Sunday, February 19, 2012

El Corazon - the new heart of Loreto Bay

This is another posting in the series about new businesses that have opened this season along the Paseo here in Loreto Bay.  When I returned at the end of September, renovation work had begun on the large storefront across the street from my small Real Estate office. For more than the next two months a busy crew of workmen labored away inside the building, first of all adding several French Doors along the north wall to match the four sets along the street front.

But most of their efforts were concentrated on the interior.  Then, in late November, a full size tractor trailer was parked in front of the building and for most of that day box after box, bundle after bundle – all of the furniture and fixtures - were unloaded inside until the 50 foot trailer was empty.  This was followed by another couple of weeks of finishing work; including flag stoning and planting a small patio area across the front separating the French Doors from the sidewalk, repainting the front façade and generally tidying up the outside appearance.

Finally, in early December, just before my trip back to Calgary for Christmas, El Corazon opened its doors to the public!  During the renovation period the resident population in Loreto Bay had gradually increased in number to its pre-Christmas Holiday level and with it, the curiosity had built steadily as the work progressed – everyone was anxious to see what the finished product was going to look like – and we were not to be disappointed!

Inside the doors was a beautiful barista-style café, with an arrangement of tables and chairs, a counter bar with a view out onto the Paseo and in the back an inviting conversation corner with leather couches and chairs around a coffee table scattered with current glossy magazines.  Filling the other corner and far wall was an enclosed kitchen\prep room separated by swinging louvered half doors and a sleek counter area, anchored by a refrigerated glass food display cabinet, cashier area and the all important espresso machine (custom made in Italy and finished in gleaming Ferrari red). 

Along the wall behind the counter was more food storage and a preparation counter with all the tools of the trade; blenders for “smoothies” and shelves of glassware and mugs along with the bottles of flavoring and a small selection of liqueurs. In short, this long dark room (formerly a furniture storage and display space) had been transformed into a world class café that would not be out of place on the boulevards of any major city – and here it was, in Loreto Bay!

As you might expect, there is a story behind this transformation – and so, a couple of weeks ago I sat down on the sunny patio with the Owner, Jennifer, and asked her how she had come to create such a wonderful space here in our community.

Jennifer has been a Homeowner in Loreto Bay for almost four years, but due to the demands of a busy professional life in media businesses in Vancouver, Canada, her home here had sat empty and unfurnished for almost two years before she brought a trailer load of furniture and household effects down in May of 2010.  After finally getting her home set up over several trips that winter, she was beginning to feel settled and started to meet more people in her new winter home.  Soon she struck up a friendship with Paola, who was working in another business in Loreto Bay at the time, and as they got to know each other, these two entrepreneurial women spent time talking about business opportunities here in the development.

After considering several possibilities they settled on the idea of a café\bakery and in the late spring of last year they began the research and planning of what has become El Corazon.  Coincidentally, during the summer a new Property Manager was appointed for the commercial spaces along the Paseo, with the mandate to fully lease the available storefronts, and so in early August Jennifer and Paola, who was now the General Manager and partner in the venture, selected the space that was ideal for what they had in mind and began planning the necessary renovations.

While Jennifer, back in Canada, sourced the equipment and furnishings and planned the logistics of building a North American style café, Paola, who is a Mexican citizen and perfectly fluent in both languages, went about setting up a Mexican Corporation and securing all the necessary permits and licenses to operate the business here.  During the summer, Paola also went to Portland and took a one week crash course, training her in the necessary barista skills, while Jennifer, for whom food has been a long time passion, began to test and collect recipes for the baking and light meals that would be offered from their kitchen.  They also sourced the finest fair trade Mexican coffee beans and arranged to have them fresh roasted and delivered from the Mainland weekly.

But their business plan went beyond coffee and the food that goes with it, they saw El Corazon as a gathering place for the community, a cultural hub that will offer film, art, music and other special events including kid´s matinee movies, performances by Los Beach Dogs as well as using the space for exhibits and other things that will add to the quality of life here for all Homeowners and Visitors.  There is another symbol of the thought and “soul” that has gone into this enterprise, tucked away in the back corner stands an elegantly mirrored corner table with two small black and white photos – pictures of Jennifer & Paola´s mothers, to whom they have dedicated their venture.

To accomplish these ambitious goals, not to mention run a thriving business, requires a small but dedicated team.  Key to that team is a professional barista, Ryan, who was recruited from Vancouver where he had an impressive career operating and managing coffee based hospitality businesses large and small.  As well as bringing his expertise to the espresso machine, he is also in charge of training the other staff and getting the day to day operations right.  That staff includes Lupita, who is in charge of the kitchen and has quickly become locally famous for her cinnamon buns and other tasty specialties like their pulled pork sandwiches, and Christina who prepares the menu of snacks and sandwiches and keeps the premises impeccably clean and tidy, dealing with the steady stream of cups and dishes that their patrons use.

From the outset, Jennifer and Paola have had a bicultural vision for their business, and they are rightly proud of the acceptance that El Corazon has found with both their local and foreign clientele, Homeowners, vacationing Visitors, workers and other businesspeople from the neighborhood all of whom are regular customers in the busy café.  This cultural sensitivity extends even to the name and logo of the shop, incorporating a familiar folk art rendition of the heart – “El Corazon” – an historic symbol from the Mexican lottery tradition, that is often seen over cafes in all parts of Mexico.

While there have been many challenges and lessons learned in the complex process of creating a business that would be at home in any major city in the world, here outside a small town in the Baja, Jennifer and Paola have been uncompromising in their vision and the results bear witness to her success so far.  El Corazon has quickly become a focal point within the community – not just for great coffee and delicious food – but for the realization of a goal - to become the “heart” of Living Loreto!