Tucked away in a space behind a popular local bar on North Stanton Street is a coffee business whose owners’ dreams are not so small.
Viejo Coffee recently moved from Downtown El Paso to its new location in the Kern Place area by UT El Paso.
Its owners, José Arevalo and Miguel de la Rocha had always dreamed of opening a business together. Childhood friends, they opened their first business immediately after graduating from Hanks High School. They went through a few food truck concepts, but both felt they could do something more creative. Arevalo said it was De La Rocha who then came up with the idea of a coffee shop in 2018.
“I travel a lot. As he presented the idea, I started visiting shops everywhere, and really fell in love with what the third-wave coffee shops brought to the customer, to the people,” he said. “We decided to go with it and really learn the coffee side.”
A third-wave coffee shop is one that focuses on product quality and specialty coffee. De La Rocha and Arevalo began by selling their beverages out of a 1973 Volkswagen bus. They then transitioned to serving coffee from a small cart at Lost & Found, a bar on North Stanton owned by friends.
The business was going well until the COVID-19 Pandemic closed bars down. Viejo Coffee moved into a rented space on the first floor of a loft building Downtown on W. San Antonio and pivoted to doing home deliveries.
“We focused on the cold brew, 12-ounce bottles, 32-ounce bottles, and we would deliver every Saturday,” Arevalo said. After businesses started opening up again they decided to add a countertop to the space and serve Downtown walk-in customers as well.
Meanwhile, they kept their eye on the little shop space attached to the back of the Lost & Found bar in Kern Place where they started.
“We would see this space and we would envision our shop here. Back then it was an ice cream place, and then it became a pizza place, and then a wing place, so it was always something going on here,” Arevalo said.
When it became available recently, Lost & Found owners Johnny Escalante and Kiki Cervantes let them know about it.
“So we’re like, ‘Oh, man, we got to jump on it,’” Arevalo said. ” We opened our doors and it’s been good. Johnny and Kiki allowed us to lease from them and remodel, and pretty much build a partnership with them, you know, a co-branding. Help each other grow.”
In October they moved into the shop, which has its entrance on Robinson.
The friends aren’t concerned that there are already several popular coffee shops in the area, including Starbucks, Kinley’s and the huge drive-through franchise Dutch Bros.
“We don’t see another coffee shop as a threat or as a competition. We see it more as a like brotherhood,” Arevalo said. “You know, like good coffee brotherhood, where we can learn from each other, help each other out and just build a coffee community at the end of the day.”
Viejo Coffee has a decent following on social media, with more than 13,000 followers on Instagram and a Facebook page with more than 700 likes. Their marketing strategy includes conducting pop-up shops at different places across the city.
“I honestly look for the most unique space I can find and simply talk to the owners, I share my vision and hope for the best,” Arevalo said.
One of the unique things Viejo Coffee offers is iced coffee in a bag, an idea Arevalo and De La Rocha picked up from visiting their families in Chihuahua over the years.
“The traditional aesthetic that we’re looking at, you know, that we’re presenting or bringing, came from our visits to Chihuahua and how they would serve soda to us in a bag,” Arevalo said.
The bags they serve their coffee in are biodegradable and the straws served with every drink are made from avocado seeds. The shop also sells the house plants they use for decor.
Now that the little shop is becoming established, the owners of Viejo Coffee are planning to expand to other parts of the city.
“We definitely want to be closer, you know, for our customers. And the goal is to continue to grow, to open up a space east, you know, open up a space west, open up a space in the northeast. Everywhere in El Paso,” Arevalo said.