The second retail outpost for the Brooklyn, New York-based roasting company Pueblo Querido is now open and offering Williamsburgers a little slice of Colombia.
Owner Christian Guzman Herrera, who opened the first PQ location in Brooklyn in 2016, signed the lease on the vacant former daycare facility for the new shop almost a year ago.
After a series of delays both typical and extraordinary — Herrera fell ill with COVID-19 and couldn’t work or even move for two weeks in March — doors opened last month to the space now bursting with the color, character and flavors of a faraway land.
“I was very lucky that my employees, customers and friends helped me, bringing me food and medications,” Herrera told Daily Coffee News of his experience fending off the novel coronavirus. “I have no family here, so I had to heal myself and come back to the store and install the floor, decorations and machines. It was a nightmare, because most companies were closed and most of the coffee equipment was coming from Italy and the international shipping was closed. Simple stuff like cups, gloves and bleach were almost impossible to find. I tried to contact big coffee shops around me asking for help, but sadly nobody wanted to help me.”
Herrera’s staff, including María Quintero, Paula Echeverri, Johanna Molano, Nadia Galeano, and manager Nicolle Serrato, came together with relatives and friends to help relocate equipment from the original shop to the new one in order to get ready for opening day — a feat of teamwork for which Herrera said he’ll be forever grateful.
“I’m very lucky to have employees that really care about my company and kept pushing me forward,” Herrera told DCN. “Without them I don’t know how I could possibly have done it. I was very afraid to open, because we put a lot of effort to make it the most authentic Colombian place in the world, and we did it, but the circumstances were bad.”
Vivid murals leap from brightly colored walls inside the new shop that is also freshened by lush greenery enveloping the entrance and walls. Jute coffee sacks hang from the ceiling and handmade Colombian textiles wrap a support beam rising in the middle of the space, while other hand-crafted items indicative of Colombian culture also stretch from wall to wall.
“It’s weird that you can be born in a coffee farm and play as a kid all your childhood around coffee farms, but you never pay attention to the beauty of the coffee world,” Herrera, who hails from Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, said. “You only start to appreciate it when you are abroad in a concrete jungle.”
Visitors are perhaps most boldly transported, so to speak, into the culture of Colombian coffeelands by an actual imported Willys Jeep parked on the cafe floor near the entrance. The Willys, a beloved symbol of Colombia’s proud agricultural spirit, now also provides a bright red focal point inside the shop.
Herrera created the Pueblo Querido business plan as the thesis for his MBA, and borrowed both from family and from banks to bring the company to life. Living in New York City since 2015, Herrera is frank about the trials of the coffee business at both ends of the supply chain.
“It took me four years to figure out how to run a business in NYC, which is a very hard and mean place to do business,” said Herrera, who is aware of the even greater challenges in running a coffee farm. “I think in the near future, coffee will be very expensive since there are less farms every day. Sadly now the new generation is not keeping the tradition of running the coffee farms. We are going to college and picking other directions. My grandfather used to have a farm, then my father used to until he went bankrupt back in the ’90s because he couldn’t improve it in order to be profitable.”
Part of Pueblo Querido’s mission is to honor the hard work of the Colombian coffees that flow through the shop. PQ focuses on importing microlot coffees from Quindío, where Herrera said he knows many farmers personally. His father, Libaniel Guzmán, visits farms and cup coffees, and Herrera’s friend, Colombian coffee mill manager Julian Salcedo cups them again for quality confirmation.
Roasting occurs on a 2.5-kilo Diedrich roaster in the 400-square-foot original PQ location on Greenpoint Avenue in Brooklyn. In the new 1,600-square-foot shop, Pueblo Querido serves its full menu to-go, including coffee drinks, whole beans and authentic Colombian pastries like arepas de choclo (flat corn cakes) and pandebono (yuca-based sweet buns with cheese) baked from scratch every morning. The shop also offers smoothies made from fruits found in Colombia, such as maracuya, lulo and mira.
Herrera looks forward to adding outdoor seating at the new location before eventually establishing a larger bakery and roastery to grow the business. For now, after having been denied relief from the Small Business Administration, the focus is on keeping customers happy and bills paid.
“It’s very frustrating that you have a business for more than four years, you pay your taxes on time, and you don’t get any help from the government,” said Herrera. “I applied three times for the disaster relief loan from the SBA. I always get an approval, but when they ask if I’m a citizen then my loan is denied. I’m a permanent resident and I’m not asking for a gift. As an immigrant I came here to work hard, and trying to keep up your business only using credit cards is very hard.”
Fortunately, though life and work in the big city is tough and unrelenting, there’s also a supportive sweetness to the Big Apple’s strong sense of community.
“We are very lucky to be in a neighborhood that really cares about small business,” said Herrera. “All our regular customers are telling friends to come and support us. New York is like a mean cousin; he will play hard and make you cry many times, but he will help you when you need it the most.”
Pueblo Querido Coffee Roasters is open now at 34 North 6th St in Brooklyn, New York.