It was pouring rain outside on Saturday, but the new owners of Cafe de Olla inside MEDA at 19th and Mission Streets, hardly cared. They had just passed the health inspection with flying colors and decided to launch right into a soft opening. As customers trickled in, owners Francisco Camacho and Eduardo Antonio handed out coffee and pan dulce.
“We want it to be a slice of Oaxaca in the Mission,” said Camacho, who has been working at the Stable Cafe since 2008, but a little over a year ago, the two applied to the Mission Economic Development Agency’s business development incubator program. The official opening of their cafe on the ground floor of MEDA in El Mercadito will be this Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Café de Olla translates literally as coffee from the pot, and it is the signature coffee drink in Mexico. The coffee is brewed in a clay pot with cinnamon, orange peels and piloncillo (raw cane sugar). The result is a slightly sweet and fragrant black coffee suitable to accompany pan dulce or tamales.
As I sipped my coffee, Camacho and Antonio discussed the prices for the drinks and food they plan to serve. They wanted to make the items affordable for people and still be able to provide a high quality service.
They will buy their bread from La Mejor Bakery and their coffee from Proyecto Diaz, which sells fair trade coffee beans. They also plan to serve champurrado, the traditional Mexican hot chocolate, and seasonal atoles, which are traditional hot corn, masa, milk and water-based drinks. Also on the menu: tamales, espresso drinks and sandwiches.
They sorted out the price and menu details pretty quickly. Experience helps. Camacho has helped run and manage Stable Cafe since it opened in 2008, and Antonio has been cooking traditional Mexican recipes since he was a kid in his native Oaxaca.
The two friends met in the nineties when they joined Gente Latina de Ambiente, GELAAM, a support group for gay and Latino immigrants based in San Francisco.
They were young, recently arrived undocumented immigrants, spoke only Spanish, and were coming to terms with being gay.
Antonio, who is from Oaxaca, grew up in a family of mostly men. The only women around him were his mother and a younger sister. He started working at 10 years old and remembers his mother sending him to the local market to sell baskets of chiles. From an early age, he recognized that he was different but struggled with how other people saw his sexuality. It didn’t help that being in the kitchen cooking was widely viewed as women’s work.
Eventually, he left Oaxaca and went to Puebla for college, but there, too, he encountered harassment and violence for being gay. He then decided to migrate to the United States for a seasonal job where he could earn enough to save for school.
Camacho, who is from Acapulco, grew up in a family where racism thrived and being gay was not accepted. “When I arrived here, I realized how deep in the closet I was,” he said.
Camacho landed in the United States in the nineties after studying accounting in college. He wanted a seasonal job that would allow him to buy a computer and return home. But, once here, he realized he could be in touch with a part of himself that was not out in the open anywhere else. He could be himself.
Both men were captivated by seeing gay men congregating in public with no police harassment. It didn’t matter that they were undocumented, or that they didn’t speak English because, at the end of the day, they could explore being themselves.
For Antonio, “to realize that it is mostly men who work in the kitchens here” and that “It was okay to be a man and cook,” was huge.
The two friends took English classes at City College; learned HIV prevention, talked about what it means to be in the closet, and developed a community thanks to the Latino gay support groups. “You end up finding your place,” said Camacho.
As they were telling me their story, Antonio interrupted to run an idea by Camacho. What, he asked, did Camacho think of this tagline: “LGBTQ and Latino owned.”
“What do you think? Should we say it?” he asked with a smile. Their social media advisor was wondering if that was something they wanted to advertise.
For the two of them, their lives and struggles had suddenly been summarized in a tagline. Francisco gave it some thought and said, “Well, how about, ‘Everybody is welcomed here.'”
Join Cafe de Olla’s opening this Wednesday at MEDA’s El Mercadito. From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.