Hispanic Heritage Month Q&A: Small Businesses Paying it Forward in Their Communities
As part of Comcast’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are recognizing the remarkable contributions of the Hispanic and Latino community across our company and beyond. We recently spoke with Jesse Iniguez, owner of “Back of the Yards Coffee” and a recipient of services from Comcast RISE, our multi-year, multi-faceted initiative designed to help strengthen small businesses owned by people of color hardest hit by the pandemic, through monetary grants, marketing resources, and technology upgrades. Jesse talked about the impact a small business can have on a local community and plans to build on the coffeeshop’s success in the future. Read the conversation with Jesse below.
Q: Jesse, what inspired you and co-owner Mayra Hernandez to start your own business and open Back of the Yards Coffee?
A: Plain and simple, there were no coffee shops in our neighborhood. We either had to stick to quality that didn’t meet our standards, or travel long distances to access good quality coffee, costing us time and money. On top of that there were very few coffee companies selling quality Latinx coffee products in the market. The irony of it all is that Latinos drink a lot of coffee! We saw an opportunity.
Q: Tell us about your mission, “SEED,” and how does that guide the way you run your business? Are you seeing the impact of your approach making a difference in your neighborhood?
SEED stands for Social Impact, Economic Development, Environmental responsibility and Direct Relationships. Everything that we do is guided by these four principles, from where we source our coffee to who we hire to how we choose our packaging. For example, by hiring locally, we hit all four. I think we are definitely making an impact by demonstrating to other businesses and to consumers that doing business in a responsible way is profitable. Currently we are working with the City of Chicago to build a workforce development center to help expand these efforts.
Q: Why is it important to have Latino owners represented in the coffee shop business, and how are you connecting with local Latino communities?
A: Coffee that is grown on this side of the hemisphere is grown 100% in Latin American countries. Latinos drink more coffee than any other ethnicity in the U.S. However, when you look around in the coffee industry, specifically in leadership positions or in the C-suites, Latinos are hard to come by. We believe that the reason for this is because there are little to no coffee shops in our communities; the entryway into coffee is through the coffee shops. That is why we are focused on building coffee shops in Latinx communities and training our staff to be coffee professionals so they can gain the ability to grow in the industry.
Q: Take us through some of the challenges small business owners faced during the pandemic. What some ways that anyone can support?
A: Many of us were severely affected by the stay-at-home orders, and many were forced to close or reduce our hours. We did the latter but were hit with a 75% revenue loss. For weeks, nobody came, but we stayed open to keep our staff employed. The saddest part was when I drove to the nearest Starbucks (almost four miles away), there were lines of cars in their drive-through, spilling all the way to the street. People were still buying coffee, but just not through us or many of the other shops and restaurants we serve. That’s why we made a call to the community to support small businesses, now more than ever, because some of them weren’t going to make it. The best way to support the small businesses you love is by using their services. That’s how we keep our doors open.
Q: How have the marketing resources you received from Comcast RISE – a complementary TV commercial and 90 days of airtime – helped support Back of the Yards Coffee?
A: We are planning to grow and expand our footprint in other communities like Back of the Yards that are coffee deserts. This commercial and airtime has allowed us wide exposure that we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. This is important because we want people living in these communities to know us and trust that we are not just any coffee shop. We aren’t there to gentrify, rather help build community wealth through employment and economic development.
Q: What’s your vision for the future of the coffeehouse?
A: Our goal is to eliminate coffee deserts and provide more opportunities within the coffee industry to people of color. One of the best ways to reduce poverty is through job training and meaningful employment, and that is part of our mission; to have a positive effect wherever we go. Also, by providing coffee products that are uniquely Latinx, we hope to change the way people understand and experience coffee in the U.S. We want to make specialty coffee accessible to other communities as well.
Comcast RISE is part of Project UP, our comprehensive initiative to advance digital equity and help build a future of Unlimited Possibilities. Backed by a $1 billion commitment to reach 50 million people, Project UP encompasses the programs and community partnerships across Comcast, NBCUniversal, and Sky that connect people to the Internet, advance economic mobility, and open doors for the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, storytellers, and creators. Access information and applications to apply for Comcast RISE marketing support, technology services, or grants at www.ComcastRISE.com.