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Café Santo Delivers a Modern Oaxacan Experience In L.A. County

Cafe Santo

The Café Santo bar offering coffee, Mexican chocolate drinks and Oaxacan fare in East Los Angeles County. Photo by Andrea David, courtesy of Café Santo.

Celebrating its Latinx roots through the combination of coffee, chocolate and food with music, art and fashion, Café Santo has expanded from a mobile cart into a permanent spot in Montebello, California.

“The Latinx population is underrepresented in the specialty coffee world,” Café Santo Co-Owner Pilar Casteñeda recently told Daily Coffee News. “We feel like we are not always taken seriously as competitors because of a perception that the Latinx community is not as well-versed in specialty coffee. On the consumption side, access to quality coffee shops in Latinx communities, which are historically low-income, is limited. We wanted to set up our flagship store in the east side of Los Angeles to provide access to quality specialty coffee to the Latinx community.”


Photo by Juan Renteria, courtesy of Café Santo.

Castañeda’s partner in the business, Marlon Gonzales, moved to Los Angeles from Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2010, working his way up through the hospitality and restaurant industries prior to achieving SCA certification as a professional barista.

Casteñeda, who was born in California after her family moved there from Jalisco and Veracruz, set aside a career of over 15 years in television production to focus on growing the coffee business, applying expertise in visual content creation that melds modernity with traditional Oaxacan cultural expression.

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Photo by Juan Renteria, courtesy of Café Santo.

The company worked with Oaxaca-based designer Mariana Rodriguez for Oaxacan-inspired graphic touches and visual elements on menus, merchandise and a forthcoming mural. Planters outside provide some greenery and life around the 160-square-foot converted shipping container from which the Santo team serves walk-up guests.

Coffees come through a partnership with a Latino-owned downtown L.A. roaster, fueling drinks such as the Oaxacan Mocha (Mexican chocolate, almonds, cinnamon and espresso). The company works with Reina Negra chocolate to offer its popular mocha in bar form.

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Oaxacan family-owned business Rito Chocolateria, meanwhile, provides the main ingredients for a line of specialty chocolate drinks offered alongside the coffee menu. Those include: the Xoco shot, made with 100% cacao; the Nuez (80% cacao) and the Semi Amargo (60% cacao).

Mexican chef Leo Antonio has crafted a food menu for the shop that includes street foods such as memelas, a masa cake cooked on a comal with Oaxacan asiento (pork belly spread) and topped with black beans, quesillo cheese and salsa. A vegan version is also available.

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Photo by Juan Renteria, courtesy of Café Santo.

All this is executed within the confines of the shipping container, where the Santo team installed two large windows to to “play with natural light and be more visible to our customers, as we wanted to keep the same feeling [and] sense of interaction with them,” Castañeda said.

Moving forward, the company hopes to add more jobs for people in the community, while also potentially developing an exchange program with baristas from Oaxaca or other parts of Latin America.

Cafe Santo

Photo by Andrea David, courtesy of Café Santo.

“We see that Latinx consumers are more aware of quality coffee. They are interested in the process of making coffee, and where the coffee comes from,” said Casteñeda. “Although consumers are becoming more interested in specialty coffee, there are still socioeconomic barriers that keep the Latinx community from consuming as often as they would like.”

Cafe Santo is located at 520 Whittier Blvd in Montebello, California. Tell us about your new coffee shop or roastery here.