Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Women In Coffee and Women In Food: Self-Reliance, Sustainability

Michael Sedano

Today's La Bloga-Tuesday column celebrates a host of women in business. These women are not entrepreneurs, nor female entrepreneurs, French is an inflected language like Spanish, so anyone who is a woman and is a business risk-taker is an entrepreneuse. Anent the "LatinX" debate, perhaps EntreprenX?

Two-Decades Later, She's Back. Espresso Mi Cultura Books Coffee & Art Opens In Monrovia 

Since 1968, East Hollywood was the go-to place for cultura. Lalo Guerrero publishes his autobiography? Have the signing at Espresso Mi Cultura. Calaca Press launching "When Skin Peels"? Do the reading at Josie's place, Espresso Mi Cultura. Looking for a small press poet? Check the shelves at Espresso Mi Cultura.

Then one day comes the announcement, Espresso Mi Cultura closing. It stayed closed with increasingly faint hope. One day maybe, one day it'll reopen, if everything works out for owner and raza entrepreneuse Josie Aguilar Rojo. 

One day spun out over twenty-one years and came to rest in Monrovia, California on Wednesday, September 25, 2019.

Old Town, Monrovia, provides storefront ambience and parking, sometimes there's a spot right in front of your destination. Espresso Mi Cultura (link) is across the street from Studio Movie Grill, so you can't miss it, but you might.

The bookstore gallery coffee house has a side entrance off the main street. The entry plaza is flanked by a bakery-coffee place and a designer ice cream spot.

Unit B down the plaza, disabled-accessible ramp

California's fabled climate where they sleep out every night means Espresso Mi Cultura customers will enjoy the adjacent outdoor space year-round. If the business license permits, an Espresso Mi Cultura musician might serenade strollers and after-dining loiterers.  

I visualize the space as a busker gathering place, the patio packed with coffee sippers, bagel munchers, music fans, passersby checking out all the cool people congregating here.

The spacious indoor seating and gallery area will be a warm spot for conversation and browsing hard-to-find titles of Chicana Chicano Literature, including bilingual illustrated children's books.

Josie Aguilar Rojo takes a break from the frantic activity of the grand opening to pose with Michael Sedano. 

"I've never held giant scissors before," the entrepreneuse says. Here Josie Aguilar Rojo mugs for the photographer.

Aguilar isn't the sole raza businessperson operating in Old Town. Across the street, these two business leaders open in November. They tell me they have gluten-free options for gente like me.

The women spoke Spanish comfortably and I can hear that certain energy in their speech, English or Spanish, that characterizes immigrant indomitability. The two women are going to be wildly successful selling hamburgesas to Monrovians and hungry Espresso Mi Culturenses.

The sales transaction ritual must be repeated hundreds of times daily to become a "going concern."
A coffee will cost about five bucks, you can buy a painting for a thousand dollars. Beverage, food, merchandise, books, art, the firm's diverse offerings distinguish it from numerous food places  up and down the street. The Chamber of Commerce guy named one of the competitors, adding quickly "go there for tea. Come here for coffee."

There's a decent Mexican food place down the street--the birria de chivo was right--and another place featured paella today, otherwise the local food choices are "more of the same" steak and potatoes and beer. Lots of beer. Except for Espresso Mi Cultura, there's no place with a stand-out distinctive ethnic identity. 

I did not survey every storefront and sidestreet, so I could have missed a montón of Chicanas engaged in profitable enterprise.

Two opposite views of the interior. Espresso Mi Cultural's entirely seating and conversation space. The espresso machine and kitchen are upstairs.

Entrepreneuse descending a staircase. 

Grand Opening Finger Food will not be the regular fare. The business hasn't selected its breads and pastries vendor yet. The enterprise plans to move the espresso machine downstairs, after a bit of remodeling.

That is a wondrous machine, that espresso maker. It deserves to be seen, and the operators will want to develop a routine once they're in the public eye, like a Benihana chef but with coffee.

Espresso Mi Cultura's website declares the firm's commitment to the best interests of its customers, a philosophy that reaffirms a local consumer's choice to buy local, at a locally-owned and operated business:

We pride ourselves in providing 100% eco-friendly products with your purchase to reduce our collective carbon footprints. This includes renewable, compostable and reusable cups, lids, stainless steel straws, and “to-go” containers… Bring your reusable EMC beverage container and get a discount on your beverage.

The Chamber of Commerce and local electeds welcome Espresso Mi Cultura to the array of businesses bringing looked-for prosperity to Myrtle Avenue Main Street, U.S.A. Presenting these certificates made an inspiring focal point of the event.

People arriving for the ribbon-cutting probably noticed the friendly smile on a woman having a coffee at the sidewalk table. She's another raza business professional, Sandra Verdugo. Verdugo and her Century 21 firm, sponsored Espresso's ribbon-cutting event. 

Woman power. This is behind-the-scenes encouragement from one entrepreneuse to another. Solidarity is the best beginning to a success story. I can imagine Verdugo, one day soon, discussing deals and prospects with clients over a hot cuppa or maybe canela-flavored hot chocolate in this same seat.

Sandra Verdugo sponsored the ribbon-cutting. Mujeres supporting mujeres.

Gender always matters, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony makes clear that the world is run by women. Three local politicians sent certificates and aides to offer huzzahs to the new tax revenue generator in their balliwicks. 

I would not have expected Congresswoman Judy Chu to show up, not with the important stuff going down in D.C.

That the aides are women adds to the encouraging atmosphere; these staffers are community leaders in the early stages of political careers of their own. Poised, articulate, distinctive, maybe they'll primary their boss one day.

These three women impressed the heck out of the crowd--held attention and focus--with their presence and eloquence. Unseen but profoundly felt, the throng appreciated the future each presenter represents as a leader-in-the-making. Doing their job. It's after 5 in the middle of the week, if luck holds out, the traffic on the drive home won't be so bad. Kick off these damn heels and read.

Tomorrow they'll be in the office early, cleaning up yesterday's unfinished business and prepping for another twelve hour today.

Women in business, women in politics, women are the key to the future.

Congresswoman Judy Chu's office gets a laugh from the host.
Dues-paying member of local merchants guild.

Espresso Mi Cultura has always been a place for people who are like that Streisand song, luckiest people in the world because today, at least, they've come looking for the kind of gente who hang out in place like this. Keeping the house packed like this is vital to ongoing success.

You run into all sorts of gente to chat with and they're here for a little of that, too. For example, the books a man carries catch my eye. Jesse Tovar, Cal Poly Pomona student, enjoys Classical Rhetoric. Órale, Jesse! From an old rhetorician to a burgeoning rhetor, good to see Aristotle holding sway.

Speaking of good pipes, the opening night singer belted out some great standards. I returned Friday and a different singer was doing a mic check. People are going to show up at Espresso Mi Cultura for 
the singers alone!

I didn't get her name. She had to be persuaded to sing and what a voice!
Singer doing mic check on a quiet morning. Live music will lure passersby.
Artist Maja has viewers lingering studying details that emerge with prolonged study.

Josie and Espresso Mi Cultura are not without challenges. Challenge one, getting people in the door. It's a challenge exacerbated by its off-street location, unexpectedly around the side of the main street sidewalks. If you don't find parking in front, there's a short walk from around the block, or a quick dark shortcut through freight alleys.

The upstairs kitchen has logistics opportunities right now. I never say "problem" but "opportunity" because the business has an opportunity to devise a novel way to address the upstairs downstairs communication. 

Right now, one approach is youth.

Myrtle Avenue, Monrovia is not a location issue for Monrovians. Visit once and you will see it as a  "destination" for a weekend afternoon or big date weekend. 

Gente who would drive to Hollywood from the San Gabriel Valley now can drive locally, or take the Gold Line surface rail.  You can take surface rail from Long Beach or Santa Monica nowadays!

The Chamber of Commerce and local government arranged a share-a-Lyft deal, a fifty cent ride from the Gold Line station to Espresso Mi Cultura.
415 S. Myrtle Ave
Monrovia CA 91016

Monrovia beats the heck out of Old Town Pasadena, where crowds and parking hassles make finding a slower-paced delight like Old Town Monrovia well worth the low-traffic drive.

Women In Food: Conversation from The Urban Forager

"Anytime I needed help in building my business, another woman helped me."

Four women nodded agreement to the fifth panelist's declaration. The subject is sustainability, building a local business, finding bumps in the road. When a woman's back is against the wall of stress and business urgency, the panelists agree, she knows she can find solidarity with other women. While the risk is hers, she's not alone in wanting its success. Competitors lend a hand or an ingredient, several business people will relate.

The women on stage in Pasadena Public Library's comfortable auditorium share pages and photographs in Elisa Callow's The Urban Forager (link.) The book highlights food resources on the eastside of the Los Angeles basin, exemplifying the "local" in "buy local," by spotlighting home cooks, urban farmers, professional bakers, and sharing recipes.

The book's website speaks of the women's shared "commitment to carefully sourced handcrafted food" and a community of women that's developed in the Pasadena-Altadena area of the San Gabriel Valley.

Publicity for the publication calls it "Part cookbook, part guide to foraging the best LA has to offer, The Urban Forager: Culinary Exploring & Cooking on L.A.’s Eastside is a compelling bridge to the unfamiliar, inspiring readers to enrich their culinary repertoire with delicious new discoveries."

Amelia Sedano McDonald, the urban farmer on the panel, is my daughter, so I had the double pleasure of attending the valuable discussion, and joining the event with my daughter and granddaughter. 

The panel is part of the Pasadena library's Authors & their Journeys (link) series. 
Elisa Callow, center. Left, Leah Ferrazani

Callow's blog updates the author's interests and discoveries in the local, sustainable food movement. Everyone has a local that's worth writing about and reading about. For instance, La Bloga reviewed Kathleen Alcalá's  The Deepest Roots, whose orientation around sustainability is Bainbridge Island in the Washington's San Juan straits.

Maybe everywhere has a dedicated population like Alacalá introduces, or as found with Elisa Callow's subjects. Our "local" gathers today to get an author's signature and sample locally-sourced food.

Leah Ferrazani describes her journey from grandmother's kitchen to a specialty vendor on Altadena's Lincoln Avenue. I eagerly listened for her gluten-free pasta story, but no such luck. (Ferrazani's seat behind that bottle hid her from the lens).

Masako Yatabe Thomsen

Chef and baker Masako Yatabe Thomsen related the surprise in store for bread-eaters from Asia discovering hard-crusted breads and sourdoughs in abundance in our neck of the woods. Abundance poses an opportunity for the creative baker "stuck" with twenty pounds of yams.

Mary Aghoian
Grocery stores! Aghoian scoffs at the notion. Growing up in Lebanon and Syria, Aghoian's family raised everything they ate except meat. And there's a story about that, the animatedly voluble immigrant shares.

Mary Aghoian

Amelia Sedano McDonald

Urban farmer, attorney, mother, Amelia grew up with chickens, a vegetable garden, and eclectic cooks who might have used Velveeta in an otherwise-organic natural self-sustaining diet. She turned out all right. 

McDonald, lawyer-farmer-4H mentor, is keen on start-up and would-be urban farmers learning the ins and outs of safeguarding their agricultural oasis in settings like the upper reaches of her densely populated region. The farm is within sight of Jet Propulsion Lab at the apex of Lake Avenue, the entire hungry population from the mountains to the sea to all of Southern California spreads before her land.

Raising truck crops, meat birds, eggs, Amelia asks the question she can answer--can you?--that Mary Aghoian answered from her own tierra, that Alcalá knows on her island: What will you eat if the supply lines shut down? where will you get your food in the zombie apocalypse?

McDonald expresses special pride in raising heritage corns, beautifully colored flint corn that she mixtamalizes for masa. I was thinking that next harvest, maybe Ferrazani can mix up a batch of corn-based gluten-free pasta. 

Leslie Ito moderated the panel

No comments: