse and engaging with the community," she says, noting that she's learned a lot about herself as a leader as time has passed. "Every little thing that used to go wrong would make me paranoid at fi rst." As any independent coffee-business owner can understand, they both still wear countless hats, but one of the responsibilities they

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