“It was a little bit weird. We were literally inside. People would tell us ‘I didn’t know this was here,’” owner Lalo Rodriguez says.
Soon, there should be no trouble finding the Latin American coffee shop and bakery, as its set to take over the space of recently-shuttered Beviamo Cafe in Tremont (2275 Professor Ave.).
This is a big leap for a business that, after opening only two years ago, has changed locations twice. It started out as part of a Clark-Fulton incubator program initiated by the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Center for Economic Development (aka the Hispanic Business Center or HBC) before moving to the Mexican restaurant.
Last week when we visited, Rodriguez was putting the finishing touches on the new location. He’s painted and added fresh lighting, along with sleek tables and squashy couches. He says he’s grateful to not have to do a full rehab, but looks forward to making the place his own. Although Tremont is full of well-loved coffee shops, Rodriguez says his business' Latin influence makes it different.
"This is something that hasn’t been tapped into in Tremont, even though it has so much diversity," Rodriguez says. "And I’m kinda of surprised I haven’t seen more Latin American businesses, that’s why I’m here."
Cafe Social is one of the only places — if not the only place — in Cleveland to sell coffee from beans sourced entirely from Latin America.
"Obviously, multiple countries around the world have great coffee and other local shops are showing that, but for us we're just very focused on the Latin American culture."
At 23, Rodriguez is also one of the youngest coffee shop owners in town. Moving to Cleveland about five years ago to attend the Cleveland Institute of Art, the Mexican-American dual citizen says he found himself floundering a little after not finishing his degree. But then, his dad had an idea to open up a coffee shop.
"I feel so amazed that I’m able to do this," he admits. "And it's all thanks to my parents [who helped him start the business but now live in Pennsylvania]. I’ve been very lucky."
He describes his shop as a mix between modern and traditional, where all are welcome. Customers can expect free Wi-Fi and board games but also baked goods like house-made flan. In the coming months, Rodriguez wants to offer events like salsa nights and open mics and maybe yoga classes.
“There’s a fine line to walk between being 100 percent authentic and offering what people enjoy and want and expect from a coffee shop,” Rodriguez explains. “While we do offer espresso shots, iced coffees and more inventive and special drinks we also offer more traditional drinks.”
The baked goods, which Rodriguez will make fresh daily, are also a mix of traditional family recipes from his parents' travels and more obvious cafe selections. There is no kitchen at the new spot, but Rodriguez hopes to offer lunch service soon, with selections of sandwiches and wraps.
Opening is still a couple weeks off, as Rodriguez is waiting on a couple permits. But when it opens, Rodriguez says hours will be Thursday through Sunday only. Then once summer hits, expect that to expand.
"I’m excited for Tremont," Rodriguez says."This exposes the business to another side of people who are also excited about the culture and are looking forward to trying this out."