There aren't many options for a good cup of coffee along the West Colfax Avenue corridor. The Strong, Smart & Bold Beans coffee cart nestled inside the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales library is changing that. The cart, a social enterprise of Girls Inc. of Metro Denver, is serving up good coffee for a great cause. Strong, Smart & Bold Beans provides entrepreneurship and business-leadership training to high-school and college-age members of the Girls Inc. program.
Maricela Estrada has been a member of Girls Inc. since she was six. "It's like a second home there," says Estrada. "Most of the girls in the coffee cart, the ones that work with me, we've know each other since we were little." Estrada is working as a Strong, Smart & Bold Beans barista while she waits to start school at Community College of Denver in January.
"I kind of fell in love with coffee," says Estrada of her experience so far as a barista. She created the recipe for the cart's most recent featured drink (a chocolate chai) and is experimenting with her co-workers on recipes for future specials.
Strong, Smart & Bold Beans serves Coda coffee, but might feature other local roasters as well in the future. "We also want to bring more woman roasters into our mix," explains Monica Villalobos, manager of social enterprise for Girls Inc.
Baked goods from Share Good Foods, as well as a rotating lineup of sandwiches, soups and mac and cheese complement the coffee program. Teakoe teas round out the beverage selection.
For the last few days of September, the cart is featuring an eight-ounce cup of drip coffee. "We're your best bet for coffee in this West Colfax corridor," says Villalobos.
The coffee cart has been fortunate to have some great partners from the Denver coffee scene. Corvus Coffee Roasters was one local business that helped early on with research. Amethyst coffee is also a current partner of the cart, providing a commissary space for cart employees to wash dishes.
Villalobos helmed the Bold Beans project. "As the girls aged through the program, sometimes we didn't have enough opportunities for them to participate in," she says. The coffee cart is the culmination of more than a year of planning and preparing for a social enterprise to complement Girls Inc.'s other programming.
Estrada hopes to open her own business someday. Working at Strong, Smart & Bold Beans has opened her eyes to the ins and outs of managing a business. She loves how hands-on her job is, and plans to work for the coffee cart throughout college.
"Not only are the girls employed by the cart and run the business, they also have to meet the requirements for our programming as well," adds Villalobos. Those requirements include being enrolled in school, maintaining a GPA of 2.5 or higher and attending continuing-education classes once a month.
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Financial literacy is a big goal of Strong, Smart & Bold Beans, too. "Really learning and having practical, hands-on experiences around a business," Villalobos explains.
Staff has doubled since the shop opened this spring; the cart started with five Girls Inc. employees, and now has eleven. "We've had a great response in the neighborhood," says Villalobos. "This is their entry into the workforce." She hopes the coffee cart is something that can be scaled up, possibly as additional carts or a new shop — or even pushed out to other Girls Inc. affiliates around the country. For now, Strong, Smart & Bold Beans exists only inside the Corky Gonzales library. "We don't have a shop yet, but we hope that someday we will," she adds.
"It's pretty awesome," says Estrada of Girls Inc. She's grateful for the organization that helped her navigate the murky waters of body image and societal expectations of what it means to be a girl. "With Girls Inc., you feel good after you leave every day."
Stop by Strong, Smart & Bold Beans to try Estrada's latest recipes. Her favorite thing to make? "Smiles," she says with a laugh.