Kristin Lacy and Vivi Lemus invite you to their convivio — a get-together where people gather around a crowded table, share stories and connect over delicious food and drink, which is exactly what they hope their new cafe will bring to west Denver. After a successful crowdfunded campaign, Convivio Cafe, located in a shared space with Honduran restaurant Enigma Art Bar at 4923 West 38th Avenue, is planning for a spring 2022 opening.
Lacy and Lemus met in 2015 at Re:Vision, a local nonprofit focused on food insecurity issues in the Westwood neighborhood. Both worked in programming; it was Lacy's first job upon returning to the U.S. after three years living and working abroad in Guatemala. "I was feeling lonely and missing my life [in Guatemala]," recalls Lacy. "I heard [Lemus's] accent when she walked in the door, and we totally fell in love talking about food, coffee and culture and the welcoming, warm nature around cafecito."
Lemus explains that there's a cultural difference between the Guatemalan "cafecito" tradition and the American coffee shop experience. For many Latinos, inviting a friend to cafecito really means "Let's go sit together." There's not a time limit, and coffee isn't even necessarily involved. She adds that sometimes coffee shops give off an exclusive, oftentimes intimidating vibe, especially if English isn't your first language: "Not knowing how to pronounce things or what they mean, you kind of have to be an expert."
"[Denver has] so many immigrants that are from the same countries that the best coffee in the world comes from," Lacy says, but they often aren't represented in the cafes that serve the coffee itself. Convivio hopes to change that.
After meeting, Lacy and Lemus spent several years organizing cross-cultural cooking classes, but all the while, Lacy — who not only worked on the agricultural side of coffee, but also previously held a coffee-shop job — dreamed of opening a bilingual cafe.
In September 2020, the duo took one step closer to that dream by launching online coffee sales, followed by farmers' market pop-ups. They partnered with two companies, Gento and Vega, to source farmer-roasted coffee, which helps eliminate the disconnect between coffee growers and the countries that consume the product, and allows them to keep much of the profits in the communities that the beans come from. They also sold products from Love&Tea, a cooperative run by women in the Guatemalan highlands who grow, dry and blend all of the herbs, flowers and teas.
Keeping in line with their community-oriented goal, the duo chose to use Mainvest as their fundraising platform versus GoFundMe or taking out a traditional loan. “It’s democratizing investment for everyday people,” Lacy says. “It gives people the power to fund the types of businesses you want to see on your main street...so people who care about causes like immigration get to feel like, ‘I can be a part of this. I don’t need a million dollars [to invest].'"
The crowdfunding campaign, which was launched on November 1, reached its minimum goal of $50,000 a month later, and the maximum goal of $65,000 on December 8 — well before the December 23 deadline. Lemus attributes their success to the connections they made over the years working in nonprofits and their involvement with the Latinx community. "People resonate with what we have," she notes.
Their future menu boasts flavors rooted in Central America, like coffee infused with cardamom, horchata and choco-canela (cinnamon chocolate) lattes meant to transport you to an abuela's house. Small bites will include a rotating selection of antojitos (Guatemalan street food like enchiladas and tostadas), pasteles (pastries) like alfajores (a dulce de leche confection) and postres (desserts) like champurradas (coffee-dunking cookies) and ponche (dried fruit and spices) scones. Ultimately, their goal is to feature food from other Latinx chefs, as well.
Lacy and Lemus are both currently employed full-time at nonprofits in addition to working on the cafe — Lemus at Sun Valley Kitchen utilizing her cooking skills, and Lacy in program evaluation. But the success of the crowdfunding campaign means they'll soon be able to focus their attention on Convivio full-time.
Even if you missed your chance to get in on the ground floor by investing, you can still support Convivio by shopping online. Although this year's holiday markets have passed, cajas para celebrar (gift boxes) are available for local delivery through the season. You can also follow Convivio Cafe on Instagram for information about upcoming in-person events.