Thursday, April 18, 2024
BusinessCommunityFood & Drink

This couple turned lockdown into a Latinx vegan coffeeshop

Unemployed at the start of the pandemic, life partners Seleste and Joana created a vegan coffee shop in LA boasting their traditional Latinx favorites, but all plant-based.

Having always struggled to find vegan alternatives to the foods they grew up with reflecting their Latinx roots, Seleste and Joana are now creating these recipes from scratch and serving them up to an enthusiastic clientele at Little Barn Coffee House. The cafe has continued to grow and succeed in the past years and Joana and Seleste are making a name for themselves, even being featured with WWE Superstar Sonya Deville and receiving a $5,000 small business grant from Cricket Wireless. We caught up with the Little Barn mavens to see how they achieved their dream.

Joana and Seleste

You have been together for 14 years. How did you both meet?

Seleste: That’s a tough question to answer and keep short. Finding your soulmate is an exhilarating experience and can become a novel. 

Joana: But to keep it short and keep the readers waiting for our book, Seleste and I are both musicians. We played in different bands and meet at a battle of the bands. We had an instant connection that developed into a beautiful friendship and kismet love!

How do you both identify?

Seleste & Joana: We both identify as “SHE/HER/ALIENS.” 

Is Little Barn Coffee House your first business idea together? And why vegan coffeehouse?

Joana: Seleste has a history of bakers in her family and has always wanted to own her own cafe restaurant business one day.

Seleste: We both thrive on the idea to be a power couple and enjoy spreading our love together. We’ve had many ventures together: playing in an all-girl band together for 14 years and touring the world brought us together and made our goals mutual ones. We both managed a vegan friendly coffee shop in Echo Park 7+ years where we gained the knowledge of running a cafe and for both of us created more of that dream to have our own one day. We both share  a passion for learning, culinary arts, veganism, spreading awareness and creating a safe place for everyone through the joy of good food friendly people that have a lot of passion. Upon touring the USA & Europe we were amazed at the lack of vegan food and also the great vegan finds. The idea was a natural spark from our life experiences.

Joana: We both have been vegan 20+ years so naturally it was our top priority to offer the community veganism to non-vegans and vegans everywhere. 

What backgrounds do you have that made you feel confident to build this small business?

Joana: We both worked and managed Chango Coffee in Echo Park for many years for owner and mentor Jenna Turner. She saw that we cared for the business as if it were our own. She saw our craving to learn and was kind enough to teach us all she knows. There we both became hungry for knowledge in the aspect of running a coffee shop creating an awesome atmosphere. Seleste worked in accounting for most of her life so she had the brains for financials, and her natural management skills of running a kitchen were a plus. She has so much passion behind her food, there was no doubt it was her destiny. I worked at coffee shops throughout my teenage years, so it quickly became an environment that I loved aside from my hunger for knowledge this was something I saw as growth. 

You opened in 2020 in the pandemic was it a good time to take the risk to start a small business?

Seleste: I can say we are both risk takers. Opening in a pandemic is one of the biggest risks we’ve ever taken. Not knowing what would happen next if our hard work and business was going to be successful or if it was going to be shut down or what if one of us got sick so many fears yet trying to stay positive in such unprecedented times. That risk became a unique part of our story.

Joana: The hard work and dedication in fact got us noticed by Cricket Wireless and WWE, and we were selected by Cricket Wireless to receive a $5,000 grant to continue growing our business. It was a hard journey, but you can’t live in fear, you have to take the risk, do your best and hope for the best. Be strong, work hard and do it with love. This is just a reminder to people out there that anything is possible. Don’t be scared to move forward and take action.

How did starting the business affect your relationship with each other?

Joana: A lot of people say to never go into business with your love partner. I can’t say I agree with that, although I don’t think it’s the easiest thing to tackle. I would say it’s a very beautiful learning experience. We have grown to love each other more and push one another to grow. How is that even possible? We learned together, cried tears of joy, and faced exhaustion and fear. Even though we’ve had so many years to get to know one another working together in creating a “baby” of our own (Little Barn) we learned each other’s strengths and weakness in a more intimate way.

Seleste: We are strong for one another creating a team to have room for errors and encourage each other to not give up. It’s a beautiful thing to wake up to the person you love and be able to work together and console one another. It’s been the best time of our lives thus far! Wouldn’t change it for anything else. 

Latinx and LGBTQ: we don’t often hear about businesswomen and entrepreneurs from this minority.

Joana: We are proud to be LGBTQ Latinx WOC. As we recently discussed with WWE Superstar Sonya Deville who joined us at our store as we participated in the a small business series through Cricket Wireless and WWE, we’re very vocal and proud of being Latina and LGBTQ and it’s important we show it to our community. Being positive about our mission hasn’t left room for much fear of rejection.

Seleste: We kind of have the mentality of doing good by the world and no bad will come our way. We never let the idea of hateful people cloud our bubble of joy. So, I would say, do what you want with confidence don’t worry about anyone else because if you create such a loving space it’ll resonate for the world to see, you’ll always have a community and warriors who will stand behind you to spread the love. 

Biggest challenge you encountered so far and how did you overcome it?

Seleste: It wasn’t easy opening Little Barn in the middle of a pandemic we were both learning alongside the rest of the world how to stay safe and take proper precautions to keep our loved ones safe. We rarely left home beyond the essentials, so it was a trying time. We hired a contractor who ended up getting sick and left the job half done. We were distraught with no one to turn to, so we took matters into our own hands and with the help of our family and friends, we were able to make our dream happen — started breaking down walls, putting up drywall, painting, plumbing – you name it. “Si se puede.” We worked hard to build our little, tiny shop with our bare hands.

Are your families supportive of you and your relationship?

Joana: Like many others, coming out wasn’t so easy but we learned that loving and accepting ourselves is important. Along the years we learned to not be scared to share our love with our loved ones. We try to stay true to ourselves and push our fears aside for growth and acceptance. 

Seleste: We are very fortunate to have a loving and supportive family.

Anything else you would like to add? Give us a taste of what you offer.

Seleste: Little Barn Coffee House is a 100% vegan cafe. We specialize in vegan comfort foods breakfast to lunch. We make most of our ingredients fresh in house. Specializing in Vegan buttermilk biscuits sandwiches our Maple Fennel Sausage biscuit being our most popular item in our menu. We make and bake all our bread in house from our vegan croissants, biscuits to our pan dulce like conchas, Mexican wedding cookies, polvorones.

Joana: We fuse our Latin flavors with our favorite American comfort foods. Pairing it with specialty coffees like our oat horchata cold brews, vegan vanilla lattes, vegan pumpkin spice lattes, Mexican hot chocolate we veganized it all. We make tamales added spice to our sandwiches. We put lots of love and dedication to our craft for it to transcend into our food. We are proud to be LGBTQ Latinx women of color cafe. We want everyone to feel welcomed and come share the love with us.

Visit Little Barn Coffee House.

Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 140 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

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